Education - Page 5 - Going to college online

- Page 5
Going to college online
Colleges offer students paths to success outside a traditional classroom

By Megan Weeden, Contributing Writer

Earning a college degree if you’re working full-time or juggling family is much easier than it used to be. Over the last decade, online colleges, courses and degree programs have quickly become mainstream.

As the demand for distance learning increases and technology advances to meet such demands, many colleges are responding by offering new online degree programs every year but also the tools to help the students succeed.

Distance learning appeals to a broad student population and offers a number of advantages. Online courses and degree programs cater to working professionals looking to move up the career ladder, parents who are preparing for a new or re-entry career when they head back to work, or those who want the flexibility that comes from an online program.

Salisbury University offers an online option for its master’s in social work degree. The online option follows a 20-student cohort model each year with fall admission only. All courses are offered in seven-week blocks, year-round, allowing students to complete the regular option in three years or the advanced option in 17 months. Students are required to do a field placement, but it can be in their own communities.

For Yessenia Velez, who is currently getting her master’s in social work online at Salisbury, the flexibility allowed her to pursue the degree while living overseas with her family.

“It was really convenient to be able to do all of the classes online,” says Velez. “I needed the flexibility to be able to pick up my children and take them to school. The setup is really amazing. You have the opportunity to interact with other classmates through discussion boards and by uploading videos. You can share your experiences from wherever you are.”

While online students can complete schoolwork when it’s convenient for them, these programs are certainly not an easy way out.

“The online option is not for everyone,” says Deborah Mathews, Ph.D., director of Salisbury’s school of social work. “It takes a very disciplined student to succeed in the online program. Students are expected to lead their own academic experience. But it is a great option for those students.”

With the continuous expansion of online programs, colleges and universities are making sure there are adequate resources available to help these students succeed. Student success coaches, sort of like a personalized academic advisor, have gained popularity across campuses as a tool to connect to their online communities.

Stevenson University Online, a division of Stevenson University, offers a number of online options for both graduate and undergraduate degrees. Among the list of online degrees offered are business, teaching, nursing, cybersecurity and criminal justice.

“These programs are tailored to adult, professional students that have to balance work, family life, school – with everything else going on,” says William Willein, director of recruitment.

Stevenson began pairing its students with student success coaches in 2015, after industry research showed that a more proactive advising model increased student success on all levels.

“A student success coach, as the name implies, coaches the student but is also an academic advisor who works to guide, advise and support the student from acceptance through graduation and beyond,” says Cheryl Bosse, director of academic support services.

From an initial conversation, either on the phone or in person, the student’s personal, academic and career goals are discussed.

“They also discuss the student’s schedule and, given that they are working adults, what other priorities they have going on in their life such as work or family,” says Bosse. “They develop an academic plan together and then they register for their first class. The coach checks in with the student on a regular basis and is an advocate who helps them balance their academic, personal and professional lives.

This personal relationship helps the student feel engaged with the college while also providing an overview of services and resources available at Stevenson University Online.

Ruth Berenson, a student success coach at Stevenson University Online, works to come up with the best plan of action for each student.

“For example, if a student is a nursing student, I’ll ask them if they’re getting reimbursed by their company or hospital because that might limit the number of classes they take at a given time,” says Berenson.

At Goucher College, you can earn a graduate or professional degree in the format that fits your lifestyle, whether it’s online, in a traditional classroom or a hybrid of the two formats. Degrees offered online include Master of Education, Master of Arts in Teaching and Master of Arts in Digital Arts.

With powerful distance education tools, the online classroom used at Goucher is more than a technology platform – it’s an innovative model designed for collaboration and multimedia.

Students and faculty connect synchronously using a Live Chat tool with audio and video capabilities and asynchronously using other rich multimedia experiences. The system is designed to support student interaction using social networking tools such as wikis, blogs and discussion boards that are both text- and audio-based.

The professors are trained specifically for teaching online, and they work with a design team to create and deliver their courses. Faculty maintain regular contact with students throughout the semester.

Depending on the course, this may involve group work through the course discussion board, online conferencing and chat rooms, open source collaboration and conference calls with guest speakers.

Goucher has also hired a student success coach to further support its online students.

“I went from never taking an online class during my undergraduate to going completely online,” says Kelly Cavey, currently enrolled in Goucher’s Master of Arts in Teaching online program. “At first was a learning curve but it didn’t take me long until I was used to it.”

The student success coach helps Cavey navigate this new platform, schedule her classes and answer questions she has about her education plan.

“The classes are only eight weeks long, so it’s very fast paced,” Cavey says. “I always feel very engaged with the online classes at Goucher. My professors are always emailing me and I’m reading and commenting on my peers’ paper. It’s very interactive.” •

PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Above left: Stevenson University success coach Murry Baskerville (left) works with student Susan Shlala.

Is distance learning for you?

Many of the top college’s have launched online degree programs. Advances in technology have allowed colleges to create affordable and flexible programs for students. Online programs have significantly improved over the last decade and are more respected and accepted by both academics and employers.

Distance learning is a very convenient way of earning a degree, but it’s not for everyone.

Prospective online students should consider how they like to learn best by assessing their priorities, strengths and goals.

Online students need to be self-disciplined, have good time-management skills and be comfortable in an environment where it’s just them and a computer. They need to be proactive in order to stay on top of the work and also be comfortable communicating without face-to-face contact. •