Classes ending in 0 and 5 will celebrate milestone reunions this summer.
Register today online!
Last year we broke our all-time attendance record with over 900 Alumni Weekend participants. With your help, we can break that record again!
Curriculum innovation is nothing new at Hiram College. Since the start of Weekend College in 1977, Hiram has found a way to extend its reach to busy adult learners. Today, through the oversight of the Office of Professional and Graduate Studies (PGS), Hiram has harnessed the power of technology and the Internet to offer online courses to meet the needs of this rapidly growing segment.
According to Paul Bowers ’78, dean of Professional and Graduate Studies, adult learning has started to dominate the higher education landscape as the number of 18-year-olds coming out of high school is diminishing. “In order to continue to not only survive, but thrive, we needed to diversify the way we serve students,” he explained. “We had to be responsive to the market.”
And so the idea of offering online degree programs was born. Part of a larger initiative that also includes blended, web-enhanced, and mobile facets, bringing online degree programs to fruition was a vast undertaking that has required calling in outside vendors for expertise. Kentucky-based Learning House, an eLearning services company that creates off-the-shelf and custom online degree courses, provides instructional and media designers who collaborate with Hiram faculty through each step of development.
Bowers likens the process to that of working with a publisher to create a textbook. Starting with an objective for the class is the first step. Discussion focuses on what the students will learn and what the faculty wants them to achieve. Other considerations include potential challenges, obstacles and the need for special software. Next, faculty and instructional designers team up to determine content, activities and weekly modules. They constantly review and revise these areas until the course is ready to be created in its online format. It takes approximately six months to implement an online class, so at any given time, Hiram has a number of new offerings at different phases of development. So far, close to 30 online courses have been developed or are in the process of being developed.
Along the way, other faculty members and peer reviewers step in to ensure that the classes comply with the Quality Matters rubric of 49 standards for evaluating the design of online and blended classes. “It’s a rigorous process we follow, but this is how you do quality online learning,” Bowers said. “There are a lot of people involved. We are trying to build standards and consistency into the student’s experience so that one online course works the same as others.”
Online classes were first offered in summer 2012. Only three were available at that time: Writing about Animals, Organizational Behavior and Introduction to Musical Literature. Since then, classes have been added for Accounting, Business Management and Communication.
For student Kaylyn Gamertsfelder Bass ’14, the timing couldn’t have been better. She had originally started at Hiram in fall 2010 as a traditional student on campus. After her sophomore year, she withdrew to move to Camp Lejeune, N.C., so that she could be with her husband who had recently completed Marine Corps boot camp.
Although she had wanted to continue working on her degree in North Carolina, she quickly discovered that aside from community colleges and some technical schools, her options were limited. Bass took a few courses here and there that interested her until she could figure out another way to complete her degree.
All that changed when she returned to Hiram last summer to visit some friends, and during a random conversation, learned about the online program.
“I thought, what a great idea,” Bass said. “One of the things I had shared during my exit interview from Hiram was that if I could pick up and move it (my Hiram education) to North Carolina, that would be great. And, all of a sudden I could! As soon as I found out it was a possibility, I was on it.”
Fortunately, most of her credits transferred and Bass is now in her senior year, expecting to graduate in May 2014 – alongside the friends she made during Freshman Institute Week – with a degree in social sciences. She has the unique perspective of having been both a traditional and online student. With the online classes, she still feels that she’s getting the same Hiram education she would have received had she remained on campus.
“It’s very much like the traditional campus. They’re still the difficult, challenging Hiram classes that make you think,” she said. “Every week I contribute to discussion forums, respond to opinion questions and have the chance to review other students’ answers and reply to them. I am able to continue learning how to learn and how to think… from 650 miles away!”
Making a Hiram degree accessible to those who are nowhere near the campus is just one of the goals of the PGS online program. Providing flexibility and convenience to adult learners working full-time, with families and aging parents to care for, is another. By tailoring their class schedule around their everyday commitments, they are able to achieve something they may never have thought possible.
Brad Colding, Sr., is one such student who falls into that category. The 45-year-old husband and father of three, from Manassas, Va., puts in 70+ hours a week at work as an Internet sales director for a large car dealership. Having just completed his first term in the Hiram online program, he admits feeling initially overwhelmed by adding college classes into his already busy life.
“I first looked at my marketing course, and had reading assignments of 100+ pages and a test that first week. Over the eight-week term, I read 790 pages, passed every test, and completed every assignment on time,” he said. “It’s certainly something that’s doable, but it requires discipline. If you ever wanted to go back to college, you have to do this for yourself. It’s an investment.”
Colding, who has not yet physically set foot on campus, stumbled upon the online degree program while searching the Internet for courses in online marketing and business management to help start his own business. In addition to requesting information from Hiram, he explored options with the University of Phoenix and DeVry University. Hiram was the first to respond to his inquiry and was also the most informative, he explained. After reviewing and discussing additional details with his admissions representative, Colding knew that Hiram was where he was supposed to be. “In a matter of three calls I was registered. Bam! I was a student.”
The program’s marketing website is being rebuilt to make it fully mobile responsive and include content that aids its visibility through search engine optimization (SEO). Other efforts include working with an advertising agency that specializes in education to purchase leads and place billboards and print ads around northeast Ohio. The College has also contracted with another company that will handle some of its recruiting. Their staff will function as a call center to follow up on leads through the website and connect people with advisers.
“We’re seeing more and more people inquire,” Bowers said. “We have a set of strategies in place. There are tanks and artillery supporting this and we’re going about it 18 different ways. It’s like storming Omaha Beach.”
Perhaps what will prove to be the most effective approach, asking alumni to provide referrals to PGS, has just been rolled out to Weekend College alumni. Eventually, this campaign will be introduced to all alumni. Bowers acknowledges that referrals are the best way to get new students. “We can’t buy that kind of advertising. Alumni are important to sending people our way.”
Along with the tremendous opportunities that online degree programs offer come new challenges, one of the biggest being how Hiram will differentiate itself from the competition. Many colleges with online courses talk about convenience and flexibility. We need to find our particular niche, Bowers stated. “Talking about a liberal arts education and the value it brings to employers or explaining how Hiram’s online classes are different from other schools will only go so far. The key to distinguishing Hiram will be to figure out how to do online courses better and differently and be able to talk to people about how we’re better and different.”
Bowers is convinced that the small campus experience is a powerful one that can find its place both on-campus and online. By adding online courses, the College becomes a stronger, healthier institution that can thrive and meet the changes in higher education as they arise. Hiram must continue to evolve, grow and change in order to remain strong.
“When students come to campus they personally experience that Hiram charm, beauty and mystery,” Bowers said. “And now, there’s an online campus that extends the magic that is Hiram.” In conjunction with the every-other-weekend on-campus Weekend College classes, blended and web-enhanced coursework and mobile technology, PGS offers students a learning initiative designed to engage them in ways they can learn, interact, network and collaborate. And that’s a beautiful thing.
By Barb (Boso) Bragiel ’91