Justin SparksBehind the scenes of online classes

Justin Sparks ’03 majored in communications, intending to become a sportswriter. But when he took a multi- media production class as an elective in the major, he discovered two new interests. During one assignment when class groups were charged with producing a mock press conference, he realized he liked working as part of a team and he enjoyed editing the raw audio and video back in the Mac computer lab.

Today, he is the instructional technologist for Saint Joseph’s online degree programs that serve 2,400 students worldwide. For more than 200 online courses, Sparks supports faculty and students in using multimedia technology to teach and learn. That means recording mini-lectures and tutorials for faculty, or helping them incorporate “Web 2.0” – instant messaging, YouTube, PowerPoint, wikis and blogs. One instructor even asked him to set up a virtual office hours system, so she could chat with her students every Wednesday night.

“Our instructional designer determines why a technology should be part of the course delivery, but I determine how it becomes part of the course,” says Sparks. He states, however, that he is a firm believer in incorporating technology only if it enhances student learning, not for its own sake. As part of his job, Sparks also conducts an online faculty workshop series each month, where he highlights peer faculty who are using newer technology. What’s next? He would like to explore the use of social networking for faculty and students in order to create electronic academic communities to share ideas, knowledge and experiences.

When he’s not in the office, Sparks lives in Sebago, Maine, with his wife, Linda Russo Sparks ’03, who teaches at an elementary school in Standish. The couple recently had their first child, Owen. And he still enjoys sports, even if he doesn’t want to write about them.