Adjunct Faculty Members’ Perceptions of Online Education Compared to Traditional Education

Adjunct Faculty Members’ Perceptions of Online Education Compared to Traditional Education

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I am often asked to give my opinion regarding online education versus traditional education.  Because it is such a popular topic, I decided to conduct some research to determine how online instructors’ perceive online versus traditional degrees. The following is an abstract from my most recent study published in the Journal for Online Doctoral Education.

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Online Classes Offer Balance

 

Online classes offer a variety of advantages for working adults who have enough on their plate without adding the stress of finding time for an education.  Probably the hardest part of attending a traditional university, for me, was finding time to fit it into my schedule.  I worked the traditional workday and then I had to make it to three-hour class four nights a week.  This was brutal because by the time I drove home and got to bed, it was close to midnight.  I would have to get up at 6 am and start all over again.  Thankfully I was in my early 20s at the time.  I honesty do not think I could handle that sort of schedule now.

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What to Expect in Online Doctorate Degree Courses

As a doctoral chair, it is my responsibility to help guide students through their doctoral dissertation process.  In order to receive a doctorate through online courses, there is a series of courses that students take prior to the time they begin writing the proposal for their dissertation.  Each online program varies to some degree.  Based on the two programs I have either taken or taught, I can say that they were pretty similar.  The following is what students might expect from an online doctoral program.

Students must first complete a series of online courses that address their field of study. For example, I received a degree that is titled: Doctor of Philosophy in Business Administration with a Specialization in Management.  That means that those initial courses included a specific focus on business management.  Some students may combine their Master’s with their Doctorate.  Assuming that students have already taken the thirty or so credits required for a Master’s degree, there may be another 10 or 15 courses required in the field of specialization. In this case, it would be to study business management.  These courses are not that different from taking graduate-level classes.

After finishing those courses, students begin taking courses that are more specific to the proposal and final dissertation.  It is difficult to state how many courses may be required at this point. Some students require fewer courses than others based on how much work they complete within the scheduled time for each course.  I have had some students make it through the dissertation in the process by taking only three dissertation courses.  Others may take a dozen or more courses to finish.  It depends upon how much students have done on their own prior to beginning the doctoral courses, how quickly they work, and the type of research they do.

The steps in the doctoral process include writing the proposal (which describes how the study will be performed, aka chapters 1-3 of the final dissertation), obtaining proposal approval, doing the research, writing the final dissertation (updating Chapters 1-3 and writing Chapters 4-5), obtaining approval for the dissertation, defending the dissertation in an oral presentation, and finally having the doctoral chair, doctoral committee, and dean give a final seal of approval.

The hardest part generally seems to be writing the proposal or the first three chapters.  This is difficult because students have to learn how to write in a very specific and scholarly way.  There are templates that may provide helpful information regarding alignment, content requirements, and formatting.   Students work very closely with their chair during this time.  Students must also have at least two committee members.  Some schools, like the one I attended, required an additional outside member to review the dissertation.  All members of the committee must have a doctorate.

Students usually work strictly with the chair until Chapters 1-3 are ready to submit. At that point, the committee looks at the work to give input and make suggestions.  After all adjustments are made, the proposal goes through several stages of approval.  Students may need to submit more than once if there are changes requested. This is commonly the case.  Once the proposal is approved, students can perform the study, and eventually write the last two chapters that describe the results.  This final document goes through the chair and committee approval process again, and eventually must meet with the dean’s approval.  The last step is for students to defend the dissertation in an oral presentation.  Usually that is the easiest part of the process because students know their study inside and out by that time.  It takes some students just a few years to go through the process.  Others take much longer. Some never finish.  It is a very difficult process.  However, in the end, it is worth it.

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How to Get an A in Your College Courses

Some of the top reasons that students don’t pass courses, based on my experience as a professor, is that they do not read the requirements for the classes or they don’t turn in material on time.  If a student really wants to receive an “A”, there are some important things that they must do to achieve this.  The following list will help students improve their grades:

  1. Follow Instructions – Read the instructor’s materials for assignment requirements.   Print out a copy of the syllabus and any instructions on the first day of class. Some may post a rubric or a spreadsheet that lists the requirements and the number of possible points allocated for each part of the assignment.  Before turning in your assignment, go down the list of requirements and be sure that you have included all of them.
  2. Cite Correctly – It is best to paraphrase rather than to include large blocks of directly quoted material in your writing.  Some professors will not allow any direct quotations. An example of paraphrasing is:  Hamilton (2011) stated that paraphrasing was important.  An example of a direct quote is:  “It is better to paraphrase.” (Hamilton, 2011). 
  3. Submit Original Work – Schools have a tool called TurnItIn to check for plagiarism.  Be sure to run your paper through that system (or whatever plagiarism tool the school uses) before submitting papers, to ensure that your work is your own.  You can be sure professors will check it if you do not.  Keep in mind that citing incorrectly can be viewed as plagiarism. Plagiarism is grounds for being expelled.
  4. Write in APA – Professors can be very picky about formatting in APA.  Most schools use this formatting as compared to MLA or some other format.  Click here for some of the most important links to help with APA.  When writing in APA, students will need to have their paper include double-spacing, indented paragraphs, proper header information, proper page numbering, proper title and reference page, etc.
  5. Meet Discussion Requirements – Online colleges have specific writing and posting requirements for classroom discussions.  Students often disregard the minimum word count or the fact that the instructor requested cited materials.  It is not uncommon for a discussion question to require 150-500 word responses.  These responses may also require paraphrased information to show research to back up any points that the student makes. Students may also be required to respond to their fellow classmates’ postings as well.  There are usually minimum word count requirements for these responses as well. Discussions should be written in a formal manner.  Sentence and paragraph structure should be the same as if a student was writing an essay.  Simply agreeing with a fellow classmate’s points will not count for credit.
  6. Include Strong Sentences and Paragraphs – It is important to write correctly and in a formal manner in online discussions as well as in formal papers.  In higher-level courses, first person should not be used.  Unless it is an opinion paper and the professor has allowed it, do not refer to yourself in your writing.  Don’t write in run-on sentences.  Sentences vary in length but should average around 20 words.  Keep sentences between around 12-25 words.  Paragraphs should also contain complete information.  A paragraph should include between 4-8 sentences.  Remember to include an introduction and conclusion paragraph. 
  7. Plan Ahead – Many students post late due to not being prepared.  There may be an occasional emergency but in general most issues with late postings could be avoided.  Write papers early and back them up somewhere other than your main computer.  Some students send themselves a copy of their homework so that it is saved on their email server.  Computer issues are not considered a valid excuse for late assignments.
  8. Use Scholarly Sources – Professors often require that students include peer-reviewed scholarly journals as sources for their papers. To find out more about peer-reviewed journals, click here.  Students often confuse citations and references.  It is not correct to simply list a reference without having a corresponding citation.  For help with citations and references, click here.
  9. Never Copy and Paste – Students often try to copy and paste information into their papers.  Not only can this be plagiarism if not cited correctly, it can cause havoc with formatting. 
  10. Always Read Instructor Feedback – I see students submit the same mistakes every week because they will not read the feedback on their papers.  If a professor has taken the time to read your paper and give helpful advice, it is important to incorporate those suggestions into future assignments. 

For additional help, see The Top Ten Most Common Writing Mistakes and The Top Ten Sources for Help with APA.

How to Respond Effectively in Online Discussions

Online college students often find that they are required to answer discussion questions in class.  With the popularity of texting and the lack of formality used when writing an email, many students are lacking the necessary skills to write an appropriate posting. 

Online schools often require that postings are substantive.  In other words, the postings should be substantial and have sufficient content to answer questions in depth.  Students may be given guidelines or a minimum word count to guide them.  However, when responding to fellow students’ postings, there are usually not specific word count requirements.  Therefore, it is important for students to respond in a way that is not merely showing their agreement or disagreement with what is being discussed. 

A good rule of thumb is to support what the student has said with at least one sentence. That doesn’t mean the student has to agree with the statement; they just have to support the fact that the student has made their point. 

Then after supporting them, the student can disagree or agree with the topic at hand.  They should include several more sentences explaining their position on the topic.  They could give examples and cite sources.  

A good way to end the discussion would be with a question that is either addressed to the original student or one that could be addressed to the class in order to bring more participants into the discussion.  

It is extremely important that students write in complete sentences, use correct grammar, check spelling and punctuate correctly.  For additional help with writing skills, please check out the following links:

Can Spell Check Make Things Worse?

Top 15 Writing and Grammar Mistakes

15 Ways to Improve Writing Skills

10 Common Writing Mistakes

Can Texting Damage Writing Skills?

Employers Embracing Online Education

How do employers view online degrees?

Online degrees are often in the news.  When I first began teaching online, there were far fewer schools offering an online education.  This led to some negative interpretations when employers were considering applicants with an online education.  

Thankfully it is 2011 and people are waking up! In today’s AOLjobs.com article, the author noted, “While online degrees were once largely seen as being second-rate, recent studies have reported that employers are not only more open to, but are even showing a favorable sentiment toward candidates with online degrees these days. Besides the increase in reputation these programs are experiencing, online degrees have also become so popular, that if employers were to disregard candidates with such degrees, they’d also be disqualifying a significant portion of the work force.”

How popular is online learning? According to Campustechhnology.com, “Nearly 12 million post-secondary students in the United States take some or all of their classes online right now. But this will skyrocket to more than 22 million in the next five years.”  

With the growth of the Internet, the ease of accessibility to computers and the flexibility that the online environment affords students, online learning has become more popular than ever. The advantages of not having to buy gas to get to class, not having find a car park or pay for parking, and being able to attend class at any time of the day or night have all contributed to its popularity.

A large percentage of students who are studying online are working on their associates, but there are baccalaureate, master, and doctoral programs available online as well. Much of the growth that has occurred in online learning has happened since 1999. With the recent changes in the economy, online classes have seen a surge in enrollment. “Bad economic times have often been good for education, either because decreased availability of good jobs encourages more people to seek education instead, or because those currently employed seek to improve their chances for advancement by pursuing their education” (Sloan, 2008).

There is no mistaking the popularity of online education. Even Bill Gates praised online learning in his 2010 Annual Letter stating, “A lot of people, including me, think this is the next place where the internet will surprise people in how it can improve things.”

If you are thinking about going back to school in 2011, check out some of the following articles for more advice:

Career Mistakes: Are They Really Mistakes?

 

When considering a career move, people often find themselves paralyzed, worrying about making a mistake, causing career-suicide.  Most of us have probably made some choices that may not have worked out the way we intended.  However, looking back, much of what we learn through our mistakes actually may be excellent learning experiences that help us with our next job.

In Ross Hamilton’s 1951 book For Humans Only, he wrote the following line:  We extract from life just what we give it . . . so with each mistake replace the divot.  You don’t have to be a golfer to grasp his point.  If we make mistakes in our life, we need to make amends and move forward.  In case you hadn’t guessed, this line came from my father.  He felt that we shouldn’t dwell too much on past mistakes.

You can’t change decisions you’ve made previously but you can do your best to take what you have learned and grow from those experiences.  Even if you have a job that doesn’t last very long, you might make some excellent contacts that could help you with the next position.  Those contacts may open doors that you may not have even considered.

If you over-analyze every decision you’ve ever made, you’ll drive yourself crazy.  It may be best to look at disappointing career choices as learning experiences and realize that they may very well lead to something better down the road.  Lamenting over the past or over things which you have no control, is a time waster.

Instead, look forward to the choices you have now.  It can be helpful to write down the foreseeable pros and cons of any choice.  This will help you visualize opportunities and threats associated with each alternative.

If you feel trapped in a career that you chose when you were young, it may be time to change.  Perhaps the degree you were interested in when you were in your 20s no longer fits with your passion.  You may need to consider going back to school to update your skills.  It’s OK to admit that your interests have changed.

With the new year around the corner, many people are thinking about making a fresh start with their careers and their lives.  What can you do differently to make this year better than last year?  To truly be successful, having goals is important.  I often recommend that people do a personal SWOT analysis to help them realize what they have to offer and what they need to work on.  If you have never look at your own strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, I suggest doing so as part of your plan to improve your new year.  To find out more about a personal SWOT, click here.

Additional Resources:

Wall Street Journal Partners with Unigo to Create a Site that Offers Potential College Students Some Sound Advice

 

The Wall Street Journal has teamed up with Unigo’s student correspondents from more than 2000 colleges across America to produce a site they call WSJ on Campus.  If you are not familiar with Unigo, you can watch a video that explains what they do by clicking here.  Their system helps student match their interests and values with appropriate universities.  Their offer help to prospective students by providing reviews written by past students regarding the schools they have attended.  This information is used to help prospective students decide which school is best for them.

If you to go to WSJ On Campus, you will find that they offer the following information about getting prepared for college:

  • What matters when choosing a school
  • What it will really be like when you get to college
  • The perfect school for you
  • Are Ivy schools are really worth it
  • How to master the admissions essay
  • How to deal with school’s turning your requests for admission down
  • How to prepare for the SAT
  • What to do if you can’t go to your first choice school

They also offer the following information about what to expect once you get there:

  • How to choose the right classes
  • How to choose the right major
  • Who earns the most money
  • How to handle doing the assignments
  • Understanding academics
  • How to succeed in your Freshman year
  • How to get an A on your papers
  • How to use textbooks on your iPhone

 

I tried searching by online, online colleges, distance learning and other terms but found no information about online education on the site.  I even typed in some of the top online universities to see if they would come up and there was nothing.  It appears this site is very helpful if you are considering going to a traditional college but not so helpful if you want to use it to choose an online university.  Even if you do decide to attend an online college or university, you can learn a lot from their articles about how to be a successful student.

For more information about being a successful online student, click here.

How Online Learning Compares to Traditional . . . Continuing the Debate

The New York Times recently reported, “An analysis of 99 studies by the federal Department of Education concluded last year that online instruction, on average, was more effective than face-to-face learning by a modest amount.”

However, in this same article, they noted that not all results have shown this to be true.  Mark Rush of the University of Florida’s researched students who watched lectures online vs. traditional students who attended regular live in person lectures. Their study showed more online students let the lectures pile up and got behind.  To find out more about this study, check out the New York Times Article.  

While I find this to be an interesting study, almost none of the online classes I teach include recorded lectures.  Therefore I don’t find this data to be representative of the online experience that I have witnessed in my over 5 years of teaching for many different online universities.

Although many people find the lecture experience a big part of education, not everyone finds this to be the most effective way to learn.  When I attended a traditional college, I personally did not enjoy having to sit through long lectures.  Perhaps that is why I was drawn to online learning later. 

I am more inclined to look at the 99 studies from the Federal Department of Education than one study that looks specifically at how well students keep up with watching lectures in determining the effectiveness of online learning. I personally think that people are drawn to the type of education that fits their needs.  For those that enjoy long lectures, traditional universities may be the best optino for them. For those who don’t, online has a lot to offer.

For those considering taking an online education, check out:  The Online Student’s User Manual:  Everything You Need to Know to be a Succcessful Online Student.

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How Employers View an Online Education

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How are Online Degrees Perceived

How Employers View an Online Education

In the book The Online Student’s User Manual, I wrote quite a bit about online universities, their perception by employers and how they compare to traditional universities. Check out the following article from elearners.com that gives some interesting statistics about employer’s perception of online education, also see my previous posting about some of these results by clicking here.

How do employers view online degrees?

How do potential employers view online courses and degrees? How are job candidates viewed based on their academic credentials, online or traditional? Under what circumstances are online degrees viewed as a “non-issue” or an asset for job applicants?

These were some of the questions posed in Hiring Practices and Attitudes: Traditional vs. Online Degree Credentials, research undertaken by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and commissioned by eLearners.com, a web resource of EducationDynamics, which connects prospective students with online degrees. And as with a number of similar studies undertaken over the past ten years, the results reflect an interesting and transitioning set of assumptions among hiring managers about the value of online degrees and degree-holders.

See the key findings as an infographic!

To read the rest of the article click here:  elearners.com