‘New tool in our toolkit’: Minnesota colleges say online courses are here to stay

A new health sciences degree program at the University of Minnesota Rochester will combine online and in-person learning to help students complete their education in just over two years instead of four.

St. Cloud State University and Minnesota State College Southeast are adding more flexible courses where students can learn in person one day and connect remotely the next.

With over a year of online learning under their belt, colleges in Minnesota and across the country are reinventing the menu of options they offer students.

“The name of the game for us in higher education is going to be flexibility. It’s really going to try to serve students the way they want to be served,” said Daniel Gregory, St. Cloud State Marshal. .

Some colleges are launching their very first online and hybrid degree programs, while others are working to ensure that more of their existing classes are forever able to switch between distance and face-to-face learning. . Their efforts demonstrate a continued adherence to the changes they were forced to adopt during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although students have flocked to college campuses this fall in numbers not seen since before the pandemic, many schools are finding that demand for the alternative learning options they were offering still exists. For many students, especially those with children, health concerns, or full-time jobs, flexible learning has made earning a college degree more accessible.

Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis recognized this and quickly decided to create their first two degree programs entirely online. Starting this fall, Dunwoody is offering online Bachelor of Architecture and Construction Management programs to students across the country. The Construction Management Offer is a degree program for students who have already completed the necessary practical classes at a two-year college.

Dunwoody administrators present the programs as a barrier-free option for students and professionals.

“We choose our places where it makes sense and where we can consistently deliver that great education that students expect,” said Dunwoody Provost Scott Stallman. Administrators hope such programs will help the private college meet its goal of doubling from nearly 1,300 students this fall to 2,500 by 2025.

The U at Rochester degree program, dubbed “NXT GEN MED,” will partner with the Mayo Clinic, where students will work and receive mentorship, and Google for the e-learning portion. The hybrid program, which will begin in the summer of 2022 with 50 students, will run year-round to speed up graduation.

U leaders see untapped potential in programs that offer blended learning and include private sector partners. Such programs would complement, not replace, the traditional courses offered by the university on its Twin Cities, Duluth, Rochester, Morris and Crookston campuses.

“We start from the point of view that we are leaders in many areas, and we want to find ways to provide a quality educational experience in these areas,” said Amy Pittenger, professor of pharmacy who works with Rachel provost Croson on future learning opportunities. . “The Rochester example is, I think, a key direction in which the university is heading.”

Croson noted in a statement that a few of U’s existing degree programs have chosen to offer blended learning beyond the pandemic on an ongoing basis.

St. Cloud State University is also seeing some of its programs continually evolve into blended learning. The number of courses that accommodate both in-person and online learning has doubled since before the pandemic, and Gregory said he expects that growth to be sustained. Students can attend classes in person, zoom in to hear a lesson live, or listen to lectures after the fact.

St. Cloud professors have found that students generally enjoy distance learning more when done live than during pre-recorded lectures, Gregory said. “They want to make that connection with their classmates.”

However, blended learning is no small task for faculty members.

It took trial and error and professional training for many teachers to get used to simultaneously teaching a group of students in the classroom and those appearing via Zoom on a screen, said Chad Dull, vice president of the classroom. academic affairs at Minnesota State College Southeast.

The community college, with campuses in Red Wing and Winona, offered nearly half of its classes online before the pandemic. Going forward, Dull said the college will continue these while modifying in-person classes to be capable of distance learning.

“We really believe in this access mission,” said Dull. “It really helps us be who we are meant to be.”

Some colleges are largely ready to move on from apprenticeship in the event of a pandemic.

Carleton College, a private liberal arts school in Northfield, prides itself on its tight-knit residential community, which cannot be matched by technology.

President Alison Byerly said the school could continue to use Zoom and other distance learning tools, but only to enhance the classroom experience, for example by virtually popping up guest speakers.

“It just means that this is a new tool in our toolkit,” Byerly said.

The University of St. Thomas at St. Paul is exploring similar uses. Wendy Wyatt, vice-president of academic affairs at St. Thomas, said academic counseling appointments and faculty office hours were very popular when held virtually.

Some student groups, such as the undergraduate government, have also noticed increased participation when holding their meetings remotely.

“We may not have a lot of completely new, completely online programs. But we really rethink [education] like a craft, ”Wyatt said.

Ryan Faircloth • 612-673-4234

Twitter: @ryanfaircloth

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