Posted by: Ellie Kutz | January 15, 2013

Faculty Scholarship: Pam Nadash,“Expanding Access to Gerontological Education via Distance Learning”

Faculty who are involved in the design of new programs need to consider, among other issues, how best to deliver that Pam_Nadashprogram for the target audience.Several of our graduate programs offer students the opportunity to complete their degrees online, and one of the more recent is the Management of Aging Services Masters Program in Gerontology, which began offering a degree in 2003. The relationship between online delivery and the needs of students interested in pursuing such a degree is the focus of a article (soon- to-be published in Gerontology & Geriatrics Education) by Pam Nadash, Assistant Professor of Gerontology, as she considers the program’s design and data on the experience of the program’s early student cohorts.

Pam points out that, with an aging population in the US, there is an increasing demand for trained professionals in the field, yet the number of gerontology and geriatrics programs is declining.  A particular need is for further education for mid-career professionals seeking career advancement and others interested in making a career change, the group that was identified as the target audience for the MAS program.  And because many such prospective students are limited in their ability to take a classroom-based program by their location or schedules, it makes sense to offer a program online.

The MAS program shares several design considerations with other online programs.  One was how the online technology can be used not only to provide effective instruction to students who are not on campus but also to improve on that instruction. This was achieved, in part, by embracing a variety of pedagogical techniques—including short, recorded lectures as one component of the learning experience, while using online discussions and other forms of interaction to supplement them and to encourage students to help each other learn.  Synchronous online chats function as a means of checking knowledge acquisition rather than as a form of knowledge transfer.

Another consideration was how to build community among students, often a problem in online learning.  Students typically desire personal contact and support. While elements of the course structure such as online discussions and synchronous chats have helped to build cohesiveness among the students, the program has supplemented such work with several elements: online tools such as MAS info-share, an online professional networking site for all students, faculty, and alumni, which is used to share updates and information; face-to-face gatherings such as an annual luncheon; and a newsletter.

Yet another consideration was how to ensure that all faculty were ready to meet the challenges of teaching in an online environment, particularly as the university has changed learning management systems.  In addition to IT support, one of the program’s co-directors has piloted the new software and become the unofficial trainer for instructors, who subsequently assist their students.

A survey of faculty and students conducted in conjunction with the program’s recent AQUAD review shows that both faculty and students are generally very satisfied with the program as a whole and with the online mode of course delivery. In particular, students pointed with improvements in their communication skills, both oral and written, their ability to manage time, and their work as part of team as specific skills that they were able to develop in the online environment.

Pam concludes that “The success of the MAS Masters Program demonstrates that an online program is a viable means of expanding gerontological education to a broader audience of professionals and those who wish to pursue a career in the administration of aging services [offering] a promising and feasible solution to the problem posed by expanding global needs for expertise in the management of aging services.”

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