Education everywhere is increasingly taking place electronically — and why not, when the collective knowledge of an intercommunicating planet can be carried in a pocket? Moving classrooms online might just be the most dynamic innovation in education since the elevated amphitheater or the invention of the internship.
Our own Oregon State University’s Ecampus offerings are routinely ranked among some of the best in the country. Online bachelor’s degrees from OSU’s Ecampus made the top 10 list once again on U.S. News’ Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for 2017, with a score of 89 points out of 100 in the rankings. What is that now, a B? B+? Anyway, the rankings were based primarily on measures of student engagement, as well as faculty credentials and training, student services and technology, and academic peer reputations of online programs.
Oregon State students receive the same diploma whether they earn their degree online or on-campus. More than a thousand online classes are now offered through OSU’s Ecampus. Students can complete 22 different undergraduate degrees as well as 31 graduate programs. Since 2002, over 3,000 OSU students have earned their degrees online.
At least one Ecampus course was part of 19,097 students’ class schedule during the 2015-’16 school year, and those OSU Ecampus students might not be who you think. The archetypal college student simply isn’t an 18 to 20-something anymore. Education should be for everyone, after all.
So who exactly is OSU’s average Ecampus student nowadays? Well, she’s likely around 32 years old, and already has a career — or perhaps he’s a stay-at-home parent — or maybe they’re a part of our nation’s armed services community. Around a quarter of OSU’s distance students are residents of the state of Oregon. Women made up 54 percent of OSU’s distance students during the 2015-’16 school year. Of the 213,465 online credit hours students registered for that year, only a little over half, 117,518 credits, were taken by distance students.
Simply put, more people can find room in their schedules for education when some of the essentials are moved online. Aside from the easy commute from anywhere with an Internet connection, even on-campus students find all sorts of reasons to turn to online classes. Sifting through lecture materials and struggling through assignments with a more accessible timeline means more scheduling room for students to devote to jobs, family, or all those other presently interesting opportunities to learn stuff presented by a university like Oregon State.
Seriously, so many cool presentations, class discussions, field trips, seminars, PhD defenses, art events, and all sorts of spiffy scientific stuff goes on around here, that lectures and classes can really get in the way of the whole enterprise of learning things. After all, Newton’s first law of motion isn’t going anywhere – unless, you know, it was headed that way already.
How institutions of higher learning foster student engagement, enable more equitable access to resources, and play an active role in helping students find their path will continue to delineate online learning platforms and their price tags from the growing number of online educational options. Old stigmas of the inferiority of online programs to physical classroom content are eroding with advancements in technology – and Corvallis, it would seem, continues to find more ways to change the lives of people all around the world.
By Matthew Hunt