Faculty Spotlight: Jennifer Friend, PhD

UMKC’s innovative education instructor is raising the bar for quality online learning

Associate Dean of Graduate Studies Jennifer Friend

Associate Dean of Graduate Studies Jennifer Friend

Combining technology with pedagogy, education instructor Jennifer Friend creates a dynamic learning space for exploration of diversity and inequality.

When and how did you first get involved with online teaching at UMKC? During the 2007-08 academic year, I was one of 12 UMKC faculty members engaged in a pilot program to use Tegrity as an innovative podcasting tool through Blackboard. This was my first experience with a blended classroom model where the lecture could be delivered online and the face-to-face class time could be used to engage the students in activities related to the learning objectives.

What is your field of research or area of study? What’s the most exciting project you’re currently working on? My research focuses on educational leadership and issues of social justice in U.S. public education. My methods involve digital video production techniques grounded in post-qualitative and arts-based inquiry to illuminate existing inequities in schools. This year I am collaborating with School of Education faculty members Dr. Loyce Caruthers and Dr. Candace Schlein to record video oral histories and digitize artifacts to build an educational website focused on the Kansas City, Missouri school desegregation period 1971 to 1997. The website, Kansas City Speaks: Stories of School Desegregation, is available at

Newsweek Ad for EdS Online

Newsweek ad for EdS degree online

What do you feel are the qualities that make for a good online course and instructor? I feel that good online instructors are lifelong learners who invest the time and effort to stay current with skills and new technologies that have the potential to improve the design of online learning environments. It is also important for online instructors to personalize the online learning spaces and to provide opportunities throughout the semester for students to communicate with the instructor and to interact with one another. There are many elements of a good online course, and I find UMKC Online’s Course Certification Checklist to be helpful when building or redesigning an online course.

Do you have a philosophy of teaching? If so, what is it? My philosophy of teaching for learning includes the belief that all students benefit from opportunities for active participation and application of course content relative to their prior knowledge, experiences, and professional roles. My responsibility as an instructor is to promote intellectual and personal growth in a positive, caring environment for learning that is respectful and inclusive of all learners.

What do you like most about online education? What is most challenging? What I like most about online education is the opportunity to incorporate critical pedagogy to create learning spaces that encourage every student’s voice to be heard as they engage in reflective conversations to examine diverse meanings, ideologies and knowledge. What I find most challenging is keeping up with the rapid development of technologies to support learning in online environments.

Principal 2.0, co-edited by Jennifer Friend

Principal 2.0, co-edited by Jennifer Friend

What principles, techniques, or tools do you use to engage students? My teaching methods are grounded in a constructivist approach, and I strive to incorporate culturally responsive pedagogy through inclusion of student voice and project-based learning. As a faculty member certified in online teaching and learning, I have used the Blackboard system for all classes as an instructional tool and as a means of communication by posting weekly assignments, the course syllabi, and announcements. Each class also has a Student Lounge as the first online Discussion Board topic, so that students have a space for open dialogue about any topics of interest and importance to them. I utilize Panopto podcasting software for asynchronous online instruction with instructor video, and students create individual projects to share their learning by recording their own Panopto video presentations. I engage with students in online discussion forum activities, and I use short quizzes and case studies to check for understanding and identify areas to re-teach or to expand upon based on students’ demonstration of the learning outcomes. Lastly, Blackboard Collaborate has been a useful tool for online synchronous sessions.

Dr. Loyce Caruthers, Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, and Dr. Jennifer Friend

Dr. Loyce Caruthers, Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, and Dr. Jennifer Friend

Who has inspired you in your life and why? Dr. Loyce Caruthers, a faculty member in the School of Education, is an inspiration in my life. She was assigned to be my mentor in 2005 when I transitioned from a middle school principal role to a faculty position at UMKC. Words cannot adequately express the impact that Dr. Caruthers had on my development as a teacher and scholar through her wisdom and her support of teaching for social justice. In her own scholarship, Dr. Caruthers examines student voice and “dangerous memories” related to issues of diversity such as race and class that must be confronted and explored in order to successfully teach all students. I value our friendship and the opportunity to collaborate on research projects that empower students and support renewal efforts in urban schools and communities.

What’s your best advice to new online instructors? My best advice would be to engage in conversations with other faculty who are teaching online and with UMKC’s instructional designers in order to explore effective online teaching techniques and available tools. I have valued the relationships developed with faculty members and instructional designers across campus through faculty development opportunities and committees focused on enhancing online learning experiences for UMKC students.