Gruver Helps Open World of Sustainable Resources to Online Students, Too

Josh Gruver standing and smiling in his office

Early in his online Food Systems course, Josh Gruver, associate professor for Environmental, Geology, and Natural Resources, asks his students to step away from their laptops and go interview someone who functions as a link in the local food system.

From conversations with a chef, farmer, fisherman, food pantry manager, or truck driver, students learn where food is grown, produced, distributed, transported, and, most importantly, how it landed on their plates.

It’s not a typical assignment for online students, who pursue Ball State programs wherever they have an internet connection. But Ball State programs are not so typical.

Assignment for Local Involvement

Another assignment, which Josh requires of students in both his on-site and online classes, asks students to volunteer in a setting such as a soup kitchen, a food pantry, or a local farm.

“Students like this exercise. It gives them an appreciation of the day-to-day food work system that is continually in process,” says Josh, who teaches in the graduate certificate in sustainability program. “I thought online learning would inhibit my ability to help students learn by doing – but that turns out not to be the case.”

His passion for sustainable natural resource management, he says, was ignited during his Peace Corps experience in Papua New Guinea (PNG) nearly 30 years ago. He spent two years helping communities manage their resources – their forests, their fisheries, their clean water.

Peace Corps Lesson

That’s where he found a government that allowed large multi-national corporations from 1st world nations rob the country of resources such as timber, fish, and gold.

“The ocean waters there are teaming with tuna – but you can’t get tuna on the island. It’s been fished out by the Japanese,” says Gruver. “As a 24-year-old, it blew my mind and woke me up to the kinds of dehumanizing and ethically dubious things that happen in places like PNG.”

Realities such as this on the other side of the world is why Josh, in 2015, put together a local team of volunteers—students and colleagues—to create the Muncie Food Hub Partnership (MFHP) which today is, in his words, “still connecting area growers and eaters.”

Helping to Nourish Muncie

“Our mission is to nourish and strengthen the Muncie community through the robust exchange of fresh and affordable local food,” says Josh, director of the MFHP. “We are helping small-scale, diversified crop farmers sell more produce, and we’re helping residents who live in low food access areas connect with healthy fresh nutritiously dense foods.”

He says that at least two of his online students have visited MFHP and one is managing a farmers’ market in Yorktown, Indiana.

“My central goal as a scholar is to integrate knowledge produced at the university with local knowledge and experience to create working solutions toward natural resource-related issues.”

How He Buffed Up Online Teaching Skills

During the COVID-19 pandemic, his central goal was buffing up his online classroom skills with consultation from Ball State’s Online and Strategic Learning.

“They helped me go from never having taught an online course to putting one together that I am really proud of – with a very short timeline,” he says. “Learning how to develop and teach an online course really kicked up my course management system game.”


2018 Rawlings Winner Appreciates Online Adaptability

Jill Bradley-Levine, assistant professor of educational studies at Ball State, sees them as more than students. She calls them “a community of learners.”

Her contributions to this community over the past year were rewarded with the 2018 Rawlings Outstanding Distance Education Teaching Award. Established in 2002, the award honors a full-time faculty member who has demonstrated excellence in online teaching at Ball State University.

During the summer of 2017, Bradley-Levine worked with instructional consultant Cindy Cash from Ball State’s Division of Online and Strategic Learning to redesign the Department of Educational Studies’ Introduction to Mixed Methods Research course. Bradley-Levine taught it online for the first time in fall 2017. She also participated in the Summer 2018 Faculty Academy Track III, Course Design for Student Success, redesigning two courses for online delivery.

Cash said she was impressed with Bradley-Levine’s “professionalism, integrity, and dedication to delivering a quality course.”

During the summer of 2018, Bradley-Levine taught a course that emphasized ways that teachers can strengthen curriculum through instructional coaching, mentoring, and as professional developers.

“It was a fantastic online course because it brought together teachers from across Indiana and the country who were at different stages of their careers,” Bradley-Levine says, noting that her community of learners included former administrators, experienced and novice instructional coaches, department chairs, higher education instructors, and teacher mentors.

Bradley-Levine says the class shared experiences and advice while exploring the literature about teacher leadership roles and responsibilities.

The Rawlings winner appreciates the fact that teaching online is more adaptable than on-site.

“I understand that those who take my courses need and appreciate flexibility. It is also powerful that students from all over the state, country and world can share in an online learning experience,” she says. “Last spring, my students were able to participate in a virtual exchange with students in Iraq. This would not have been possible without online learning.”

Director of PR Grad Program Finds Relationship Built with Students Most Rewarding

Ask the average person to describe what someone in public relations does and you will most likely get varying accounts of everything from event planning and promotion to working with the media and wrangling celebrities.

Ask YoungAh Lee, director of the public relations graduate program at Ball State, and you will get a much more nuanced answer.

“Public relations is a science of human communication behavior. It connects people at every level.”

Lee would know. After all, she has nearly 20 years’ worth of experience in the field – from entry-level positions to co-founder to professor to director. Lee got her start and initial spark for public relations serving as a public information officer for the New Zealand Embassy in South Korea.

“I didn’t even know what PR was. The job was mainly about promoting New Zealand to the Korean people and boosting the country’s reputation in Korea. As I saw my research and hard work pay off, I found myself enjoying strategic communications. It was the spark that started my career.”

From there Lee joined one of the largest PR agencies in Korea, working for clients such as Microsoft, Häagen-Dazs, and the Korean Government.

“I felt an immense amount of satisfaction in enhancing the reputation of various organizations.”

That passion led Lee to co-found her own PR consultancy with fellow colleagues of hers and then later, to further her education in the field of PR. While earning her master’s and PhD at the University of Missouri, Lee found another passion sparking, just as it had for public relations years earlier. This time, though, it was a passion for teaching.

“I took my first step as a teacher when I was a graduate assistant and found a genuine desire to teach students about the huge impact PR has as a critical means of building relationships. I wanted to develop students as PR practitioners, and from there, I found my reason to become a teacher-scholar.”

Lee followed her combined desire to practice and teach PR to Ball State University. She was brought on in 2014, and, by 2016, took on the task of revamping the graduate program.

“We needed an improved program that progressed with the new technology of the world. The times are changing rapidly, and I believe that PR should change with it.”

As director of the graduate public relations program at Ball State, Lee utilizes all of her skills honed over her years in PR to recruit, admit, advise, and educate students in public relations. She also promotes the program on a national scale, but for someone as engrained in the world of PR, it makes sense that she takes the most pride in building relationships – although at this point in her career it is with students not clients or businesses.

“I really enjoy the personal bond I create with my students. While teaching and advising them, I get to learn more about their dreams, their personalities, their strengths. I get to see them succeed and cheer them on in their endeavors. It’s such a rewarding job.”

The Master’s Degree in Public Relations at Ball State – offered either online, on-campus, or as a blend of both – delivers all the foundational and current skills and experiences necessary to lead and excel in the many facets of public relations.

Professor Chang: What to Consider When Teaching Adult Learners

After graduating with her master’s in adult education from East China Normal University, Bo Chang read a landmark work, Learning in Adulthood, and began corresponding with one of the authors, Dr. Sharan Merriam, a groundbreaking scholar in the field of adult education and a professor at the University of Georgia. Their emails led to Chang’s enrollment into the university’s doctoral program, known for its pioneering work and international scholars.

Q: What do instructors need to know about teaching non-traditional adult students? What does that mean for practice?

There are many differences between adult learners and non-adult learners, besides the fact that adult learners have to balance responsibilities for their jobs, family, and learning.

First, adult learners need to be treated more like colleagues, instead of students. Many adult learners have worked for many years and some play leadership roles in their workplace. When they enroll in the academic programs, it is not so easy for them to transition from the ones who lead other employees to the ones who are led by the instructors. Due to their positions and their past experience, they might be very sensitive to criticism, and can become resistant to suggestions provided by the instructors. As instructors, we need to change our assumption from being an expert and leading adults’ learning to being a learning partner and facilitating adults’ learning.

Next, education for adult learners requires a practical approach. Unlike non-adult students who come to school to learn the systematic knowledge for their future, adult learners focus on their current needs. They come to school mainly to fill the gaps in their current knowledge base. Some older adults, after they retire, gradually become inactive and lose the social connections with others. These adults want to rebuild networks with other people so they can still be active in society. Other adults, who are actively working, may want to learn new ways to solve problems in their workplace or to help them advance their professional careers.

Also, adult learners have much more experience compared with the non-adult learners. Their experience can be used as a part of the learning resources. In online discussions, for example, instructors can ask adult learners to use their experiences or the examples they know to interpret the theories. Adult learners understand how a theory really works through a variety of examples. Some may not resonate to some examples provided by their peers, but they may find that “niche” from other peers’ experience which speaks to their situations most. What I want to emphasize here is that, experience alone will not definitely lead to learning. The instructors need to guide adult learners not to just share experience, but to use experience as a tool to explain how theories work in practice.

Finally, adult learners’ physical conditions are different from those of non-adult learners. For example, their physical speed for processing information and their ability to memorize facts are declining when they become older. Starting from their 30s, adults’ short-term memory begins to decrease. We need to respect such changes and provide an environment that can accommodate adult learners’ physical limitations. If we require adult learners to take tests at the same speed as non-adult students, it may not be fair for some of them due to their physical limitations.

Q: What’s the most important thing students can learn?

I’ve always told students that content-based knowledge is important, but what is the most important is to actually learn how to learn, or “procedural knowledge.” Once you learn how to learn, then there’s nothing you cannot learn.

Let me give you an example: Before I came to Ball State, I had never taught an online course. I have had a lot of training in online teaching here because Ball State provides an excellent training system for its faculty. I also learned different tools for online teaching on my own through diligent research. Whenever I had questions, I always Googled, and searched YouTube. These are the basics that we can learn by ourselves.

Q: Besides subject matter, what else do you want your students to learn?

Even though it may not be our [the professor’s] job, my concern is that we have a lack of opportunities to teach students how to be an independent and professional scholar, how to build their networks, how to manage their time, how to deal with relationships with instructors, how to be a professional, and how to just be a pleasant person. I think we need to have more informal gatherings where students and professors can have a chance to interact and where students can observe their instructors as professionals and leaders.


Judge Says London and Rio Olympics Were Pinnacle

Students in Larry Judge’s coaching education classes aren’t surprised when he tells stories from ground zero of a past Olympics. Judge, coordinator of Ball State’s graduate athletic coaching education program and professor of kinesiology, has coached at every Olympics or Paralympics since the Atlanta Games in 1996. In 2016 in Rio he had the privilege of coaching both Olympic and Paralympic athletes, including his second gold medal winner.

Judge recently shared what he’s learned from the Olympic stage and the satisfaction he’s gained from seeing his athletes succeed.

“I think students want instructors who have been in the trenches—actively coaching elite athletes, working at Olympic training camps, coaching internationally.”

Q: What are your greatest memories from the Olympics?

Certainly my first Games in Atlanta are the most memorable. I remember seeing the stadium completely full for the morning session of the first day of competition. I got goose bumps walking up to the stadium to meet my shot putter at the warm-up track. There is no comparison when it comes to the overall scope and size of the Olympics. It is the mecca of sport. With so many different sports going on at so many different venues simultaneously, it is true sports overload. But for a coach, it’s hard to beat.

The opportunity to serve as an assistant coach the second time in eight years for the United States Paralympic track and field team was also a great honor. Being able to assist a gold medalist, Jeremy Campbell, and the Paralympic Games record holder, David Blair, at the last two Games will forever remain a highlight and possibly the pinnacle of my Paralympic coaching career.

I think students want instructors who have been in the trenches—actively coaching elite athletes, working at Olympic training camps, coaching internationally,” says Larry Judge.

Q: How do you compare coaching Olympic to coaching Paralympic events?

In being part of two Paralympic Games coaching staffs, I have never worked with a more professional or committed group of coaches, managers, sports science, and medical staff and support team than we had in Rio for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. I have often tried to clearly define what it means to be “athlete-centered.” I now have a visible example of the level of support that an athlete-centered system entails. The USOC [United States Olympic Committee], USATF [USA Track & Field], and every single person in the offices and on the ground were committed fully to providing every level of support that they could for Team USA.

There are probably more similarities than differences between the Paralympic and Olympic Games. The average American understands the magnitude of the Olympic Games. The Paralympic Games are the biggest stage in disabled sports. These athletes will have spent considerable time and resources to get to this place, the crowds are the biggest ever, and much is at stake.

One area where the Paralympic athletes—and really the Paralympic experience—is like the experience of Olympic athletes is the Paralympic Village. The Games present a “once in a lifetime performance” opportunity, making it challenging to stay focused amid a plethora of distractions while trying to perform to one’s capability. Staying focused on this highly charged competitive environment requires a set of mental abilities such as mental endurance, confidence, concentration, composure, and commitment. On an individual level, this requires the coach to get as much of an understanding of the complete individual, their individual story, the role the disability plays in their lives, and their performance history as possible.

Q: What was it like to coach two Gold medalists?

The level of professionalism and planning was astounding. I worked with two athletes that “cracked the code” and won the gold in the last two Games.

I think when anybody wins a gold medal or has extraordinary performance you trace it back and look at what led up to it. I look at Jeremy Campbell. In 2012 he was undefeated. When he came into the competition at London, he was able to withstand the British crowd and he made it his vision to beat the British thrower [Dan Greaves] to win that gold medal.

At the Pan American Games in 2015, when David Blair and Jeremy went against a newcomer on the scene from Trinidad and Tobago [Akeem Stuart], Jeremy finished second, David third. Then we started preparing for world championships in October 2015, which Jeremy won and David finished second. But from that point on, I saw very good training by Jeremy but I saw David making faster progress. This is what I mean by “cracking the code”—David giving attention to every detail, leaving nothing to chance, and having 100 percent commitment. I saw David doing what Jeremy was doing in 2012. He put on 20 pounds of body weight, managed his injuries, improved his technique, had full support of his family, he had a massage therapist set up after the World Championships, a chiropractor as personal coach, and he created a village around him. When we went to our last training camp, I could see David’s throwing fitness and speed in the ring was much better than Jeremy’s. Jeremy could see it too. The bitter side was Jeremy didn’t get a medal. He had some minor set-backs along the way and at the Games simply underperformed.

You look at David’s performance—setting a Paralympic record—and you say the guy cracked the code.

Q: What’s one thing you’ve learned from your participation at the Games?

Each season and every Games is different. You have to know your athletes enough to make sure that you’re not over reaching with expectations. At this level, it’s up to the individual. The coach can’t want it more than the athlete.

Q: How do students in your classroom benefit from your experiences?

This is a part of coaching you cannot learn in the textbooks. You can only teach this type of experience to students by being there. I think students want instructors who have been in the trenches—actively coaching elite athletes, working at Olympic training camps, coaching internationally. This is definitely a point of distinction for our online athletic coaching education master’s degree program. For some of our students, my experiences would be a fantasy camp. For example, as I worked with shot putter Felisha Johnson, who was just 2 ¾ inches short of making the Olympic finals, I got to see some of the other gold medalists and world-record holders prepare. And sometimes it wasn’t all that impressive. But if you want to win the gold, you have to be good enough even on your second best day. You have to be over prepared.

When you get up close and personal with these athletes, you see a common theme—purposeful dedication on the part of everyone involved in elite performance and preparation.

At the Olympic level, one thing you learn is how to take advantage of your support staff, whether medical, physiological, or psychological support. That is all factored into your program. We teach that in our athletic coaching education program—how to use your athletic trainers, chiropractors, therapists. The coach is the first line of defense. They have to observe everything: Are their hips out of line? Do the hamstrings look tight? Do you hear a cough? The coach is the one who has to have eyes and ears to the ground to make sure the right people are getting involved at the right time.

Q: What are your hopes for the 2020 Olympics?

I am going to continue to work with my Olympic and Paralympic Athletes. My passion for coaching keeps me involved. I will do my best to prepare athletes to be the best they can be and serve my profession as needed. It would be great to be in Tokyo coaching and preparing a group of athletes for the Podium. But, the experience I had in Rio—having athletes compete in both Games—will always be remembered. It was a unique, magical and life-altering exposure to sport at the highest level and afforded me some incredible perspectives on sport and my profession.

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