When it comes to online education, there are two types of people:
Over the years, I've had lots of practice slotting people into the right category. When I introduce myself as the Online Education Director for Pima Medical Institute, (the largest independently-owned, private allied health school in the United States), those who don't get it mumble a remark and change the subject. Those who do ask the follow-up question, "So how did you get involved with that?"
My answer probably says alot about my geekiness.
Rewind to 1996. I was teaching microeconomics and macroeconomics at a mid-sized community college in southwestern Pennsylvania. That spring I attended what would become a life-changing economics conference. Yes, that seems like an oxymoron, but stick with me.
During one of the sessions, the presenter demonstrated how to access economic data like GDP estimates, umployment figures, and inflation rates right from his computer. I was riveted. Most of the sites that I saw that day were government-run Gopher sites and dull by today's standards, but suddenly, Star Trek computers seemed a lot less like science fiction. I headed home knowing that I had to get connected to the Internet!
Within a month, I had gotten a new computer with a screaming fast 28.8k modem. Within three months, I had learned HTML, registered the domain AyersOnline.com and built my very first web site using only a basic text editor. A bit later, I developed my personal web site, but my primary web interest was to build a site filled with assets that I could use and share with my classroom students.
With the rapid growth of web, it wasn't long until I had quite an impressive economics education site, and my expertise was tapped to build and manage a similar site that would serve as a resource for K-12 teachers in the 501 school districts across the state of Pennsylvania.
Back on campus, I had earned the moniker of Internet goddess (No, I don't make up this stuff...), and as the College slowly added the wired infrastructure, I conducted most of the Internet training for faculty and staff.
I designed, developed and taught the College's first Internet Principles course, and because there weren't many textbook options at the time, I built yet another interactive web site to help me deliver and demonstrate the course material.
Both the training of faculty and staff as well as the classroom teaching, very often with newbies, became an invaluable training ground for me. I saw first hand how people interacted with web content, and it didn't take long to figure out that most web designers seldom bothered to see how people actually used (or didn't use) their sites. I, however, had a living laboratory to explore virtually (no pun intended) every day. I learned what web design motivated people, what content they interacted with, and what activites helped them learn.
In 2000, I built and taught my first fully-online microeconomics course followed soon after by macroeconomics. In 2001, I left most of my classroom teaching behind and took the College's newly minted position of Coordinator of Distance Education. The rest, as they say, is history. (See my Linked in Profile)
If you're one of those people who don't get it, I will confidently say that traditional classroom education will never become extinct. There will always be a time and place when face-to-face classroom learning makes the most sense. But for those of us who do get it, we know that learning is never more than a few clicks away.
Creating a successful online education program takes vision, leadership, commitment, support, and a healthy dose of obsession. If even one of these variables is missing, a program is likely to become just another e-learning casuality."Deborah Ayers