By Kate Hunger
Tabatha Dragonberry, DHSc, MBA, MEd, RRT-NPS, RRT-ACCS, AE-C, CPFT, C-NPT, assistant professor and director of online education for the Division of Respiratory Care, is keenly aware of both the potential and the pitfalls of distance education.
After all, Dr. Dragonberry has earned five online degrees.
“I’ve been a student of the good, the bad, and the ugly of online,” she said. “This position is allowing me to mix my varied skills across the continuum of my education in one place.”
Dr. Dragonberry earned a bachelor’s degree in film and video before changing the trajectory of her career by pursuing respiratory therapy. Along the way, she earned her bachelor’s in respiratory care, master’s degrees in education and educational/ instructional media design, an MBA in health care management and a doctorate in health science—all online.
Hired as a contractor in April, Dr. Dragonberry joined the faculty full time in August. She recently moved back to the U.S. from Doha, Qatar, where she helped start a new pediatric hospital. She has a lot of ideas for leveraging technology to enhance student learning, and she is excited that her colleagues are enthusiastic about her plans, which include creating a daily quiz app for students.
“There is a lot of creative opportunity to enhance not only our online offering but also help and engage the in-person learners,” she said.
The Division of Respiratory Care offers four programs: in-person bachelor’s and master’s degrees for students new to the profession, and online bachelor’s and master’s degrees designed for practicing respiratory therapists who want to advance their career opportunities. Dr. Dragonberry is focused on designing courses and schedules with the many demands facing online learners and has already implemented changing online course length from 16 weeks to 8 weeks.
“My students are front-liners,” she said. “They are busier, they are tired, they are emotionally exhausted from dealing with everything. One of our students is one of the primary COVID therapists at her organization.
“The instructional design makes a huge difference for online learning,” she added. “You have to think these are working professionals, and you need to balance out how you are designing the courses that are paired together.”
Dr. Dragonberry works hard to make online students feel welcomed and engaged, and she is available to answer questions on a wide range of platforms—including an app that enables her to respond to questions by video—well beyond traditional business hours.
“I know when I am a student, I have a question now. I don’t have a question tomorrow,” she said.
The school is lucky to have Dr. Dragonberry on the faculty, said Rick Wettstein, MEd, RRT, FAARC, associate professor and program director.
“We were very fortunate to get her because she really is innovative and creative,” he said. “She is bringing these programs into the 21st century. This is the program where students should want to come because of Dr. Dragonberry.”
Online degree programs enable career advancement, which is increasingly important because the profession’s accrediting body no longer is accrediting new associate degree programs, which will make the new entry to the profession either a bachelor’s or master’s degree, Wettstein said.