High expectations

Retailing instructor strives to be a ‘good boss’ to her students

The University of South Carolina has plenty of good teachers. But some, like senior instructor of retailing Karen Edwards, take their efforts in the classroom to the next level.

Edwards enjoyed successful careers in retail management and as an attorney practicing education law before she joined the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management as an adjunct in 2006. But almost as soon as she set foot in the classroom, she knew she was in it for the long haul.

“I taught one course that spring, retailing, and loved it,” she says. “I started fulltime that fall.”

Edwards wasn’t surprised by how much she took to the profession. She had always enjoyed public speaking and the mission of higher education appealed to her on a number of levels.

“At the law firm where I worked, most of our clients were public school districts. We did a lot of educational workshops for administrators, and I really enjoyed conducting them, getting up in front of people,” she says. “I also really like engaging people and helping them work through problems.”

What truly lit her fire as an educator, however, was a weeklong active learning workshop she attended at the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management. 

“That made me even more excited,” she says. I think I did a pretty good job that first year, but once I was tooled up it was like, ‘Bam! Now I know what to do!’ That was a turning point. Teaching was fun before, but then it just became amazing.” 

But Edwards didn’t just enjoy teaching; she enjoyed the process of becoming a better teacher. She enjoyed the scholarship of learning, trying out new classroom strategies, informing her own efforts with research-based practices.  

“I got involved with the Center for Teaching Excellence, one, because I love volunteerism,” she says. “I attended a couple of workshops and then started volunteering to teach a couple of workshops. Within pretty short order, I was teaching a few workshops through CTE every year just as a volunteer.” 

Eventually, she would serve a two-year term as the CTE’s associate director for online learning pedagogy, a position that helped her hone her own classroom skills while also helping her colleagues better their own practice. 

“What’s more rewarding,” she asks, “than having somebody come back and say, ‘Thank you so much. That was a great idea you shared’?”  

The same positive attitude informs her own efforts in the classroom, whether she is teaching Law for Retailers, Principles of Retailing or the college’s required course on retail loss prevention, which she designed. 

“I look at my students like we’re a team and I’m the leader,” she says. I treat them like colleagues at the start of their careers. I’m going to have high expectations, but I’m also going to be a good boss.” 

And like any good boss, she also works hard to stay ahead of the curve. 

“We should all be in a constant state of evolving. You’re never ‘there,” she says. If you want to live to your full potential and make a difference for others, you have to keep at it.” Indeed, Edwards is already chasing the next frontier of teaching. “My latest kick is using virtual reality and 360-degree video.” 

The project, which is still in development, is a collaboration with Rob Grookett and Trena Houp in the university’s Office of Distributed Learning. The team presented a sample video at the 2018 Octoberbest, a symposium on teaching hosted by the CTE each fall. They are now working on a virtual 3D classroom and a Karen Edwards avatar that she hopes can be used, among other things, to conduct Skype interviews with a lineup of retail asset protection executives.  

“Some of that is bells and whistles, some of it is engagement,” says Edwards. “But the research shows that attention spans are going down, and students still need the same level of instruction.” 

What’s not going down is student interest in her classes, which are consistently popular. 

“Most students are here because they want to be,” she says. “It’s their job to come in with a willingness to learn and be well prepared, to participate meaningfully and to respect each other. My job is to come prepared, respect my students, respect the classroom and ensure that the learning process is facilitated.” 

Share this Story! Let friends in your social network know what you are reading about