Nikolaus Butz wants to make distance learning as seamless and vivid as face-to-face classrooms


David L. Dodds

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Nikolaus Butz wants to make distance learning as seamless and vivid as face-to-face classrooms

Teaching is in Nikolaus Butz’ genes.

The son of college teachers got his first shot at carrying on the family legacy before he even graduated high school as an instructor of an elective business course in desktop publishing.

“This experience was my first memorable teaching moment, which laid the foundation for my future career path,” Butz said.

He went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in secondary business education, with a minor in computer science, from Dickinson State, where his father is a professor of business and where is mother once taught math. His undergraduate years were a bit of a feeling out process.

Butz now is preparing to graduate from the University of North Dakota with his Ph.D., from the College of Education and Human Development. He’ll walk across the graduation stage on Saturday, May 16, at the Alerus Center, after successfully defending his Ph.D. dissertation in March.

“I spent my first two years as a computer science major,” Butz said. “I loved the technical aspect of working with computers and writing code; however, I became dissatisfied with some of the solitary aspects of being a programmer. As the child of two teachers, I decided to try education.”

Next, after some encouragement from his father, Butz decided to pursue his masters of business administration at UND, which was his father’s alma mater.

“He has always spoken with great pride of the education he received at UND,” said Butz, who grew up in a bilingual household in Dickinson. His father, a native of Mainz, Germany, spoke German to him until Butz was in high school. His mother is a native English speaker. The family also summered each year in Germany.

At UND, Butz began working as a teaching assistant in the Department of Management ? a position he still holds today. This experience only reinforced his ambition to one day become a university educator. In 2012, he taught a summer management course at UND’s sister school in China, The University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, where he received positive feedback from students.

Butz eventually enrolled in the Ph.D. program in UND’s Teaching & Learning Department. He said his previous studies in computer science helped him in his research at UND.

His current research focuses on “synchronous, web conferencing course delivery systems.” This modern means of teaching provides the pedagogical freedom to reach distance learners around the world, increasing societal access to education, he says. But, Butz is interested in making this technological interface between teacher and students even better ? as vivid and seamless as if they shared the same classroom.

“In contrast to the asynchronous discussion board systems that most people think of,” Butz said, “synchronous formats offer a two-way, live audio and video feed that does not sacrifice the affective features of face-to-face instruction, such as body language, facial expressions and voice inflection.”

Butz credits a number of mentors and advisors at UND for helping him get to where he is today, including Robert Stupnisky in the Department Education Foundation & Research, Kathy Smart in the Department of Teaching & Learning and Dennis Elbert and John Vitton from the College of Business & Public Administration.

David Dodds University & Public Affairs writer

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