Sramana Mitra: When people are working on these online programs – specifically, we are interested in understanding your online offering – are they doing online only program or is everything an online/offline combination?
Sher Downing: Our online programs offer a real breadth of flexibility and ability to learn within a capsulated calendar. Students, at the graduate level, will take one course at a time. One course will be five weeks long. Within those five weeks, they do have certain deadlines each week that they have to meet for submitting case studies and working in a team environment. Within that, they have the flexibility of working on their materials as it fits into their lifestyle. For example, they may have a deadline on Friday. How they complete the coursework by Friday is truly up to them. If they want to work on it during the day, they can. They have teammates from all over the world and so they coordinate their schedules together to do Skype calls, exchange emails, work through the process, and work through their projects. It really offers them the ability to be flexible.
Everything is offered online. We offer things through video and audio components. We do have live office hours each week. They also have materials that are downloadable in addition to their e-textbooks and third party sites that we may send them to. We really provide them a full package that is all online, but the interaction comes with their faculty and teammates in live venues.
Sramana Mitra: By definition then, these are students that are not working on an online degree. They are registered as students physically and they’re also using online as a supplemental component of the instruction design. Is that correct?
Sher Downing: No, they are registered as fully online because they don’t come to campus for anything – for the graduate programs.
Sramana Mitra: They don’t have to come to campus for anything?
Sher Downing: We have a separate face-to-face graduate program in which students come for the full course and just have supplemental material online. We have two different types.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s talk a bit about the design of these online courses. You have been doing instructional design for a long time. Talk to me about your philosophy of instructional design and what are some of the things you’re learning in terms of trends.
One of the issues with all online curriculum is the lack of engagement. You have to be completely self-motivated to complete what you need to complete. How do you drive all these?
Sher Downing: One of the things that we quickly realized early on is that students who are doing a business degree are looking to have a real world application very quickly. My philosophy is that online is purely the delivery method. It’s no different than when I’m standing in front of you. It’s just packaged so that I have an easier way to understand and access it rather than driving somewhere and showing up in a classroom. My philosophy is we do need to give you the same type of experience that you would have if you came to our campus.
This segment is part 2 in the series : Thought Leaders in Online Education: Sher Downing, Executive Director of Online Academic Services at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University
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