A distance-education professor is East Carolina University’s recipient of one of the state’s highest teaching honors.
Abbie Brown, a professor of instructional technology in the ECU College of Education, has received the University of North Carolina Board of Governors Award for Teaching Excellence. Brown teaches exclusively online; he is the first online-only professor at ECU to receive the award and possibly the first such recipient in the UNC system.
“I think in some ways this recognizes the entire university’s effort in providing a quality online experience,” he said.
ECU offers more than 75 degrees and certificates online. Online graduate programs in nursing and business have been named among the best in the country.
Brown’s expertise is in the field of instructional design/technology. Many of his courses focus on teaching the teachers of distance education programs. Instructing students remotely has some similarities to teaching in person, he said, but some important differences as well.
“There’s a lot of body language that’s missing,” he said of online teaching. “What went very well in a live classroom fell very flat when I tried to type it out.”
On the other hand, teaching online gives an instructor time to think through comments and responses before posting them.
“It’s kind of like sending a long series of post cards back and forth to each other,” he said.
Mike Dixon, an instructional technology consultant in the ECU College of Fine Arts and Communication, was a student of Brown’s when he was completing a second master’s degree from 2009-2011. He described Brown as “completely dedicated” to his students.
“I was just really impressed by the organization of his courses and the customization he would do for individuals,” said Dixon, who also teaches online courses at ECU. “I’ve taken a lot from his lead in my teaching.”
A New York City native, Brown’s undergraduate degree is in communication and theater arts from Temple University in Philadelphia, and he worked in the entertainment industry for several years before becoming an elementary and middle school teacher. Using his theater background, he would create computerized instructional vignettes for his students. That’s what started him on the path of instructional technology.
“I have developed very strong relationships with students that have lasted many years,” he said. “There has been laughing and crying. Many times, I meet my students for the first time face-to-face at graduation.
Brown also has a master’s degree from Columbia University in New York and a doctorate in instructional systems technology from Indiana University. Before coming to ECU in 2006, he taught at Washington State University and California State University, Fullerton.
He has taught online since 1997 and for three years was the editor-in-chief of the journal TechTrends. He has received several other awards for teaching and scholarship from organizations such as California State University and the New Jersey department of Education.
“I feel very blessed to be able to do what I do,” he said.
The UNC Board of Governors selects a recipient from each of the system’s 17 campuses. Each award winner will receive a commemorative bronze medallion and a $12,500 cash prize. All awards will be presented by a Board of Governors member during each campus’ spring graduation ceremonies.