Instructor Spotlight: Keeping Online Learning in Line with Katie Fulton

CATEGORIES: Foundation Courses

Katie Fulton began teaching at Iowa State as a graduate student in 2007. This was her first foray into the arena of public speaking education, and she was not sure it would be a good fit for her at first. However, she is still teaching Speech Communication classes, as well as Foundation and Advanced Communication courses, in 2024, and she is also serving as the ISUComm Online Learning Coordinator. Katie describes her teaching environment as “supportive,” saying:  “as a person who teaches public speaking, I’m just really in tune with the fact that our students find those courses intimidating.” She is undeterred by the hesitancy, however. Katie welcomes the challenge “to win students over to the course,” asserting that the presentation and/or speech requirements across ISUComm serve as “one of the best opportunities for growth.”

In order to “win over” students, Katie employs a number of classroom strategies. One strategy she uses is “challeng[ing] students to do something poorly” during the class period; by having a “very low-stakes practice opportunity” to stop aiming for perfection and have fun when practicing delivery skills that are likely anxiety-inducing for her pupils, Katie is able to break tension. When everyone can laugh at themselves, a great deal of pressure and discomfort can be relieved. One example of this is a “Delivery Don’ts” exercise. Katie puts strips of paper in an envelope, each with a different “Delivery Don’t,” or things one should not do in a speech, like explaining something too quickly for audiences to understand. Like in a game of charades, a student acts out a “Don’t,” and then their classmates try and guess what the “Don’t” is. Instructors in ENGL 150 and 250 could use an activity like this when they work on presentations with their students, too. 

In January of 2020, Katie began her role as the ISUComm Online Learning Coordinator. At that time, online learning in the ISUComm courses was at an experimental stage. As anyone around in 2020 would know, however, universities across the globe would soon find that online learning would be an integral part of continuing operations. The ISUComm Canvas prototypes had to be quickly rolled out for everyone to use, and Katie played an integral role in that process. In the post-pandemic era, Katie still manages and prepares the blueprint/shell Foundation Courses that instructors base their own Canvas pages on. She also helps to design the courses themselves, not just the containers they rest in; she enjoys making sure that the course objectives and assignments are in alignment with one another to ensure consistency and that the students are actually learning what the university wants them to.

Currently, Katie continues to teach about a third of her classes online; she makes sure to “try and keep at least one online class on [her] schedule every semester” in order to stay “in touch with the curriculum, and issues that are coming up in online classes, and keeping up with trends with what we’re noticing with those students.” Katie is intimately aware of the fact that not all students learn well in an online environment, and she wishes that more students would be honest with themselves about whether or not online learning is a good fit for them when deciding which modality of a course to take. Even if personality and learning style align, some issues can still crop up in regards to learner retention: rest assured that Katie has tips on this subject. 

Firstly, Katie recommends that instructors come to terms with the fact that some of this is out of their control; one can lead a horse to the most refreshing stream of water with the gentlest hand, but even then, everyone knows how the saying ends. She also wants instructors to know that students do not always acknowledge how much they appreciate instructors’ commitment to creating an enriching online classroom environment, but they do indeed appreciate it. The students who “take [instructors] up on the opportunities to engage,” she says, “are doing it consistently.” Katie also suggests that it can be beneficial to attempt to engage with students on conversational topics that are completely unrelated to the course. This can help them feel seen as individuals rather than numbers. Also, getting the students to use pencil and paper to complete some assignments can help them turn on a different part of their brains and reduce stagnation.

Katie has created (and aided in the creation of) a number of useful resources for both new and experienced instructors. She is excited to introduce a training course that she created in collaboration with CELT, which functions as an onboarding program for new online instructors. There are also time management tips, sample announcements, and other resources that may benefit experienced online instructors alike. Anyone can be added to the training course by emailing Katie (

There are two things that Katie wishes her students knew. The first is that her favorite interactions with students are often one-on-one conversations about the speeches or writing assignments they’re working on; it is not a burden to her, despite not having the time to interact with every single student individually. The second thing is how important it is for students to use their time in the classroom as an opportunity to develop their willingness to communicate. Simple actions like volunteering an answer in class, asking a question, and really engaging in group discussions build the confidence to speak up and offer ideas that can be a huge asset to them in the future.

Outside of the classroom, Katie has many hobbies. She loves hiking, video games (currently playing Baldur’s Gate 3), and plays the electric guitar. Her two cats, Maybe and Lizzy, live a comfortable life in her and her husband’s care.