Thursday, October 6, 2011

Local newspaper covers WSU Online

swindellWSU Professor Samantha Swindell discusses online education.

By Katie Roenigk/Moscow-Pullman Daily News

     There is a growing group of Washington State University students who rarely set foot on school property.
     They may not even live near Pullman, Spokane, Vancouver or the Tri-Cities while taking classes. They are members of the university's fifth campus - the one that exists primarily online.
     David Cillay, executive director for WSU's Center for Distance and Professional Education, said more students should have access to online courses at WSU in the near future.
     "What we're really hoping to do is grow our online program mix," Cillay said this week. "We're looking at what we offer on campus and finding ways to move those online." More...     The effort is not motivated by WSU's budget, he said, though online courses could bring in more students and therefore more money. The university is simply looking to reach out to more Washington residents who may not be able to relocate to campus in order to get a degree.
     "The mission of the land grant institution is to provide access to education," Cillay said. "Online education seems to be the 21st century rethinking of the land grant mission."
     Through online courses, students like Erica Vieira of Seattle are able to attend a trusted university without spending time away from their families. Vieira - a 32-year-old wife and mother of three - will earn her bachelor's degree in human development through WSU this December, and she only has been to Pullman a few times.
     That does not mean she has not felt involved in campus life. Two years into her studies, Vieira was elected vice president of the university's online student government. Every couple of months, the group meets with leaders of WSU's other campuses, and Vieira said e-students plan gatherings with one another as well. This month, she will join other online students at an organized gathering before a football game in Seattle.
"You never have to travel too far, if you feel you're missing out," Vieira said.

Teaching the teachers
     The transition to an online classroom requires work from professors as well as students, and Cillay said many WSU instructors are learning new strategies to enhance the virtual forum, in part through the Excellence in Teaching Online certificate introduced this month through the CDPE. The self-paced online course was piloted last spring to familiarize professors with technologies like online discussion boards and live chat rooms that often are incorporated in the e-classroom.
     Though she has been teaching online since 2001, Samantha Swindell, a clinical associate professor of psychology, said she plans to earn her ETO certificate.
"New technology is constantly becoming available that can allow us to do things we weren't able to do just a few years ago," she said.
     When she first taught remotely, Swindell said, students purchased packets of video casettes to watch on their own, then they took exams under the supervision of a proctor.
     "(The professor) was basically there to answer questions," Swindell said.
Now, online teaching is considered another skill set for professors. Swindell said she makes sure her graduate students get some experience in the online setting, and her department is developing some new courses that will allow faculty members to get involved as well.
     "It's not going away," Swindell said of online instruction. "The ability to teach online is a very marketable skill."
Students should be able to receive comparable education even if they are not on campus, Swindell said. She advised professors to "be present" in the classroom, even if it is virtual.
     "Make sure the students know you're there and engaged," Swindell said. "Check in regularly, be responsive to e-mails, and just communicate to your students that you're invested in their success."
Reprinted courtesy of the Moscow-Pullman Daily News.

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