Interview: Marla J. Solomon, Ed.D., Dean of Graduate Programs, School for International Training

Marla J. Solomon, Ed.D., Dean of Graduate Programs at the School for International Training joins us today to discuss distance education.

Tell us about the distance learning programs offered at the School for International Training.

Our approach is actually to combine face-to-face with distance learning components in many variations throughout our programs. The purpose of this hybrid format is to build a strong learning community face-to-face which can stay strong throughout the distance learning process, bringing into our programs the best of both components.

Our newest degree program format is our most distance-oriented. The International Education Low Residency Master's degree and Graduate Certificate programs are designed for working professionals who would like to obtain a graduate degree while continuing their careers. Professionals in fields such as education abroad, international advising and training, citizen exchange, and program development benefit from knowledge and skills that they can apply directly to their work, rather than having to wait for an internship or graduation. They receive course credit for documenting the integration of their knowledge and skills in a professional context while remaining engaged with faculty and other students.

There are a variety of other ways we incorporate distance learning into our programs. All of our programs include a field-based practical component through which our participants apply theoretical knowledge and analytical frameworks in a professional career setting outside of the classroom. This can be considered a form of distance learning as well. Depending on the program and specific learning objectives of the participant, this practice phase could involve experiences such as researching health needs in a community in Uganda, conducting teacher-training in Romania or coordinating an international exchange program in San Francisco. Participants are supervised by faculty advisors who are practicing professionals in addition to being accomplished scholars who write and publish in their fields. They help facilitate the participants' full integration of theory, analysis and. practice through interaction on a course management website, email communications or in some cases, field visits.

For nearly 25 years our Summer Masters of Arts in Teaching (SMAT) program has provided a unique format for working language teachers to keep their jobs while working on a master's degree. The participants devote two summer semesters of on-campus coursework to acquire the theoretical knowledge and develop the professional competencies that they will apply in their own classrooms during their Interim Year Teaching Practicum. During this practicum, an SIT faculty member observes their classes, wherever they are in the world, for a week. The rest of the year is spent reflecting on and writing a series of reports about different aspects of their teaching as they learn how to better monitor themselves and make their teaching more effective.

Another program for teachers that incorporates distance learning is the Teacher Training and Professional Development Institute, which provides professional development courses and workshops for teachers involved or interested in teacher training and supervision. Some Institute courses are taught on the School for International Training campus in Brattleboro, Vermont while others are taught entirely online and can be taken from anywhere in the world.

Although we do not offer programs that are totally delivered at a distance with no residential component, we have been moving more toward enhancing our field "based studies through technology, using online course management systems and other social interaction tools such as wikis, sharing of case analyses through discussion forums, podcasting, etc.. For example, our Conflict Transformation Across Cultures (CONTACT) Certificate program combines short-term residential sessions with online learning to minimize time away from jobs and families for peacebuilding professionals engaged in their communities around the world. The Graduate Certificate is a one-year, part-time, 14-credit graduate and professional development program.

Both CONTACT and the International Education Low Residency programs begin with a residential session in June at the School for International Training. This session provides a program orientation and some initial coursework as well as an opportunity for community building before leaving campus for the online component. The International Education Low Residency program also offers options to take elective courses in multiple locations, formats and times, including an intensive residential Intercultural Communication course offered at an overseas location or at our campus in Vermont.

We also have online courses such as Fundraising Principles that are offered for elective credit.

What is the typical duration of each of your programs?

Our low-residency programs follow a more structured sequence as students complete the online coursework and reflective practice through their current jobs. Graduate Certificate students should complete their program in one year, while Master's degree students continue with another year of coursework for a total of 24 months. Individual courses are completed in a mini-term or a semester.

What would you say makes the School for International Training programs different than other comparable online programs?

We are known for our unique educational approach that integrates interdisciplinary learning, intercultural interaction and rigorous practice in real world settings to develop strong change leaders with intercultural competence and real world problem-solving skills. Our online offerings, whether delivered through customized courses or low-residency graduate degree programs, allow professionals to access our programs without leaving the important work they are doing in communities around the world. Our online offerings also emphasize collaborative experiential learning as do all of our programs.

How important would you say accreditation is when choosing a college with online courses?

It is absolutely important and all of our programs are accredited. Before we launched the International Education Low Residency program, we sought and received approval from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Inc. (NEASC) through its Commission on Institutions of Higher Education.

There is some debate as to whether or not online courses are as worthwhile as traditional courses. What steps does the School for International Training take to ensure that online students are receiving the same education that they'd receive in a classroom?

The courses and faculty for the online and on-campus programs are the same, but in some cases a few adjustments were made in the sequencing and structure to adapt to an online format. The development of the International Education Low Residency program was done in a highly participatory manner to ensure that the services such as career counseling, library, financial aid, participation in governance, etc. offered to those in the low-residency programs are the same as what the on-campus students receive. Our library serves about 2,000 students a year at off-site locations around the world, enrolled in both our Graduate and Professional Programs and our undergraduate Study Abroad programs. As a result, we have built and continue to grow our online accessibility, resources, and search tools with this idea of a global virtual campus in mind.

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

A huge benefit is that students can continue working and remain connected to their families, careers and communities. They also continue to earn an income so that the financial burden of studies is not as great.

In terms of learning, many students thrive in an environment where they can read, reflect and interact with others who are experiencing similar situations but in varied socio-cultural, political or geographic contexts. In our programs, we also utilize the online format to bring students together from and working in a variety of contexts and countries; the online environment gives them access to learning from and with each other while not located together.

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

It is important for online program applicants to do a self-inventory to determine if this format would work with their learning style, schedule and resources. We ask our program applicants to reflect on whether they manage their time effectively and independently and if they have access to and are comfortable with using various technology tools. Applicants are also asked to document their experience and familiarity with instructional technology or distance learning and how the setting (work and other) will contribute to their own and the learning of others in their cohort.

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?

SIT's career center is an important resource for the career guidance, job searching, networking and professional development needs of students and alumni. Our students in low-residency programs will have the same access to resources as other students, including the Organization Resource Bank, an online collection of profiles of over 800 organizations and institutions worldwide.

Is financial aid available to online students?

Yes, since our programs are fully accredited, financial aid and counseling are available to students.

Can you tell us more about the School for International Training?

The School for International Training (SIT) is World Learning's accredited institution of higher education. World Learning is a 75-year-old nonprofit international organization with four divisions: the School for International Training, which includes SIT Study Abroad and the Graduate and Professional Programs; World Learning for International Development, and The Experiment in International Living.

SIT is committed to ensuring that its students are effective in cross-cultural settings and that they understand their citizenship responsibilities transcend local and national boundaries. SIT Study Abroad provides undergraduate students with a distinctive international education in over 45 countries worldwide " including more opportunities in the developing world than any other program of its kind. SIT awards master's degrees in Teaching; International Education; Sustainable Development; Conflict Transformation; Social Justice in Intercultural Relations; Management; and Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management.

If you would like to request more information about the programs available through the School for International Training, please visit our website: go here or contact one of our admissions staff go here.

What do you enjoy most about your position at the School for International Training?

The School for International Training has provided me a place to grow and learn professionally for the last several years. Our students are committed, passionate, and dedicated to making the world a better place. It's exciting to work with them and to try to build programs that help them get the education they need to meet their goals.

To request more information on distance learning programs at School for International Training, go here to visit them online.

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

That concludes our interview!

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