English Professor in Online Degree Programs Never Stops Brainstorming
Check out the story of Dr. Greg Beatty, an English instructor who teaches in Saint Leo University's online degree programs.
While Saint Leo University adjunct English professor Dr. Greg Beatty admits he's dealt with writer's block on occasion during his career, his mind never stops coming up with unique ideas to eventually put down on paper.
The 57-year-old, who teaches in some of Saint Leo's online degree programs, is originally from Findley, Ohio but now resides out west in Bellingham, Wash. about 80 miles north of Seattle.
The stepfather of three – John, Beth and Zach –also has two grandkids. His rescue dog, Drake, is a pit bull who always seems to be at Beatty's side.
Beatty earned a bachelor's in English with a concentration in creative writing from the University of Washington in Seattle. He completed his graduate studies at the University of Iowa, earning both master's and doctoral degrees in English.
"I had always wanted to write but didn't have much faith in myself when I was younger," Beatty confides. "I thought authors were fundamentally different from me."
He started out composing stories based on science fiction, fantasy and horror. He has written about aliens, ghosts, serial killers and a variety of other bone-chilling characters. While this genre might be more fun for younger writers, he realized nonfiction writing and teaching would be his keys to a more practical career. That's why he decided to go back to college to pursue a graduate education.
Early on, he worked as a drama critic as he tried to learn to write short stories. Outside of crafting stories, he was bartending on charter boats and at other venues around Seattle. He even became a professional massage therapist. Later, he started writing reviews on audiobooks, sometimes reviewing 50 a year.
"I was just trying to pay my bills while trying to write," he says.
Thanks to his many years of experience as a wordsmith, he has been able to relay the rollercoaster ride that writers sometimes face to the students he has had.
"I find it very useful to tell my students how I get pieces of my work rejected or how I have writer's block and find myself stuck on a story. I think they can all relate to these challenges."
Now, he's been teaching for over two decades. He has taught both face-to-face and online courses. He has also taught those who are housebound and prisoners in jail. Team teaching, individual tutoring and group tutoring have also been part of his repertoire.
"I'd say I prefer teaching small, face-to-face classes because of the personal connections you make with the students," he says. "It's also a lot easier to save a struggling student when you're actually around them. If a student goes silent in an online class, you have no idea if they're just too busy, if their Internet has gone down or something else. But if someone shows up crying to class, you will have a much better idea of why they're struggling."
Currently, Beatty only teaches within online degree programs for Saint Leo University and other schools. Although in-person education is his preference, he has grown to truly appreciate the benefits of online degree programs and how this format can help reach so many more students who might not otherwise be able to earn a college degree.
"Years ago, someone asked me if I'd consider teaching online. I was living in a small town in Michigan where the winters are bad and I lived an hour from the closest college. I also had to lecture in a huge room where nobody really talked to me. I admit that I'm a convert now. The idea of being able to reach students in nontraditional situations is very rewarding. I've had the opportunity to teach military veterans who were injured in combat, mothers who are still raising kids and housebound individuals who just can't get to a regular college campus."
Plus, the idea of a flexible schedule and being able to take care of his grandchildren and dog have been two more appealing reasons he's become a fan of online education.
Beatty started teaching courses for Saint Leo University about 10 years ago. He came across an ad saying that the university was searching for online instructors. He has taught humanities, literature, composition and other various classes.
"There are cases where online teaching works very well and even better than in a traditional classroom," he explains. "You can send students links to videos to watch on their own time, audio recordings of people reading poetry and slideshows. Students can easily access these types of content when it's convenient for them. In a classroom, a projector might not work, the Wi-Fi could go down and you might only have a 50-minute class period to communicate a lot of information."
According to Beatty, his classes are always very interactive.
"Engagement is central to my teaching style," he explains. "I ask the students a lot of questions and do peer-to-peer activities."
He also has a very thorough grading style.
"What I first do is go through the assignments and give them a grade. Then I will provide overview comments from a broader standpoint, but then I'll always include specific contextual comments on certain parts of an essay or assignment."
Based on his observations, he has seen writing errors made by students change over time.
"It used to be the tough words that students would misspell. Now, I find that some students simply use incorrect words in certain contexts. Homonyms are a good example of this. Spell check won't always pick up on this because the words might be spelled correctly but are not used correctly."
He adds that Saint Leo students generally are better at spelling and grammar than students he has taught elsewhere.
Seeing his points truly come across to students is what makes teaching so fulfilling for him.
"When you see that things are coming together conceptually and that lightbulb clicks on for a student, that's what it's all about."
Beatty has published dozens of short stories, poems and personal essays in recent years. Of late, he had a personal essay called "There's a Person in There" published in Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul.
"I thought of an experience I had with one of my grandkids and turned it into a nice little essay for this series," he explains. "My grandson used to love to be carried around outside. It would immediately silence him if he started to cry. I'd take him for walks around the neighborhood. One time, we were out walking and I had on a shirt with a dog on it. We came upon a dog on the sidewalk. He started making a wheezing sound that his family's dog would make and then pointed to my shirt. He wasn't verbal at that age, but it was remarkable how smart he was by making that connection."
He also published "Bones and Bots," an essay about how classic science fiction can explain certain concepts of contemporary medicine. This piece ran in Hektoen International: A Journal of Medical Humanities.
One of his poems was even engraved in concrete and displayed in a local town after he won a poetry contest.
As far as future writing goals?
"I'd love to publish a picture book for children," he says.
FURTHER READING: Check out another short story and an award-winning poem he wrote. You can also find some of his work on Amazon.