GV offers first online master’s program

Online Masters Program

Kate Kaurich

Online Master’s Program

Chelsea Lane

Starting with the Spring/Summer 2011 semester, Grand Valley State University will offer its first completely online program, a master’s degree in educational technology.

GVSU began investigating the possibility of constructing an online program five years ago when the formation of a Senate task force investigated the issue. The task force submitted a report with recommendations and research to the Senate, which approved the plan and gave the recommendations to the Provost. However, no initial action was taken to implement online education.

But after some faculty persistence and a strong show of student interest, the educational technology program is set to make its debut next month. Administrators plan to start the program with 45 students, with more added each year. Faculty members and adjuncts will teach the programs together in three separate sections. However, the new online program will not replace the existing hybrid – partially online and partially in-class – educational technology program, which has been in place at GVSU for several years. Instead, both programs will be offered simultaneously.

Andrew Topper, an associate professor of education who helped design the program and served on the initial Senate task force for online education, said the online program is designed for teachers who need their required 18 graduate work credits but cannot make the trek out to GVSU’s physical campus for classes. But despite the convenience of online courses, Topper said they also present a unique set of obstacles.

“For the institution, the challenge is to provide the resources, the time, the support, the materials, all that kind of stuff and the training … As far as the instructor goes, the instructor has to be the one to kind of adapt their instructional program to what works online. Some things that might work in a traditional classroom might not work well online and vice-versa.”

In addition, Topper said online classes also sometimes pose a challenge for students, who may have difficulty adapting to a different type of classroom setting or simply do not have the discipline to work independently without in-class reinforcement.

“For some students, it’s a challenge because my sense is that students believe that an online class is easier than a regular class,” he said. “In fact, my discussions with students suggest that it’s probably harder and it’s harder because, for one, you don’t get to see people and interact with them in a face-to-face setting and that’s different, that’s a challenge. Some students may not have the technical skills as well to take a class online.”

To help ease the transition and recreate a more familiar and welcoming classroom environment, many professors encourage students to get to know one another and talk about their interests through online chat.

“I create community in my online classes,” said Sean Lancaster, associate professor of education, in a press release. “That social component contributes to a positive online learning experience. The anytime-anywhere learning aspect of our online program also allows for the kinds of flexibility that busy adults need.”

Topper said for the foreseeable future, online courses will likely be offered only at the graduate level.

“We did have some people on the committee who were in favor of expanding online classes to undergraduate courses, but that really didn’t go very far because people are still sort of struggling, I guess, with that idea,” he said. “… I’ve actually had conversations with the faculty and administration who are sure to this day and do not understand or agree with Grand Valley offering online courses or programs. They wonder about the programs, they wonder about the community of Grand Valley, they wonder about the liberal arts personal relationship. Of course I try to explain to them that you can still do all of those things online, but differently. I think my sense is that there are a group of people at Grand Valley who are still not sure that the online option is as good as or appropriate for Grand Valley.”

In addition, there is a cost factor for hiring faculty for smaller courses that may inhibit expanding online programs for the time being. With the number of students reduced from 30 to 15, the theoretical cost of instruction doubles.

Topper said any financial model the university constructs must be appropriate for both faculty and the state’s current financial situation.

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