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Online Education – Susan Salvo Interview

Susan SalvoFor my last interview on online education, I tapped Susan Salvo. Susan and I are Facebook friends and I’ve learned a great deal from her about teaching and being a better massage educator. She has great experience teaching massage students and massage continuing education.

Susan Salvo is a board certified massage therapist with 30+ years of experience. She loves to research information and write about it. She has written two best-selling textbooks: Massage Therapy: Principles and Practice and Mosby’s Guide to Pathology for Massage Therapists. She has contributed and reviewed manuscripts for other publications.

Susan stays in touch with massage therapists. She has a thriving massage practice, receives massages regularly, and teaches basic education at the Louisiana Institute of Massage Therapy. She is well-travelled and conducts continuing education workshops around the country. Susan also designs and teaches online courses and posts instructional videos on YouTube.

Susan is a life-long learner and perpetual student. She has an associate degree in history, a bachelors in education, and a masters in instructional technology and is currently working on her doctorate in education.

Susan brings a lot to the table. She brings experience as a massage therapist, massage business owner, past massage school owner, author, instructional designer, teacher, student, researcher, task force member for the Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge, expert witness in legal cases, and credentialed allied health care provider.

You can find more information about Susan Salvo on her website.

Susan Salvo – Educator, Author, Massage Therapist

Have you taken online courses in the past? Were they massage-related?

Yes. I have taken many online courses. Some were college courses related to degree-attainment and some were massage continuing education courses.

Was the course live (webinar format) or learn at your own pace?

The online “credit” courses had specific deadlines. Online courses are often promoted as self-paced, but they are not because students were expected to complete assignments within a time frame.

Was this teaching/learning technique effective?

How I answer that question largely depends on what my educational “goals” were for each online course. If my goal was to obtain college credits or CE credits, the answer is YES. If it was to have a fulfilling educational experience, the answer is often NO. I define “learning” as a “relatively permanent change in behavior due to experience.” Anyone who has taken both traditional face-to-face (f-2-f) courses and online courses know that these experiences are different.

As a student, what worked the best for you?

As a student, I like a mixture of teaching methods. I enjoy lectures, I enjoy reading, I enjoy meaningful discussions, I enjoy researching information, I enjoy writing, and I enjoy working on projects with fellow classmates. I even enjoy taking tests. I LOVE LEARNING!

As a student, what did you think needed improvement or change?

Be sure directions are clear and concise. This is a frequent complaint. When an online instructor gives confusing assignments, students read or listen for an hour on their computers and then think, “What am I supposed to do?”

Be present with students and let them feel that presence. The worst class I’ve ever taken was by a professor who believed in “collaborative learning,” which meant students did most of the teaching. This approach is fine if students knew what they were talking about. Unfortunately, most students did not actively participate and the professor did not facilitate well. Most of the coursework involved reading poorly written or confusing summaries and posting responses to irrelevant questions. The class was a big waste of time and money. Research shows that when students have frequent contact with instructors, engagement rates increased by 10%. Don’t treat students like the lone learner.

Be sure you can receive large files over the internet or use a cloud. I do a lot with videos and graphics. Many of my projects are huge and when I submit then, the LMS usually has a limit on file size. This is a source of student frustration.

Create videos or webinars with a chapter-format like a movie DVD. This way, students can then easily locate specific information. Otherwise, we may listen to most of the lecture to locate one piece of information. Accessing information later is a huge benefit of online over f-2-f classes. Be sure you have a “table of contents” with time codes or hyperlinks we can use to navigate the wonderful videos and webinar you are posting and take full advantage of this medium.

Be sure information is from credible sources. Textbooks are written, edited, reviewed by a team of subject matter experts. Teachers and students can be confident that the information is solid and well-vetted. Many (if not most) online courses fail to cite their sources or use outdated sources or worse — just throw information online without consulting any credible sources.

Give students choices. Offer both online and f-2-f versions of your courses. This may mean you need to outsource educational options you don’t offer, but we need options to help us make the best choices we can based on our individual education goals.

Have you taught any online courses in the past?

Yes, I have taught many online courses.

What format was this course? (Ex. Live webinar, pre-recorded video, etc).

I’ve used learning management systems (LMSs). In 2010, I began teaching a 30-hour online pathology course as part of our basic massage curriculum.

I’ve used webinars. Keep in mind that “live” webinars are fast becoming a rarity. When webinars made their first debut, they were aired live with limited audience participation. Hosting companies soon realized that most webinar viewing occurred “after” the webinar and were accessed as archived courses. Because of this trend, most webinars are now prerecorded.

I’ve used webquests and web-based discussion boards and reflection logs. These were extensions of f-2-f lessons. My goal for their use is to promote academic success by optimizing the learning experience. Students may spend part of their lesson time watching web-based tutorials and documentaries or interacting with classmates online. One thing I’ve noticed about online participation is that it builds a healthy, robust learning community that often extends after graduation.

How did you assess the students’ learning?

For credit online courses, I use exams — usually a multiple-choice or essay format.

For discussion boards, webquests, and reflection logs, students were given a participation grade. I post a rubric with specific evaluation criteria.

As a teacher, was this an effective way to deliver a course?

Yes, they fit the learning objectives I have for my students.

As a teacher, what did you think worked the best for you?

I like to teach using a mixture of teaching methods and both online and f-2-f formats. Online learning has lots of advantages and we should use them – all of them. Face-to-face learning also has lots of advantages and we use them too. We are beyond the point of deciding whether or not we will accept online courses in our schools. It’s here and here to stay. The crucial task at hand is to decide how to implement this technology effectively into instruction. As a conscientious teacher, I cannot ignore the research that has come out about online education and it has been mixed. Drop-out rates are higher than in f-2-f classes and some at-risk students do not do well in online learning environments. It seems a little premature to abandon “tried and true” teaching methods such as lectures and classroom discussions. Lecture-based courses tend to be well attended & allow us to cover a lot of content in a relatively short amount of time.

What do you think the future is for online learning in the massage school teaching environment?

Online courses should be offered in our basic curriculum. We need to be clear about which courses should be offered and which should not be offered. If students are struggling in these online courses or indicate they want to drop out, perhaps offer alternatives which may mean the opposite learning environment. If our goal is to “educate” students, be sure our methods are providing these students with the best educational environment possible.

What do you think the future is for online learning in the continuing education environment?

The need for online CE courses will grow and continue to grow.

Do you see any roadblocks to that future?

No. Things are moving along nicely. I am excited about growing use of flipped classrooms and blended learning. Many progressive massage teachers such as Annie LeCroix are using this format and loving it. There is something almost magical about blending instructor-led classroom instruction with online instruction as each delivers something the other does not.

Any further thoughts or comments that you would like to share or discuss?

Technology affords us unprecedented means to communicate and educate. It is essential to develop methods to match our resources. Educators need to keep both eyes open and make changes to their couI’vrses based on current research and student needs/feedback. I am very optimistic and look forward to the being part of the changing face of massage education.


If you have any questions or comments, please share them below. I would love to hear your thoughts.

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