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When Tradition Meets Innovation
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When Tradition Meets Innovation

When the Sisters of Notre Dame founded the College in 1922, they couldn’t have envisioned the educational methods NDC is pursuing these days. The College has entered a new era of online education that will help spread the Sisters’ mission to a larger audience. With part of a master’s program already on the Web and the first undergraduate courses going live this summer, Notre Dame’s online campus is a place where teaching tradition meets technological innovation.

The College developed Notre Dame Online to remain competitive in a changing educational environment. In the fall of 2007, over 3.9 million U.S. college students (20 percent) took at least one online course, according to the Sloan Consortium, an online education advocacy group. The number represented a 12 percent increase over the previous year. Noticing this trend, Notre Dame President Dr. Andrew Roth hopes that by 2013 more than 500 students will take online classes at NDC.

Notre Dame OnlineDr. Roth hired Dean of Online Educational Services Dr. Rob Davis in August to expand the online curriculum previously limited to NDC’s Teacher Education Evening Licensure (TEEL®) program. In the fall, the College began by offering its graduate technology endorsement classes online.  In February, the Ohio Board of Regents approved the Master’s of Education degree in an online format. Over the summer, the first core course will go live and students will be able to earn their master’s with the technology endorsement.  Ultimately, the goal is to offer all graduate classes on the Web. In addition, seven undergraduate courses (Introduction to Psychology, Sociology, and Anthropology; English Composition; Music Appreciation; Environmental Science and American History) will go live.

The online classes are a tool to grow enrollment without straining the College’s limited facilities, says Dr. Davis. It will make the Sisters’ mission of educating a diverse population for personal, professional and global responsibility available to a new group of students. “The online program allows us to reach students we would normally not reach either because of geography or their schedules,” Dr. Davis says.

Working parents, for example, often find that face-to-face courses conflict with their schedules. But online classes are more flexible since they don’t necessarily meet at set times and can be accessed from home. In the TEEL® program students from as far as Cincinnati have taken online classes at Notre Dame. “I’ve had students log in from the beaches of Jamaica and I’ve run classes from an airport,” says Assistant Professor of Education Pam Cook, who teaches both in the TEEL® and graduate programs.

But the online technology courses are also popular with local teachers and educators at museums, banks and insurance companies. “We are one of very few colleges in the area that offer the technology endorsement online. It is very marketable across the country because there’s no license or Ohio test required,” Cook says. “Teachers need to participate in this because we now have virtual classes in the K-12 arena.” The Sloan Consortium reported that in the 2007/2008 academic year three in four public school districts offered online or blended courses, with one million K-12 students enrolled.

Dr. Davis says in its infancy online education had the reputation of an easy way to earn a degree, but has “grown tremendously” since. Online courses help develop writing and critical thinking skills, he says. “They have as much if not more academic rigor and involvement than your average on-ground course.”

Cook, who initially was skeptical about taking the student-engaging education classes to the Web, couldn’t agree more. She is fascinated by the interactive features available to her. With headphones, microphones and webcams, Cook communicates with her students much like in a face-to-face class. Students raise their hands by clicking a button, separate into discussion groups and comment on each other’s work. There are polling features and video uploads. The teacher puts up spreadsheets or slideshows and switches control to students who lead presentations from their own PC. In case of technical problems, students can visit the archives and experience the whole class again, including all audio, video and text conversations.

While some Web-based classes simply retrieve assignments from a bulletin board, online students in Notre Dame’s graduate program are required to be in the live classroom once a week. Cook, who usually teaches from her home in Bay Village, often stays on after class for private conversations with her students. “Some face-to-face students don’t want to take an online class because they think they will lose the interaction. But the live classroom still gives them this opportunity,” Cook says.  

“The education department believes strongly that this synchronous part needs to be there, because it’s the way to keep people close,” says Director of Graduate Programs Dr. Nancy Baird. The assistant professor of education has completed an online teaching class led by Dr. Davis and Anne Marie Geckle, associate director of TEEL® Online, and will teach the first graduate core course on the Web this summer.

Dr. Baird stresses the College is not abandoning its on-ground classes. “We are creating an environment for people who want online, face-to-face, evening and day classes. Whatever is best for the student, we will meet.” She is sure the initiative will be a success because it is grounded in the College’s mission.

Dr. Davis agrees and hopes the program will grow to include further undergraduate programs. The business division has already expressed interest in offering a human resources development major. A graduate program in policy and security studies is also in the works. In addition, several high schools in Florida will offer dual credit courses through Notre Dame Online this fall.

“The goal is to reach a market that wouldn’t normally be on campus,” Dr. Davis says. “We may have students from all over the country.” These students will soon be able to enjoy a modern education grounded in an 87-year old, values-based tradition; and that is what the Sisters always envisioned.

Christian Taske ’07 is the editor and writer at Notre Dame College.