A record number of graduate students at Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions online learning program will earn their degrees without ever having to step foot in a classroom.
More than 500 students have enrolled for the winter 2006 term, and will take classes entirely through the World Wide Web.
The program is designed primarily for adult learners. The flexibility and convenience of the program allow the students to complete the course work at any given time, according to Dr. Kenneth Hartman, academic director of Drexel eLearning.
“Flexibility by far is the No. 1 valued component,” Hartman said. “You don’t have to come to campus to go to class.”
Students can enroll in online degree programs regardless of their location or schedule. Nursing students who take clinical courses or work in doctors’ offices and hospitals have varying hours, according to Hartman. Online degree programs give students the ability to work classes into their schedules.
Tisha Kelly-Brown, 33, from Tobyhanna, Pa., earned her master’s degree as an adult psychiatric nurse practitioner through Drexel’s program. Brown began the program in January 2003 and finished two and a half years later in May 2005.
“For me it was good because I had two children at the time and I worked full time,” she said. “I was able to go to work, get my kids settled in to bed, and then do my schoolwork at night. It’s really good for adults.”
It was convenient to be able to do everything in her own home, Brown said. However, since there are no scheduled class times, she said it is important to be dedicated to the program.
“You really have to be disciplined,” she said. “You have to keep on top of all of your deadlines.”
Temple currently offers online courses, but only one online degree program, Transitional Doctoral of Physical Therapy. The university offers two online courses in the nursing department. Presently, more than 50 percent of courses are offered online for MBA programs.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the university offering courses online.
Temple is moving toward the direction of establishing more online courses and degree completion programs, according to Assistant Vice Provost and Director of Distance and Summer Programs Dr. Dominique Kliger.
“That is our next step,” Kliger said. “Different schools are adopting different approaches. We are moving slowly, but with all the best resources you can have in a classroom.”
More than 1,500 students are enrolled in Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions eLearning programs. The programs offer degrees in 38 graduate and 20 undergraduate academic programs. The college of Nursing has offered these programs since 1997.
Enrollment in Drexel’s online learning programs has grown from a few hundred students to a few thousand over the last decade. The nursing program, in particular, has grown immensely, according to Hartman.
The United States is in the midst of a nursing shortage that is expected to intensify as baby boomers age and the need for health care grows, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Nursing colleges and universities across the country are in a struggle to expand enrollment levels to meet the rising demand for nursing care.
“There is a huge shortage of nurses,” Hartman said. “Colleges can’t keep up with the demand.”
Nursing has been identified as the top occupation for career growth through the year 2012, according the U.S. Department of Labor.
Orchestrating an online learning program requires a tremendous amount of resources and the right type of resources to be successful Hartman said.
“Courses have to be designed in certain ways to meet certain goals,” he said.
Online courses have been questioned because of the lack of a classroom with a professor and other students.
“Sometimes the personality a professor reveals in class is inspirational,” said junior nursing major Amanda Tyahla. “The nursing professors at Temple are very passionate about their line of work. One of my instructors is a community health nurse. She constantly incorporates her life experiences into the curriculum.”
Tyahla said she would not sacrifice the benefits of learning in a classroom for the convenience of taking online courses.
However, with the evolution of technology, online learning has developed rapidly. Students enrolled in the university’s online courses can watch videos, upload audio or video lectures and participate in chat-room discussions.
Hartman said his online courses involve the same instruction as his regular courses.
“My students have much more interaction online than in a classroom,” he said. “Online, it’s all about communication.”
With discussion boards and Web logs, Hartman said there are multiple ways in which communication is enhanced online more so than in a classroom.
“We do our best to give our students the feeling of being connected,” Kliger said. “We want them to engage in their learning experience.”
Leigh Zaleski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.