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First students earn online masters degree in adult education|
By Deborah A. Benedetti
| Kathi L. Samuels traveled from Washington, D.C., to the University Park campus to receive a masters degree in adult education during fall commencement ceremonies. Theres nothing unusual about that, except that this was Samuels first visit to campus. She earned her degree completely online through Penn States World Campus.|
Samuels is among the first 10 students to earn a masters degree in adult education from the College of Education through the World Campus. The other graduates are: Jan Albert of State College, Pa.; Vilma L. Aponte of Bethlehem, Pa.; Robert P. Braun of Little Ferry, N.J.; Winifred Cason of Chesapeake, Va.; Anne K. Connely of Tamaqua, Pa.; KayLynn Hamilton of Hyner, Pa.; JoAnn M. Kowalski of Montrose, Pa.; Marjorie M. Mackell of Mercer, Pa.; and Cheryal S. Spann of Chuluota, Fla.
The adult education graduates faced many challenges in reaching their goal, Dr. Gary W. Kuhne, associate professor of education and lead faculty member for the masters degree program, said. The students juggled family, work and community responsibilities with their course work, as all students must do. The big difference for the World Campus students was they also had to adapt to learning in an online environment, including mastering the technology used in the courses.
Samuels appreciated the flexibility of online learning, because while she was enrolled in the program, she and her husband were relocating.
The online feature enabled me to maintain a flexible lifestyle, Samuels said. I was able to keep up with my studies while on the road.
Marjorie M. Mackell, 48, mother of four sons in Mercer, Pa., said the World Campus allowed me to earn my masters degree and Certificate in Distance Education without disrupting the lives of my children or interfering with my work schedule, enabling me to maintain some balance in my life. I would not have been able to further my education without it.
Jan Albert, 30, of State College, Pa., lives within easy reach of the University Park campus. She said, I began as an on-campus grad student, but I could not afford to quit my full-time job to attend grad school, so I chose to enroll in the online program.
JoAnn M. Kowalski, 46, of Montrose, Pa., started her adult education studies at Northern Illinois before relocating to Pennsylvania to take the position of interim director of Penn State Cooperative Extension in Susquehanna County. A three-hour commute (one way) to the University Park campus was not feasible.
When the World Campus degree was made available, it was a perfect opportunity to continue my studies, Kowalski said. Learning at a distance was perfect for me, based on my work and home schedule. With extension work, there are evening meetings, so weekends for me were crunch time. The convenience and the ability to be able to digest material and work at my own pace was a big plus.
Kuhne noted, The online degree program helps to break down barriers to higher education for working adults. In fact, were seeing increasing student interest in the masters degree in adult education program. We have more than 160 students enrolled from 30 states and several countries. And we have very high levels of student retention, which is a sign of the programs success. Students are indicating their satisfaction with what they are learning and with how this learning model is fitting into their lives.
There are students enrolled from the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Sweden, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the West Indies.
One plus of the online learning environment, Samuels said, was connecting to a network of learners with diverse experiences from my living room.
Mackell, who began her course work not being Internet, or even computer, savvy, said she was surprised at how intuitive the course interface was. I became comfortable with the process quite quickly. She also said she enjoyed access to excellent instructors, relevant course content and collaboration with others from all over the world. And I did it all when and where it was convenient for me.
The best thing was that I met many people from all over the world in my classes, Albert said. Many believe it is difficult to create a bond with your classmates in an online course, but that is not true. It is simply a different bond created.
Kowalski added, One surprise was how well I did get to know others in the class. In fact, I would say that I probably learned more about others than you would in a normal classroom setting, because of the way youre always communicating with othersthrough team assignments or bulletin board postingsyou really do get a sense of the other person.
In addition to being satisfied with online learning, a majority of the students also share a unifying factor: they are already working in the adult education field in such areas as adult basic education, literacy, English as a second language, general equivalency diploma programs, family literacy training, continuing education, continuing higher education and continuing professional education. Another important factor for students is earning an advanced degree in adult education from a credible institution such as Penn State, Kuhne said.
Many of the World Campus students are in their 30s to mid-40s and are interested in acquiring education to advance in their field. Other students are enrolled in the program through the eArmyU (see story) and are using education to enhance their military careers, as well as prepare for the future, after retiring from the Army.
Samuels currently is program director for an adult English as a second language program. Her masters degree in adult education will certainly open doors in the future, she said.
Mackells masters degree has led to a position as instructor of reading and study skills at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio. Thanks to the World Campus, I achieved my goal of teaching at the college level, she said.
I have always worked menial jobs to pay the bills, Albert said. With my masters degree, I was hired to teach English 015 [Rhetoric and Composition] at Penn State University. I hope my degree and my current position at Penn State will lead to a full-time teaching position. My masters degree was worth the entire struggle.
Kowalskis masters degree helped her qualify for the position of director of Cooperative Extension. She added, My degree was an accomplishment that I had set out to do many years ago. Since I am the only person in my immediate family to complete my bachelors degree, it was icing on the cake to get my masters.
The first course in the 33-credit masters degree program was offered through the World Campus in January 2000. There are nine core courses in the program, which is linked to the World Campus Distance Education Certificate. Many students in the adult education program also elect to complete the graduate Distance Education Certificate, Kuhne said. In addition to completing the adult education core courses, students earn 12 credits in other courses and electives. They have the option of progressing through the program at their own pace, but all students enrolled in a course complete the course together. Instructors structure the online learning environment to include threaded discussions and live chats, in addition to group projects and other interactive activities, Kuhne added.
The online learning environment is a challenge for students, because there is no place to hide online, he said. Everyone is mandated to participate. Part of students grades are linked to the level and quality of their participation. They have to learn to connect with others in class without the benefit of the visual cues that are present in the traditional classroom. The online environment pushes everyone into the forefront of the learning experience.
Some students are reluctant to speak in a traditional classroom, but the virtual classroom removes many fears and barriers.
In the online classroom, students have time to read and reflect on what their classmates have written before contributing their comments, he said. This allows the more reticent student to become a vital member of the discussion.
Help in adapting to the online learning environment is available through World Campus 101, a self-study free online course designed to orient new and prospective students to the World Campus and the skills needed to be a successful participant in an online learning environment.
The masters degree in adult education program got its start several years ago during discussions between College of Education faculty members and World Campus staff members. Dr. Eunice N. Askov, Distinguished Professor of Education, was the lead faculty member at that time and coordinated the initial development of the online degree program.
Kuhne added, The Adult Education Program in the College of Education has a long history of extending its degree programs to students in the Pittsburgh and Harrisburg areas, using audio- and videoconferencing, computer conferencing and other distance education technologies. The Adult Education Program also has a cadre of faculty members engaged in research and scholarship in the distance education field. These factors made the college the ideal academic unit to be the first to offer an online degree program at Penn State.
Kuhne has been involved in developing and teaching courses in the program since its inception. He developed Introduction to Adult Education, one of the 3-credit core courses in the program, and has taught it each semester.
He also developed and teaches the Professional Seminar: Research and Adult Education. During this 3-credit course, students develop their masters paper. In addition, he
provides administrative oversight for the online program.
From his experience, Kuhne has found a majority of our students have become very positive about their online experience. In many cases, the online learning experience is beyond what they anticipated. They are finding there is a closer interaction among classmates.
Students quickly master the technical aspects of working in the online learning environment.
By the third week of class, he said, even students with little computer background have adapted. We dont see many technology problems in subsequent courses.
Teaching online, however, can be challenging.
In resident instruction, the faculty members role is usually one of content expertsomeone who designs and delivers lecture content, although the faculty member may incorporate interactive activities in the course, Kuhne said. In the online environment, teaching is part of the role, but core content issues are taken care of in advance. During class time, the faculty members role is facilitative; its one of guiding discussions and offering advice. There is much less lecturing involved. This is a significant shift for many faculty members.
Another key difference between the traditional and virtual classrooms is the lack of visual cues, he said. In the virtual classroom, everything is in a text medium. He finds he spends more time interacting with students through e-mail and chat modes to get to know them.
Its neither better nor worse; its just different, Kuhne said. We are using different avenues to achieve similar ends.
The next challenge the masters degree in adult education program faces is growth.
We anticipate continued interest in the program, Kuhne said. Its a good problem to have.