Evening & Online Learning Faces Evolving Markets Head-On

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By Emelia Enquist '14, Web Editor

Online education at Drury University is changing from the proverbial black and white to an engaging Technicolor of one-on-one video chats, small group discussion boards, and virtual group speakers. "We are dreaming big," says Dr. Leah Blakey, dean of Drury's online education programs. "We are going beyond. We are working to create classes that engage students and provide career-specific education coupled with a strong foundation in liberal arts. The structure of online classes has changed a great deal in the last decade," she adds, "and we are working to modernize our courses to take advantage of technological advances and pedagogical research. Students should not be bored by online learning."

Drury has offered online classes since 1999. Almost 20 years later, online learning is undergoing student-centered innovation one class and one professor at a time. Faculty workshops provide tips and techniques for professors at every level, from new to seasoned, to create intellectually stimulating opportunities for all students. “We do not have cookie cutter classes,” Dr. Blakey emphasizes. Instructors supplement classwork with relevant readings and recorded video lectures. Small group and video discussions are also possible with tools like Zoom, an online video calling system. The tool allows guest lecturers from anywhere in the world to speak to classes, opening up new possibilities for intellectual growth, professional networking, and mentoring.

The expectations placed on online students are high. Courses are rigorously structured and deadline-driven while maintaining accessibility and flexibility to accommodate working adults’ busy schedules. “Flexibility means you can work on your class at home after your children are at school or in bed, from a hotel room while you travel for work, or from anywhere in the world if you are deployed in the military,” explains Dr. Blakey. “In the winter, you can take classes without worrying about driving in the weather or getting your car out of your garage.”

The modernization of online learning engages students while increasing accountability. Integrating virtual resources allows for classes to push for deeper thinking and more collaborative work. Students can engage with both their peers and their professors on a more personal level. Small discussion groups can be assigned questions with no “right or wrong” answers, challenge each other’s opinions and analyses, and present their work to professors based on what they discussed and decided virtually. With professional digital dexterity valued exponentially year over year, online students build skills towards their careers in every class interaction.