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Interview: Thomas M. Green, Ph.D., Provost, National University

tomgreensmall.jpgThomas M. Green, Ph.D., Provost at National University, joins us today to discuss distance education.

Tell us about the distance learning programs offered at National University.

National University offers more than 60 degree programs and 10 teaching credential programs completely online. Since 1996, the University has made a conscious effort to develop those programs that are appropriate for online delivery; we currently have an inventory of 1200 courses available online. The University has five schools and one college; each month, nearly 60% of our students are in online classes.

What is the typical duration of each of your programs?

Baccalaureate programs are a minimum of 180 quarter units. The requirements for the major are typically 15-16 courses (4.5 quarter units each) and take about a year and one-half to complete. Master's degrees average about 12-14 courses and take approximately one year to complete.

What would you say makes National University programs different and better than other comparable online programs?

There are four aspects to National University's online programs that can be considered differentiators. First, the overwhelming majority of courses are four weeks long, the same as our onsite classes. Students take one class at a time, allowing them to focus their attention and energy. Second, the University has implemented a continuous improvement process to regularly review and upgrade all online courses so they remain current and relevant. In order to take advantage of rapidly changing technologies the University has invested in our own in-house instructional designers to support faculty to continually upgrade their course designs and instructional skills. Third, the University hosts and manages all online courses internally. An affiliate of the National University System, Spectrum Pacific Learning Company, provides course delivery support plus 24/7/365 technical support. Fourth, all online instructors are well versed in online instructional strategies and bring to each class strong academic credentials and real-world experience. By utilizing practitioner-scholars to teach our courses, online students are able to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

How important would you say accreditation is when choosing an online college?

Online education has become commonplace in higher education; that said, it is important for students to be intelligent consumers. Regional accreditation is an important factor to consider in selecting an online program. First, it guarantees a certain standard. In the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), accreditation indicates that the institution is appropriately focused on student learning and program quality. Accreditation is also important if students think they may want to transfer their credits to another regionally accredited institution.

There is some debate as to whether or not online degrees are as worthwhile as traditional degrees. What steps does National University take to ensure that online students are receiving the same education that they'd receive in a classroom?

The dynamic between online and onsite education has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. Ten years ago, most online programs were informed by their onsite counterparts, i.e. the onsite experience was replicated as closely as possible online. Now the reverse is true. We know that online students learn as well as onsite students because of our rigorous, robust assessment program. All courses use the same standardized course syllabus with the same student learning outcomes regardless of location or delivery mode. Student mastery of course and program learning outcomes are assessed each year through the Program Annual Review process. Exams, projects, and signature assignments with scoring rubrics are used to ensure that students are receiving a comparable education independent of location and delivery mode.

What would you say are some of the benefits of earning a degree online rather than in a traditional classroom?

There are three very distinct benefits to earning a degree online. First and foremost is convenience. One of the greatest values to online education is that it expands access to higher education to those who would not otherwise benefit. This is especially true of working adults, who must balance work, family, and school: they can work online at times that are convenient to them. Second, students may find themselves in classes with students from all around the world. Students can be literally any place in the world that has internet access. This opportunity is part of a larger movement that includes on-demand education and training, virtual and social networking, and the ability to access and utilize information from anywhere in the world. Third, online students are using emerging technologies that will benefit them in all aspects of their personal and professional lives. Many of the skills obtained by online students are transferable.

If a student enrolled in one of your programs was interested in finding an internship in their field in their area, do you have any means of assisting them in acquiring an internship position?

National University has used "courtesy placements" very successfully. It is not uncommon for University faculty to work with individuals all over the world to supervise interns or practicum students. Faculty and local hosts develop a contract for student learning and support systems. Virtual meetings between the faculty, student, and supervisor are utilized to approximate what would otherwise be face-to-face or phone meetings.

Does National University offer any job placement services to your students and graduates?

National University's Career Center provides a variety of services to onsite and online students. The online resources include counseling, career assessments, and r��sum�� writing assistance. The University maintains a number of employer partnerships and affiliations to assist students with finding the right career.

Is financial aid available to students in your programs?

Financial aid is available in the form of grants, loans, and scholarships. Financial aid counselors are available at our physical locations and online.

Do you have any advice for students enrolling in online classes for the first time?

For first time online students I would recommend a "test drive": ask for access to a sample course to see if it is appealing. Make sure online classes match your learning style; if you are a visual learner, are there written "lectures"? If you are an auditory learner, are there voice-over lectures or videos? If you are a kinesthetic learner, are there hands-on activities? In addition, take a tutorial if one is available; make sure you know how to access the online resources. Is there an online library that will meet your needs? Is there technical support? Are all the courses you need to complete your degree available online?

My final advice is to be disciplined. To be successful in online classes, students must be self-directed and motivated. It is important to engage in the class early and often.

What do you enjoy most about your position at National University?

I most enjoy the opportunity to be involved in shaping the direction of many initiatives that focus on student learning. I get to work with some very intelligent people who are committed to making educational opportunities accessible, relevant, and of the highest quality possible. I am able to support over 500 online classes each month while designing the shape of National University's educational future. There are enough constantly moving parts that I will never be without a challenge!

Thank you Thomas, for sharing and participating in this piece.

That concludes our interview!

For more information on the distance education programs available at National University, visit them online.

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