A veteran instructor, Randall Swain believes in accessibility and taking an active part in his student’s educational experience. Swain goes above and beyond to ensure his online students have just as much opportunity to interact and build a relationship with him as their on-campus counterparts. Swain’s personal attention and dedication to helping students prepare to make a difference and reach their goals makes him a particular point of pride on EKU’s campuses, both in-person and virtual. We take great pride in offering the chance to get to know him a little better.
What brought you to EKU?
I came to EKU in 2008, but my desire to be a colonel goes back to 2005. I was a faculty member at another institution then, but came to The Campus Beautiful (as EKU is often referred to) because the Kentucky State Political Science conference was held on EKU’s campus that year. After the conference, I took the opportunity to walk around campus, and knew then, that if an opportunity were presented, I would jump at the chance to be an EKU Colonel. Three years later, a vacancy opened in the master of public administration (MPA) program, which is housed in the EKU Department of Government. I applied for the position and have been here since. I teach several courses for the undergraduate political science curriculum as well as several graduate courses for the public administration Program.
Tell us a little about your work in your field.
My primary areas of academic interest are political behavior and leadership in public and nonprofit organizations. In the case of the former, I examine the myriad ways in which American citizens participate in the political process as well as their interactions with public officials and public agencies. In the case of the latter, I am interested in how leaders of civic organizations, public organizations, and nonprofit agencies instill and/or perpetuate culture and public service values within their organizations. I examine this from a variety of perspectives, but mainly from the perspective of the ethical implications leaders of public organizations have on their constituents and how this in turn affects the quality of public service delivery to citizens and clients.
What moment at EKU stands out as most memorable?
My two most favorite times of the year are August and May. In August, the Campus Beautiful always seems to come alive after the lull of the summer months when students are away. The bustling activity is more than palpable and the excitement and thrills that come with the arrival of first time and returning students is infectious. As an instructor, I can’t help but get caught up with the sense of optimism, expectation, and potential that emanates from our students who have been away from campus for three months and for those of whom campus life is a first-time experience.
My other favorite time of year is May. This is because in the month of May – and in the weeks that proceed it – graduation is in the air. Starting around the last week of March, it’s common to see students posing for pictures in graduation regalia around well-known campus landmarks, such as the Turner Gate, the Daniel Boone statue on University Drive, or in the campus ravine. These occasions always bring a smile to my face and make my day. Watching these students walk across the stage to receive their diploma is what the entire enterprise here at EKU is all about! These are the moments that stand out as most memorable to me.
What is your approach to online teaching?
There is a plethora of research that indicates how important instructor presence is for student retention and success in online classes. Therefore, my approach to online learning is to seek ways to enhance my ability to connect with students in online class settings. My goal is to provide online public administration students with the same educational experience as students in face-to-face classroom settings. I make it a point to communicate with classes several times a week through discussion forums, announcements, and through emails. Moreover, I strive to make individual connections with students by participating in discussion forum and blog assignments, and through the personalized feedback I give them on assignments.
What tactics or approaches do you use to aid in your student’s success?
A well-organized course that is easily navigable is the first approach I use to ensure student success in my class. I also strive to cultivate a sense of community within the class by assigning group projects and also by encouraging student interaction through weekly discussion forum or blog assignments.
I have found that students really get to know each other through these mediums, and they facilitate cooperation and collaboration whenever the opportunity arises. Typically, I learn of these mutually supportive experiences at the beginning of the next term or semester when students refer to such situations in introductory discussion forums that always serve as one of the first assignments in my classes. It is often the case in these introductory discussion forums that students reconnect with classmates from previous courses and reflect on the support they received from each other back then. I can’t say enough about the importance of fostering a sense of community as being critical for success in online classes.
What do you believe are the biggest advantages to online learning?
Undoubtedly, the flexibility that online classes offer is the main draw for most of the students in our program. Online classes provide the opportunity to interact with students and instructors from the comfort of one’s own home or office. While there a few parameters, students are able to complete a curriculum of study with far more flexibility than would be the case if the pursuit occurred within the framework of a traditional, brick-and-mortar classroom setting.
The implications of this flexibility are indefinite: it means that one’s work schedule need not be a hindrance to obtaining an education – as I have students in classes that work second or third shift. It also means that active duty or reserve/National Guard military service need not stand in the way, as I have had multiple students deal with temporary duty deployments and other contingencies and were still able to complete the class. Finally, it means that familial obligations need not stand in the way of getting an education, as many of my students post responses to discussion forum assignments while waiting for a son or daughter at a Little League game or a cheerleading practice. The key takeaway is that you pretty much work at your own pace.
What advice would you give to someone who’s considering finishing their degree, or starting for the first time as an adult?
First, I would offer that there is no better time than now! It is not uncommon for nontraditional students who work full time jobs and are raising families to allow doubt and the timing of resuming – or even completing – a degree question their resolve and whether the timing is right to complete a degree. Experience has taught me that there will always be plenty of reasons to put off or procrastinate starting or completing a degree. Mind you that these are valid concerns: “the kids are too young; I’ll start when they are a little older”, or “the demands of the job are too much at the present; I’ll wait until things cool down a bit”, and the list of these (valid) concerns go on and on.
However, my response to these concerns is that while valid, the flexibility of online classes renders these concerns less challenging than would be the case for students considering traditional classroom settings. Second, I would offer that most students would find classmates who are dealing with similar challenges and concerns, and therefore I sincerely believe that students will find the level of support and encouragement from classmates to be beneficial. Finally, I would encourage students to reach out to their instructors with their concerns and challenges. Students will find that their instructors are mostly receptive to those concerns as they themselves had to overcome the same challenges in their journey towards a college degree. Moreover, their instructors very much want their students to succeed and therefore they should not hesitate to reach out to an instructor whenever the need arises.
EKU is a school of opportunity. This applies to the undergraduate, as well as the graduate level. There has never been a better time to go back to school and get that degree. There has never been a more opportune time to take that first step towards that degree, which will undoubtedly open doors for additional success in so many other areas. As I often counsel prospective students, “that you’re even contemplating a college degree at EKU tells me that you are exactly the type of student we want!” Success at EKU is absolutely attainable, so what are you waiting for?? Let’s get started!
Interested in a Career in Public Administration?
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Earn your online master’s of public administration from a regionally accredited university and leader in online education for over 15 years. Enjoy a flexible, online format that allows you to complete coursework and assignments according to your schedule. Complete the form to learn more about how EKU’s online public administration program can help you achieve your goals.