St. Mary's University: It's graduate school on the iPad, and it's spreading
Jan 20, 2013 (Pioneer Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Heather Kolupailo wouldn't be attending graduate school if it were not for her iPad.
The 27-year-old St. Paul resident is a recruiter for Adecco, a job that involves travel and some long hours, making attending regular classes difficult.
Now, thanks to three St. Mary's University graduate degree programs redesigned to be entirely completed on the Apple tablet, Kolupailo can earn her master's degree in human-resources management without setting foot on campus. She is one of 200 students around the globe enrolled in programs the university launched last spring.
"That was one of the most important factors for me, because of my job," Kolupailo said.
She enjoys the freedom of working on her schedule as opposed to spending a weekend day in class. "It's better than having a sixth work day."
The number of students from kindergarten to college taking classes online has skyrocketed. In 2010, more than 6 million attended online college classes, up from 1.6 million in 2002, according to a study by the Sloan Consortium, a nonprofit advocate for online education.
Many of those programs are traditional courses repurposed for the Web by videotaping lectures or putting study materials online. Others are "blended" classes that include class time and online work.
Marcel Dumestre, vice president of graduate and professional programs at St. Mary's, taught these types of online courses. Although he thought they were effective, he wanted to do something different: a
complete experience in which students from around the world could study and interact anywhere, anytime.
"What is different about these programs from others online is they are built to be native to the iPad," said Dumestre, who believes the university's approach is unique.
Educators across the nation have put Apple's tablets into the hands of tens of thousands of students. Like many of the devices champions, Dumestre thinks the device has the power to enhance the learning experience like no other.
The new programs are the latest example of how technology isn't just replacing things like textbooks or lectures, but is even eliminating the need for classrooms. At St. Mary's, administrators and instructors spend a year working with a consultant to design coursework that takes advantage of the device's portability and immediacy.
Students in the new programs are expected to master the same skills, but the way material delivered is unique.
"We didn't want it to be just a presentation tool," Dumestre said. "We wanted it to be interactive."
Discussions between students and faculty via social media, video chat, email and text message become key components of the learning process, Dumestre said. The programs are in project management, human resources and organizational leadership and are accelerated course work designed for working professionals.
"Our students find value not only in instruction; they find value in networking and interacting with other students," he said.
Bob Anderson, director of instructional technology, said students share their ideas and professional experiences with each other and often improve the lessons.
"Adult learners are adaptive learners," he said. "We want to bridge the gap between work and academia."
The altered format takes a little getting used to, Kolupailo said, although she finds the virtual interactions more meaningful and valuable.
"There is a different dynamic online versus in the classroom," she said. "I think this is very functional. It is very interactive and opens up a lot of possibilities."
Professors have also had to adapt their teaching style, which can be difficult, but the changes that come with the transition to instruction in the virtual world have staying power, Dumestre said. Now 15 professors are teaching iPad courses, and that is expected to grow with the university's plans to add a dozen of the degree programs to the iPad roster over the next five years.
"Once you've taught an online course," Dumestre said, "you can't go back into the classroom and do the same thing."
Contact Christopher Magan at 651-228-5557. Follow him at www.twitter.com/cmaganPiPress.
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