Grads of online programs attend non-virtual convocation

Students graduating from ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College online programs gathered with family, friends and professors for lunch before convocation last week. While many of them had been communicating with one another for years as they made their way through classes, projects and a myriad of assignments, this was the first time most had met in person. It was a celebration of achievements — and of the online program, which enables people in completely different school districts, states and even countries to share ideas, tackle challenges and reach their next goals.

More than 200 students graduated this fall from eight online programs offered by Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. The school has nearly 2,000 online students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs, representing almost one third of the college’s total enrollment.   

“Attending school — earning a degree — online has come a long way since ‘distance learning’ was first introduced in higher education,” said Meredith Toth, assistant dean of online learning at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Not long ago, people heard “online learning” and immediately thought of a model in which students log on to a computer, do some reading from home and work independently to get through a book or a project.

“Online learning is actually as varied as traditional classroom learning,” said Toth. “It’s often even more interactive as students regularly communicate with one another and with instructors and professors as part of the learning process and part of completing assignments.”

Graduates echo these sentiments, emphasizing how accessible professors are, and how much interaction they have with their peers in the program. “It was convenient … and so easy to reach people with questions or to talk about things,” said Tucson teacher Gilbert Tovar, who graduated with a master’s degree in educational leadership. “The professors were available by phone or email and everyone really wanted to talk to you and help you.”

Teresa Redel of St. Louis, Missouri, earned a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in applied behavior analysis. She stressed how much she liked the program and the professors. “The biggest surprise to me while I was going to school was how much interaction I had with others in the program, and even with the professors. We met over Adobe chat and it was so helpful.”

Raheema Datoo, who graduated with a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis on autism spectrum disorders, lives in Toronto. “I enrolled in the online program because of its accessibility. I couldn’t find anything like this in Canada. The program captured education and the behavioral science aspect of my education career and then once I started, there was so much support and encouragement … and involvement … the faculty were great.” 

“I enrolled in ASU’s program because it had an excellent reputation, and I ended up connecting with other students all over the country,” said Noel Tamaz, a full-time teacher who graduated with a master’s degree in curriculum instruction with an emphasis in gifted education. “It was amazing to learn the same things were occurring in gifted education, our field of study, in all different states. The program also helped me network with people and build professional relationships while in school.”

One of the keys to making online education successful, according to Toth, is how curriculum designers adapt classroom activities to an online model. “We can’t simply replicate a classroom activity or lesson,” she said. “We must redesign it and maybe film someone explaining how to do something, and then assign the students a slightly different task and ask them to report back with pictures of what they did and how they went on to implement or translate that material with students in their own setting.

“We are always trying to reconsider what we can do online, and how we can modify materials or lessons," Toth said. "But the fact that we are continuously growing and rethinking in our teaching and delivery is one of the many strengths of our online degree offerings.”