Full online programs lack ability to share experiences, connect with others

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Full degree online programs may soon be available to Dixie State University students, or rather, a version of the typical online degree program.

Some faculty on campus have a slightly different vision of what role technology will play in education.

Business and Communication Dean Kyle Wells and Executive Vice President Bill Christensen said the big idea is less about getting a full online degree program up and running but more about adapting to a technological way of approaching education.


The Vision

“I’ve come up with a few ideas,” Christensen said. “One of those ideas is we need a much greater use of technology in education. But it’s not just about assimilating information. It’s about developing skills and having experiences.”

Christensen said he thinks technology in universities is headed in the direction of what he calls “hybrid” courses. DSU currently has blended courses where the study and lecture information is given by the instructor through an online format. The class then meets on specific dates to do its in-class work, which could entail completing a variety of different work.

Christensen’s second idea revolves around peer-based teaching.

Christensen said he sees a future where senior students are hired as teaching assistants and are required to mentor and train incoming freshman in order to graduate.

Christensen’s third idea is to help students graduate based on a competency and fluency model rather than graduate based on test scores and credit hours. Providing students with the resources to prove their level of knowledge through online courses, completing internships and mentoring others is how the school will be able to meet this vision, Christensen said. 


The Reality

Wells shares a similar vision to Christensen and explained how it’s not just about deciding which programs and classes will be online.

“If you look at the spectrum and at the far end, you’ve got the University of Phoenix and several others who are all online and have no central location,” Wells said. “Then you go to the other side of the spectrum, and there’s the community college base of education. The question is where does DSU want to be on that spectrum?”

The nursing program at DSU has found the middle of that spectrum. The bachelors program in the nursing department has already implemented a blended system. What students would normally get in a classroom is delivered to them online.

“To me, when a student can say he or she isn’t learning much by being in class, it means we’re not doing a good job delivering that course,” Christensen said. “What we could be doing is delivering [information] online. We certainly don’t want to use technology to replicate poor education. Instead, we’ll use technology to enhance education.” 

The Plan

Adjusting to a new way of doing things is always the hardest part with any form of change at an educational institution. Wells said he doesn’t believe history has shown that running someone through a complete online degree program offers the same results as a blended system.

Wells said it doesn’t take long for instructing teachers to evolve their courses to an online format.

“Our curriculum process allows us the flexibility, if we so desire, to change the medium of a course,” Wells said. “Once a course has been approved by [The Northwest Accreditation Commission], we can change the method of delivery without a significant change in the curriculum.”

Christensen said he’s been trying to “slow down the 100 percent online courses.” 

“If we decided to have just all of these online programs, we will be wiped away in the flood,” he said. “Technology will never be able to do what some humans can do with direct interaction.” 

Christensen said he wishes to create a shared sense of urgency on the matter — both within students and within faculty.

“What an exciting world that would be if teachers weren’t only teachers, but learners,” Christensen said. “And then what we have is a shared learning environment both online and in the classroom. I think students would love that.”