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Online innovations offer more options

  |   Kristen B. Morales   |   Permalink   |   Spotlight

Today, new models of online learning open doors to students who previously could not fit programs and courses into their schedules. And the College of Education is at the forefront of this expansion, leading UGA in the growth of online courses and ranking No. 22 in U.S. News & World Report_'s 2014 Best Online Graduate Education Programs.

Here are just a few of the ways the College is leading the online learning revolution.

A digital history

The College launched UGA's first online degree program in 2001 with a master's in adult education. Its faculty also developed UGA's first and only online undergraduate degree program in 2005, a B.S.Ed. in special education. UGA will launch a second online bachelor's degree in January 2015, a two-year program in business administration. Today, the College offers 10 of its 19 master's degrees and six of its eight graduate certificate or endorsements online.

"Our faculty recognize that to be a 21st-century college of education that serves and prepares professional educators, leaders and scholars, we must be innovative and creative in designing and offering online courses and programs that are relevant to the needs of the field," said Craig H. Kennedy, dean of the College of Education. "I am excited about the willingness of our faculty who put in the extra effort to make our college one that is accessible and responsive to the needs of the state."

For the past few years, the College and UGA have provided faculty with grants for innovations in instruction that have led to these new online degree and certificate programs and other innovations in online learning, says Laura Bierema, associate dean for academic programs and a professor in adult education.

Incorporating online environments into learning makes content more dynamic, flexible and accessible to a larger number of students. Hybrid learning environments engage students in creative learning activities that often demand more peer-to-peer collaboration than traditional sources.

"I do a type of blended format for every course I teach," said Bierema. "That is becoming more and more the norm."

Innovative programs

Colleen Riggle balances a career at the Women's Resource Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta with the demands of family life. She also has a goal to get her doctorate, but didn't want to give up her job to return to school full time.

Which is why a new hybrid, mostly online Ed.D. program launched by the College created a new option. The degree in student affairs leadership, designed for part-time students like Riggle, launched in the fall of 2013. She was among the first to enroll.

"This program allows me to continue working full time and, as a parent and partner, it gives me flexibility in scheduling between work, family and classes," says Riggle, one of a dozen students in the program's first cohort.

Riggle, who has worked at Georgia Tech since 2006, is passionate about sexual violence prevention and advocacy. She hopes that a doctorate will allow her to explore careers in this area, perhaps as a Title IX coordinator or an upper-level administrator on a college campus.

The three-year program is based at UGA's Griffin campus with some summer courses taught on the Athens campus. Students are required to complete two courses each term (fall, spring and summer). Most of the coursework is online, with a few face-to-face meetings.

"This program is quite innovative," says Candace Maddox, coordinator and co-developer of the program. "There are very few hybrid online student affairs doctoral programs in the nation. It is providing access to people who otherwise would have limited opportunities to complete an advanced degree while maintaining employment."

The program now has 20 students. All are rising young student affairs administrators at higher education institutions around the state.

On-campus accessibility

Not all online programs are geared toward part-time students. College of Education faculty understand that even current students need some flexibility, which is why several departments offer online classes that can be taken within a regular, on-campus schedule, during a summer session or even while studying abroad.

The Department of Communication Sciences and Special Education introduced online American Sign Language courses this summer and a new online post-baccalaureate program that will lead to an on-campus master's program in speech-language pathology. The department also uses online courses to provide more accessibility for some of the more popular on-campus classes, like SPED 2000, a special education course required by the state for every student receiving a teaching certification.

The Department of Kinesiology's blended physical education courses, available since 2010, help students meet their physical education requirement. The courses involve face-to-face activity and online materials provided by McGraw-Hill, which cost about $30 per student. Last year, faculty member Ilse Mason received two grants from UGA's Center for Teaching and Learning to develop new online materials for all basic physical education classes from a free, online educational resource. This fall it begins paying off, saving UGA students about $150,000 annually.

With a third Center for Teaching and Learning grant, Mason developed another physical education course Online Fitness for Life Walking. This gives students in online programs, studying abroad, or at a remote campus like UGA-Griffin another option to complete their physical education requirement — students complete a walking program with an activity monitor that records distance and heart rate. Feedback from the data provides students with an individualized exercise prescription, no matter where they are studying.

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