Dr. Heidi Skurat Harris, associate professor of rhetoric and writing, has been selected as the 2020 Faculty Excellence in Research and Creative Endeavors award winner for the UA Little Rock College of Social Sciences and Communication.
“Dr. Skurat Harris’ research, which is integrated throughout her teaching, is nationally recognized, and she is one of the top authorities on online writing instruction and program development in the country,” said Dr. Joyce Carter, chair of the Department of Rhetoric and Writing.
Skurat Harris is the editor of the “Bedford Bibliography of Research in Online Writing Instruction.” In its second edition, it features annotations of 540 sources in online writing instruction and is the only comprehensive bibliography of research in this area.
Her research areas of online instruction and online writing program development allow her to use her research data to improve her teaching and advising, while Skurat Harris’ experiences in teaching and advising online students drive her research agenda.
“As a colleague and co-author, I can also comment on the remarkable way in which Dr. Harris connects her research to her work as a teacher and curriculum designer,” said Michael Greer, lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing. “Out of our work to develop courses to teach instructors how to design and deliver effective online courses, we have developed a series of publications. For many scholars, research and teaching are separate projects. For Dr. Harris, teaching practice drives her research projects, and her research, in turn, informs her continuous drive to improve her already impressive skills as a teacher.”
Skurat Harris and Dr. Rebecca Glazier, associate professor of public affairs, have studied how rapport with the instructor impacts retention in online classes across the curriculum based on a decade of data. Predictive analysis models showed that moving the average student from the least-positive instructor to the most-positive instructor increases retention by 30 points.
“I have worked with Heidi to improve retention in online classes here at UA Little Rock for the past 3 years,” Glazier said. “The results of our findings are currently under review at the ‘Online Learning Journal,’ and we are preparing an additional manuscript and a grant application. This research matters to the university and our student body more than ever. Heidi and I are conducting workshops to bring the research findings into the teaching and learning experience in practical ways that can improve student retention. Heidi cares deeply about her students, and, as a researcher, I have been impressed by her ability to always see the real people behind the statistics and the surveys.”
In 2019, she and four colleagues published two research articles using national student survey data, which showed that students in online writing classes need more instructor presence and more carefully sequenced assignments to be successful.
This research led the team to develop a paradigm called “purposeful pedagogy-driven design” to help students become better writers. A forthcoming article in the “Journal of Technical Writing and Communication” connects purposeful pedagogy-driven design and the use of multimedia in online technical writing courses.
Skurat Harris earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the College of the Ozarks, a master’s degree in writing from Missouri State University, as well as a master’s degree and Ph.D. in English, both from Ball State University.