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Interview: Shirley M. Adams, Ph.D., Charter Oak State College

Shirley M. Adams, Ph.D., Vice President for Academic Affairs, Charter Oak State College joins us today to discuss distance education.

Tell us about the distance learning programs offered at Charter Oak State College.

Charter Oak State College is part of the state system in Connecticut. It was founded to serve adult students through non-traditional assessment and delivery methods. It is accredited by New England Association of Schools and Colleges. Charter Oak offers four general studies degrees"an associate in arts, associate in science, bachelor of arts, and bachelor of science. Within the bachelor degrees, students can earn content specific concentrations in over 40 areas. In addition, Charter Oak offers credit certificated programs in computer security, public safety, after school education, project management, and health insurance customer insurance.

Students earn credits by taking our online or video courses, through our portfolio review process, contract learning or special assessment process, by taking standardized examinations, by taking courses at other institutions, by taking courses recommended for credit by the American Council on Education or National Program on Non-collegiate Sponsored Instruction, including military credit. Charter Oak has a very liberal transfer policy, and in many cases, the entire degree can be earned elsewhere.

Charter Oak offers over 150 online courses and has another 20 in development. Students can complete their associate's degree by just taking our online courses and can also complete many of the bachelor's degrees by just taking our courses. We offer all of the courses for the American Studies, Business Administration, Child Study, Child and Youth Development, Health Care Administration, Organizational Leadership, Organizational management, Public Safety Administration and Public Administration concentrations. We will soon have all of the courses for Computer Information Systems, Criminal Justice, and Child Study/Montessori online. Other concentrations require that you earn credits at other accredited institutions or in other formats.

What is the typical duration of each of your programs?

Most of the courses are either 8 or 15 weeks in length, with a few that are 5 weeks in length. This often allows working adults the flexibility to take two to three courses per semester.

The average age of our students is 41 and the average amount of credit the students bring to Charter Oak is around 80, therefore we offer most courses every semester and we rarely cancel courses. If a course has to be cancelled, we are usually able to do a learning contract between the instructor and student.

What would you say makes Charter Oak State College programs different and better than other comparable online programs?

Charter Oak has a faculty approved process for online course development and review. In addition, there is a faculty development site for the ongoing development of faculty.
In most cases, the courses are taught by the same instructors who developed the courses. We have redesigned the course shell to provide for consistency in course layout and easier navigation for both students and faculty. We are in the process of moving all of the courses to the new format.

Charter Oak has over a 90% retention rate in its online courses. Part of the reason our retention rate is so high is that all of our courses use the threaded discussion feature in order to make the courses highly interactive. We have found that students want this interaction with the other students and with the instructor.

How important would you say accreditation is when choosing an online college?

I think regional accreditation is very important. At the current time, regional accreditation is the gold seal. It means that the programs have gone through the same review process as on ground programs; and, in some cases, a more thorough review.

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

We have been offering non-traditional degrees for over 34 years. Our alumni surveys have shown that our students have had no difficulty in having their degrees accepted by graduate schools or business and industry and that their degree from Charter Oak has well prepared them for work or further education.

In addition, as noted in question 3, we have a review process in place for our courses for both content and pedagogy, agreed upon guidelines for how courses should operate, i.e. grading rubrics, threaded discussions, and response time by faculty. This assures quality.

We have also conducted grade comparisons comparing the grades our students earn on our courses with the grades they earn on courses they transfer in after they are matriculated. The results show that our courses are equal in rigor to those our students take at other institutions. Our end-of-course evaluations also confirm that students find the courses demanding and educationally sound.

We provide many of the same support services that students would find at a traditional college, only we do them online"tutoring, writing assessment, orientation, advising, book store, and library. We hold chat sessions and Webinars monthly on a variety of topics, including degree planning, financial aid, etc. We also have an e-lounge for students so they can talk to one another.

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

Our students tell us the biggest benefits are: being able to earn their degree and take courses within a structure that allows them flexibility; having a chance to learn from students all over the world; improved writing and critical thinking skills; and having become a more self-directed learner. Often our student say that if it was not for the online format, they would have never have completed their education.

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?

We currently require students to find their own internships. The internship would have to be approved by one of our faculty members and it would be graded by that person as well. A learning contract would be developed, including course outcomes and requirements. The faculty member would also contact the person at the internship site before the contract is agreed to.

Does Charter Oak State College offer any job placement services to your students and graduates?

No, we do not offer job placement services. Most of our students are already employed. However, we provide links to on online websites for information on resume writing and career opportunities. We also, offer workshops on online graduate programs for our students. We offer the workshops here at Charter Oak and via Web casting.

Is financial aid available to students in your programs?

Yes, financial aid is available. They must meet the federal guidelines for eligibility. The College also has scholarships available.

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

If a program offers an online orientation or tutorial, take the time to go through them. Online courses are not easier than on ground courses, so don't sign up for more online courses than you would if you were taking them on ground. If you haven't written a research paper in a long time, you might want to take a writing course to refresh your skills. Online courses are writing intensive and usually have papers and projects instead of a final examination.

What do you enjoy most about your position at Charter Oak State College?

I enjoy the challenge of developing new ways of serving adult students at a distance without losing the personal touch which is one of our strengths.

To Request more information about the distance learning programs available through Charter Oak State College, Go here to visit them online.

Thank you Shirley, for sharing and participating in this piece for Online Degrees 2.0

That concludes our interview!

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