Traveling to South America in his younger age, Michael Cottam developed a passion for language and culture. He pursued degrees in Spanish all the way to his master’s and grew an interest in technology and the emerging world of the internet. Now, Cottam is the new dean and associate vice president of military campuses and online education.
Cottam has researched how to use technology to improve instructional learning since he was an undergraduate. In the late 1990s his research was on how to use chatrooms to develop language proficiency. His doctorate is in educational technology and instructional design. His love for language, culture and the use of technology in education came together to build a career for Cottam. He moved from faculty to instructional designer to director to associate dean and now dean.
Cottam’s new dean position is the first of its kind, where military campuses and the Online Learning Center (OLC) are combined under one unit. Cottam said about half of Webster students worldwide take at least one online class a year. His job is to bring staff, faculty and students across this network together.
“The opportunity to bring it into one administrative unit allows us to serve students more effectively as a team,” Cottam said. “It’s rewarding and it’s what I believe is going to move Webster forward … and our students forward.”
Webster University President Elizabeth Stroble said a new dean position means looking at the offered programs and renovating them to fit the current need of students. The Webster administration noticed an increase in online-enrolled military students and asked Cottam to be in charge of more of an umbrella look over both fields.
“[Cottam] has been in charge of online which has grown astronomically over the last few years,” Stroble said. “More military students now do online than ever before, that’s why it made sense to put the two together.”
Webster operates in 31 military campuses inside education centers of military bases around the country. The majority of students affiliated with the military are graduate students. If students are in active duty and located on a base, they take as many in-person classes as they can. If students are mobile, they are more likely to take online classes.
Cottam said a large portion of online students are military and this unity will allow the online group to support military campuses more closely and richly. He said there are great ideas and talent across this network and he believes this collaboration will allow for more achievements.
“We have skill sets in [the online] group with technology, with media, with social media, with course design, with interactivity,” Cottam said. “There are so many things that we can do technically that we are able to provide more easily to the faculty and the staff that are at the campuses right now.”
Cottam said the military campuses and the OLC have been collaborating for years to make sure Webster provides services to students across the country. A part of the partnership is enhancing the scheduling of classes to ensure students have access to the classes they need in the modality they need them.
The OLC team works with faculty members to develop 100 online classes a year. An instructional designer from the online team adapts and facilitates a faculty’s course for the online environment with multimedia and interactivity. The curriculum and outcome of courses stays the same when crafted for online.
“If we can give a student an opportunity to take a class in person, take it live video or take it asynchronous traditional online, we’ve just given the student the power to choose what works best for them in any given term,” Cottam said. “It’s always about the students. Our students need the flexibility.”