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University News

Online Master’s Degree Program’s First Class of Students Nears Graduation


From Dateline (April 8, 2004)

In the evenings, Kellie Otis comes home from work, grabs a cup of coffee and goes to college – in her living room. A full-time webmaster at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, she is participating in the campus’s first online master’s degree program in instructional design and technology (MSIDT).

Lorin Ifkovic, an associate learning and development specialist at Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical who lives in New Jersey, found the program while surfing the Web.

“It offered the kinds of classes that I needed,” Ifkovic said. “I have been extremely impressed with the instructors and the challenging course work.”

“We started this program in fall 2002, and our first group will be graduating this May,” said JoAnn Carter-Wells, professor of reading and coordinator of the program. “Our intent was to provide educational opportunities to professionals working in the field of technology – whether they are in teaching, the military, industry or business – we wanted to provide a superior university education that matched their needs and schedules.”

“This online program works for me because it offers more flexibility,” said Otis. “In my field, my work schedule may change without much notice, or I have to work late on special projects.

“As long as my class assignments get done, it doesn’t matter when I do them. You still need to respond to your class members every night but there’s more flexibility – and no commute. That flexibility and the quality of the program have enabled me to help the designers in my workplace do a better job.

“I do find, however, that I do much more work than I did in traditional classrooms,” Otis continued. “I think there is a misperception that online classes are easier. I find the online classes to be quite challenging and intense.”

“We find that online programs allow us to offer more options to our students,” said Carter-Wells. “And we are continually learning and developing new programs based on evaluations we receive from them. For instance, students were interested in learning from one another, so we encouraged them to begin building an online community that fosters collaboration and networking. This, combined with an ‘electronic portfolio’ that students can show their employers or prospective employers, makes them more marketable and professional.”

Following in the footsteps of the inaugural class of 22, is a class of 25 – the maximum number per group. Upon acceptance to the program, each student is placed with a “cohort,” that is, a group of students who proceed through the program together and graduate in 20 months. Initially, they meet in person for what Carter-Wells refers to as “Boot-Up Camp.”

“It’s helpful to have an initial face-to-face meeting to address any potential problem areas that may develop and get to know one another,” she said. “We also look at the different areas of interest and the backgrounds of our students. We discuss goal-setting and how to reach these goals. It also gives the students a level of comfort to meet with the MSIDT interdisciplinary faculty and technology support team.”

Midway through the program, the students meet again to see if they are on target for meeting their goals and to make plans for their final project/practicum experience.

Because most of the work is completed online, students have resided in states as diverse as New Jersey, Colorado and Oregon – yet they receive their degrees from Cal State Fullerton.

“We are filling a niche in business and industry,” Carter-Wells explained. “With more and more companies expanding their Web presence and conducting business online, there is an increased need for training and education.

“Based on requests we’ve received, we’re considering the development of an international cohort. This will entail more research as we come to grips with the idea of what would technology look like in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia or Jamaica. They have issues with access or speed that most Americans don’t have to consider.”

“For someone like me, a working professional, this is really the way to go,” said Otis. “It’s so nice to be able to log on from home and not have to worry about traffic or parking. And the quality of instruction is terrific. This has direct applications to the skills I need for my job.”

Additional information about the program is available on the Web at msidt.fullerton.edu.

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