University of Arizona Global Campus College of Arts and Sciences Professor Dr. Alan Belcher wishes he could get students to understand that it’s OK to show your face, speak up, and ask questions in class.
“Some students are afraid to do that,” Dr. Belcher says, “and for whatever reason, they think they’re going to look foolish or whatever, so I try to explain to them, get across to them quickly, look at me, I put my face on the screen, so why can’t you?”
As a matter of fact, teaching online full time was one of the goals Dr. Belcher set for himself more than 20 years ago when online instruction was in its infancy. Although he was one of the first to lead computer science courses online for military personnel part time, he wanted to teach college courses online full time. He achieved this final goal on his bucket list when he began working at Ashford University*.
Other goals he had included completing his doctorate (check), publishing articles on assessment, teaching, and learning (check), and several other noteworthy projects pertaining to his area of expertise — which is helping colleges worldwide achieve accreditations (check, check, and check).
It’s clear that Dr. Belcher has been focusing on educating others his entire life. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Secondary Education (French and Spanish) from Marshall University in West Virginia. After graduation, he taught high school French for 11 years. In the meantime, he decided to go back to school for three advanced degrees: a Master of Arts in School Administration, a Master of Science in Computer Information Systems, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Education.
Throughout his long history of being an educator, at high schools and at colleges, in-person and online, Dr. Belcher says he most enjoys his time with students.
“I really like when I have the opportunity to work one-on-one with a student and help them turn some problem around,” Dr. Belcher explains. “Or they don’t know how to do this assignment, or they don’t know what went wrong over here or over there. The one-on-one interaction with a student is always the best thing.”
For 26 years, Dr. Belcher taught undergraduate computer science courses at a small private college in West Virginia. He spent a few years in North Carolina at another school, and now he’s been at Ashford for eight years. Over the years, Dr. Belcher successfully tackled very specific goals.
For example, he developed, and then for 10 years directed, a week-long residential faculty consortium for a group of 35 small, private colleges. Again, not only working with students, but working with faculty as well. Dr. Belcher was also able to successfully acquire a Title III grant for technology integration at a school.
When it comes to teaching, Dr. Belcher’s philosophy is to set a high standard.
“Then it’s my responsibility to help his students achieve that high standard,” he says. “It’s not a sink or swim thing, but it’s ‘hey, let’s get there together.’ I guess the old phrase, ‘if you enjoy what you do, you never work a day in your life, fits me well, because I do enjoy what I do. I feel like I’m semi-retired.”
Of course, he acknowledges that it’s not easy. But students facing any kind of adversity should not be afraid to ask for help.
“If you think, ‘Oh golly, this has never happened to anyone before,’ it probably has. It’s probably happened to somebody. I think sometimes our students are amazed that we, as faculty, had to struggle to get where we are. It didn’t come automatic for most of us. We had to work at things and overcome problems — not just academic, but things that life threw at us as well. So, don’t think you’re alone.”
The year 2020 has forced many to reach out in different ways to get or give support. But it’s also taught people to be flexible, something Dr. Belcher recommends when it comes to education and career.
“Don’t assume that the job you had your sights on will still be there a year from now,” he warns. “Be prepared to take a chance on something new and different. Always remember that the instructors you had along the way would love to hear of your successes.”
*Ashford University is now the University of Arizona Global Campus.