#WhyITeach: Q&A with instructor Kristen Palana

Kristen PalanaName: Kristen Palana

Age: 38

Location: Rome, Italy

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How does teaching on Udemy fit into your overall career/work?

I’m a tenured Associate Professor at the American University of Rome (originally from Swansea, MA). Right now, my online teaching is evolving from something I tinkered around with on the side to something I am devoting more time to.

My husband and I do work with the United Nations and will soon be moving with our young sons to a World Food Programme Duty Station country. We don’t know yet which continent we will be moving to, but I thought I should find a way to make my skills more portable. I’ve taken a leave of absence from my university and am focusing on freelance art and design projects as well as online teaching and have even started writing my first e-book.

What first motivated you to teach an online course?

My university colleagues were suspicious of online teaching, and I wanted to investigate for myself. It was actually a friend of mine outside of academia who suggested I get started on Udemy. Her boundless enthusiasm helped me get over my initial stage fright, and here I am with 8 Udemy courses to my name so far.

Were there any surprises as you got started with Udemy?

Anyone who has ever seen a YouTube comment has to be a little bit hesitant about putting themselves out there online for public scrutiny. I was happily surprised to get an overwhelmingly positive reception from Udemy, both in terms of student reviews and numbers of engaged students participating and asking questions.

What are the top lessons learned you’d want to share with new instructors?

My first course took me about a month to create and produce — and that was after spending the prior month reading about how to make an online course and taking Udemy’s free course on making Udemy courses! Then, one of my university colleagues had a family emergency, and I found myself having to temporarily take over his course. In just two days, I created an online course for his students and it was a hit. The lesson here is that things come more easily with time and with practice.

How have your teaching skills/approach changed since you started?

When I first started teaching online, I tried to cover everything the same way I would in a semester teaching my offline students. I’ve since learned that courses tend to work best when they are no more than 1-3 hours long. People seem to prefer more digestible courses where they learn a few key concepts they can apply immediately to their work and lives.

What has been the most rewarding aspect(s) of teaching on Udemy?

Teaching, in general, allows me to participate in something larger than myself. I get to help empower other ordinary people to do extraordinary things. I get to pass on what I know and watch students run with it, build on it, and expand on what I’ve taught them making something even bigger and better. I thoroughly enjoy being able to reach people all over the world from all walks of life, from all backgrounds, and with different dreams.

Have you ever taken a course on Udemy or do you plan to?

My fellow Udemy instructor-friends have been so generous in sharing their courses with me, but there are many I haven’t had a chance to take. I used to get a little miffed at students who signed up for my courses and then never even started. Now I understand that sometimes people will grab a course and then wait until it’s the right time to take it. That’s actually a nice benefit of online learning.

What are your future plans for teaching on Udemy?

I’d like to add one or two high-quality courses a month on Udemy. I’m also exploring creating e-books and other resources for educators, particularly those who want to create Action Learning plans where students do hands-on work and get to co-create the course together with the instructor.