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Interview: Dawn Drake, Executive Director, University of Wisconsin-Platville

Dawn Drake, Executive Director for Alternative Delivery Systems at University of Wisconsin - Platville joins us today to discuss distance education.

Tell us about the distance learning programs offered at University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

UW-Platteville offers 3 graduate programs (Criminal Justice, Engineering, and Project Management) and 2 undergraduate programs (Business Administration and Criminal Justice) completely online. In addition, there are several online certificate programs available and students can also take individual classes to transfer into another program or for professional development. For a complete listing of our programs and courses, visit our Website.

What is the typical duration of each of your programs?

Our individual courses are set up on a typical semester basis (16 weeks in fall and spring and 10 weeks in the summer). Most of the students in our programs are taking classes on a part-time basis, while working full time, so the duration of the programs is completely determined by the individual student. We do not require students to take classes in a cohort basis, so each student can determine the amount of credits they want to take and in which semesters, to best fit their individual needs.

What would you say makes University of Wisconsin-Platteville program different and better than other comparable online programs?

Our online programs are an extension of the successful programs that we have available on our campus, which has a great educational history of nearly 150 years. All students have an academic advisor, classes with an average enrollment of 22, and access to all academic and administrative services in a centralized Distance Learning Center. The level of interaction that occurs between students and with the instructors of the courses is very high. In addition, the student body is very diverse. We have had students from all 50 states and 42 countries during the past 5 years. Since most of our students are non-traditional in nature, they bring a wonderful combination of work and life experiences to the classes and share this wealth of experience in their discussions and group projects. Distance education is a distinct part of the university's mission statement and is incorporated into all aspects of campus reports and activities. Selected students and alumni from the programs serve on a Student Advisory Board and Alumni Advisory Board that focuses on distance education topics and initiatives.

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

Given the high standards of becoming accredited, I believe it is very important to know the accreditation status of an institution when choosing an online program. Since students are not part of an on-campus environment, it is difficult to determine the quality and operations of the institution. Accreditation provides an opportunity for students to be reassured that the institution must maintain a certain level of quality and standards throughout their operations. University of Wisconsin-Platteville recently completed their accreditation process and received a full 10-year reaccreditation. The following statement regarding distance education was part of the final report submitted by the accreditation team:

"The Distance Learning Center provides outstanding support to students and faculty engaged in distance learning. The Center provides a single point of access for student learners where they receive administrative and technical support, and access to student services, library resources, and course materials. The Center assures that best distance education practices are implemented across the curricula it supports and seeks to constantly improve the e-learning environment for students."

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

The curriculum for the programs is developed and approved through the same process that is followed for our on-campus programs. There is a large system of checks and balances that exist to make sure that the quality of the online programs is very high. In addition, there is required training that all faculty participate in who will be developing and/or teaching online classes. There is also an established minimum set of quality criteria that must be included in each online course. If these elements are not present before the semester begins, the course is canceled. Appropriate educational assistance and resources are also made available to all online students.

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

Based on student feedback, the two biggest benefits of earning a degree online is the flexibility and convenience associated with the programs. Students do not need to relocate, quit jobs, or defer participation in family activities to continue their education. Since all of our programs are offered in an asynchronous format, students can log on to the classes when it is convenient for them during the day or night. The other big benefit is the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of people in classes and the ability for that interaction to occur beyond the classroom. In a traditional on-campus setting, a conversation gets cut short due to limited time in the classroom. The online classroom is open 24/7, which encourages fuller, deeper, and higher levels of discussion and interaction.

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

Since the vast majority of our online students (over 97%) are non-traditional in nature, they are already working full or part-time and are not in need of internships. However, we have had a handful of traditional age students who have approached other class members to ask if they had internships available in their companies and a few have been set up in this informal format. If traditional students become a larger portion of our student body, we would take this issue into consideration.

Does University of Wisconsin-Platteville off any job placement services to your students and graduates?

As mentioned above, most of our students and alumni are already employed. However, the campus career services office does offer an online career and placement service for current students and alumni who are interested in participating. Students and alumni are able to receive career counseling, resume evaluations, and job search techniques online. In addition, they can post a resume to the online system for employers to review and access all job postings.

Is financial aid available to students in your programs?

Both state and federal financial aid opportunities exist for students in the online programs. In addition, a large number of students receive tuition reimbursement from their companies. A limited amount of scholarships are also available for online students.

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

There are three pieces of advice that I would give students who are enrolling for their first online class:

a. Take advantage of the services that are provided by the institution. UW-Platteville has a wide array of academic and support services available to help students be successful in their online courses. If you have questions, ask"don't ignore problems you are having.

b. Do not get behind in your classes. Just because you do not have to attend an on-campus class, does not mean there are no deadlines. Carefully review the assignment deadlines and establish a schedule for studying and submitting your work.

c. Develop a support system with your family, friends, and work colleagues. Since the majority of our students are trying to combine their educational goals with all of these other people and activities, it is important that you have a good support system set up to help keep you motivated to complete your assignments, courses, and degrees.

What do you enjoy most about your position at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville?

The most rewarding part of my position at UW-Platteville is knowing that I am helping students continue their education. For many of our students, there would be no other opportunity for them to earn their degree, if it was not available online. Understanding the importance of higher education, it is extremely fulfilling to know that our programs have made such a big impact on our students' lives. We continually hear these comments from our students and alumni. This is also an industry in which there are continual changes. So, personally I always feel that I'm being challenged professionally to stay updated with all of the current distance education information.

To Request more information about the distance learning programs available through University of Wisconsin-Platteville, Go here to visit them online.

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

That concludes our interview!

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