A Pellissippi State Community College professor who was an early adopter of technology in the classroom recently was named a 2020 Distinguished eLearning Educator by the Instructional Technology Council.
Professor Margaret Choka, who has been a full-time sociology professor at Pellissippi State since 1988, was one of only nine distance educators nationwide honored at the council’s annual conference March 24.
“I started teaching online with a dial-up modem,” said Choka, who has been teaching distance education since 2001. “We have come a long way!”
As a sociologist, Choka realized early on that distance education is a tool that can be used to reach the older coal mining and farming communities in Tennessee. In 1999, she began educating herself on the principles of distance education, computer technology and the then-emerging World Wide Web.
She read journals, attended conferences and sought advice from the college’s information technology staff. She explored how technology could be used to supplement sociology classes and help students master their learning objectives.
“Dr. Choka is an extraordinary educator who cares about equal access to quality higher education, particularly for the underserved nontraditional working students of Knoxville and surrounding rural counties of Appalachia,” Marion Orrick, adjunct instructor, wrote in nominating Choka for the award.
Choka started with a complimentary webpage for her courses. She worked tirelessly with textbook publishers to access free, online supplemental materials and fought for instructor resources in the classroom as well as student use of computer labs. She mastered learning management systems, designed courses, trained other instructors, created student skills assessments and online training videos, collaborated with other departments and linked students with tutors and librarians.
Choka now has served as both the lead course developer for Pellissippi State and for the Tennessee Board of Regents’ TN eCampus since 2001.
“As more students have begun to rely on smartphone technology to access online coursework, Dr. Choka continues to educate herself on how best to meet student needs in higher education, ensuring that the newest and most effective design techniques are incorporated into the online courses,” Orrick wrote.
“We are fortunate to have an outstanding eLearning instructor like Dr. Choka who, over the course of 20 years, conquered the technology of the 21st century and used it to improve higher education rates in Tennessee.”
Choka lists many things she likes about teaching online – from designing dynamic courses to providing an atmosphere of collaboration and socialization for students, from creating engaging activities using current “hot topics” to encouraging students to use “sociological imagination” to see a bigger picture of the society they’re studying.
Underpinning it all, she says, is a strong compassion for students’ success and well-being.
“Dr. Choka is an outstanding faculty member, and I’m glad she’s being recognized for her dedication to supporting student learning,” said Kane Barker, dean of Natural and Behavioral Sciences at Pellissippi State.
Lesli Bales-Sherrod does marketing and writing for Pellissippi State Community College.