Interview: Dr. Joel English, Director, Tidewater Tech Online

Dr. Joel English, Director at Tidewater Tech Online joins us today to discuss distance education.

Tell us about the distance learning programs offered at Tidewater Tech Online.

Tidewater Tech's career-focused programs include associate degrees in Business Management, Computer Networking, Administration, Paralegal Law, Criminal Justice, and Medical Assisting Management. The programs prepare students for careers as professionals in each area, and we provide employment assistance during and after graduation.

What is the typical duration of each of your programs?

Each program is two-and-a-half academic years, which is completed online within 18 months.

What would you say makes Tidewater Tech Online programs different and better than other comparable online programs?

Our courses have high-quality audio-visual lectures, which are supported by highly-interactive discussion threads, chats, and other communication media. Our courses are more attractive, visually engaging, and instructional than most online schools, because we concentrate so heavily on construction of great courses. Our courses include humor and visual engagement, so students have fun online while learning, and they are supported by an interactive community of learners online.
How important would you say accreditation is when choosing an online college?

The accreditation a school chooses says a lot about their mission and dedication to student success. Our accrediting body is the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT). This commission focuses heavily on student graduation rates, job placement rates, and high standards of education and student support. By choosing an accrediting body that holds us to such high standards, we are making a commitment to our students that they will receive a quality education and extensive student services. In many ways, a school's accreditation determines the quality it seeks to attain. ACCSCT helps us assure our students that they are entering a quality program and will be supported from enrollment, to course completion, to graduation, to employment.

There is some debate as to whether or not online degrees are as worthwhile as traditional degrees. What steps does Tidewater Tech Online take to ensure that online students are receiving the same education that they'd receive in a classroom?

There isn't a college in the country that isn't making a choice about whether or not to offer courses online. Today, the question isn't "is distance education any good?"; the question is, "what can distance education do well, and what is better left at a residential campus." The question "is distance education any good?" is like the question we started asking in the late 1980s: "Can you really use a computer to write, or is a computer just for typing in your final draft?" Some people may still prefer a pad of paper to write notes, poetry, or journal entries, but nobody questions whether the computer is a legitimate writing tool any more. The computer is the writing tool today.

The same is true of the Internet with learning: every educator knows that online learning works, and that it can be just as productive of a learning space as a residential classroom for many subjects. Tidewater Tech Online focuses on programs that lend themselves to online learning: Business Management, Paralegal, Criminal Justice. And we are even pioneering high-tech simulators to allow for Computer Networking and Medical Assistant programs to be taught productively online. We have abandoned the out-of-date question "is online learning any good," and we are concentrating on the real question: Just how much can we teach online?

What would you say are some of the benefits of earning a degree online rather than in a traditional classroom?

Clearly, online learners benefit from being able to set their own learning schedules. What people don't realize, though, is that the online learning community is often more communicative and supportive than a residential classroom. At a physical campus, students communicate as long as they're in class, at a dormitory, or elsewhere on campus. Online students tend to never leave that community, because their computers keep them in a constant state of communication and connectedness. Friendships seem to develop online more quickly, support systems take hold, and the learning experience becomes intimate, personal, and meaningful in a lasting way.

If a student enrolled in one of your programs was interested in finding an internship in their field in their area, do you have any means of assisting them in acquiring an internship position?

Several of our programs include an externship/internship possibility. Our Paralegal students, in particular, have been successful finding externships near the end of their programs, getting job experience while in school. Though a working externship is not a requirement of most of our programs, they are innovative options for some of our online students.

Does Tidewater Tech Online offer any job placement services to your students and graduates?

Though we can't guarantee that every student will have a job at the end of their program, we provide a wide array of career services. Each of our programs employs a Career Services Advisor who works with students to search their geographical area for various employment opportunities. We have a Career Development course, in which students perfect their resumes and job application materials, as well as hone their interviewing skills. We even have multiple online career fairs every year, where students meet prospective employers online and discuss career opportunities. Our school is career-focused, so helping students find jobs in their fields of study is at the core of our mission.

Is financial aid available to students in your programs?

Because of our accreditation and high standards, we are able to help students benefit from not only federal financial aid, but also various other sources of financial assistance. Most of our students qualify for financial aid before entering the program.

Do you have any advice for students enrolling in online classes for the first time?

The biggest difference between online learning and residential education is actually quite simple and pragmatic: the schedule! As a residential student, you're told exactly when to be in what classroom, and you're told exactly when to go home. But online, you have to create your own learning schedule and carve out that time from your day in order to succeed. Distance learning, then, is for the "self-starter""the person who can be disciplined and honest with themselves about when they can get the quiet time to go online and complete coursework. My advice to the online student: Make your own learning schedule, post it on the door of the room where you will do your online work, and stick to that schedule. Don't let anyone disrupt you during those precious hours. If you stick to your schedule, you will most likely succeed.

What do you enjoy most about your position at Tidewater Tech Online?

The creativity in an online school is clearly the most fun aspect of working at Tidewater Tech Online. Colleges and Universities have existed for hundreds of years; higher education has been in place for thousands of years. Yet quality Internet-based learning is only about fifteen years old! We have only just begun to innovate the technology and learning styles that will make online learning commonplace in all college campuses. So, internet-based learning is creative both for the student and for the school. At TTO, we learn from the students while they learn from us. The Internet is a fun, creative environment, and it's a thrill to watch students find that out.

To Request more information about the distance learning programs available through Tidewater Tech Online, Go here to visit them online.

Thank you Dr. English, for sharing and participating in this piece for Online Degrees 2.0

That concludes our interview!

About Dr. Joel English

Joel English received his Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition with a specialty in computers and writing from Ball State University. He is a former professor of Professional Writing and Distance Education at Old Dominion University, where he taught technical writing, education and technology, and advanced writing classes, and where he published articles on technology-inclusive teaching and distance education. He is the founding director of Tidewater Tech Online, a fully computer-based distance education career school in Virginia Beach, Virginia. TTO serves students in over 40 states who are pursuing associate degrees in technological, legal, medical, and other professional fields. Dr. English currently serves on the Distance Education Advisory Committee to the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT) and the Career College Advisory Board of the State Council of Higher Education of Virginia (SCHEV).

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