The field of higher education is undergoing cataclysmic upheaval. Advances in learning technology, combined with a growing demand for immediately applicable coursework on demand are forcing traditional universities to reassess how and what they deliver. Online learning has evolved from being a component in traditional courses to standing on its own in degree programs.
There are some serious trends occurring that are forcing this change. Mobile learning has evolved to the point where anyone can literally access courses on their phones, desktops or laptop computers with crystal clear graphics and easy navigation. Advanced technology has allowed students to interact with professors, guest speakers and other students beyond the virtual classroom to create a more fluid environment and seamless learning experience. Students are now located world-wide, connecting and working together in a global classroom; they are not just from the local area. This is not only creating a more diverse and rich learning experience, it also enables students to pursue several endeavors at once, namely career advancement without sacrificing their professional, and family life. The convenience, flexibility and the affordability of online learning empowers students to combine it all. As these learning programs continue to evolve, the online classroom experience has become transparent and adapted to the individual student’s needs.
The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh (UWO) has been at the forefront of this change. The Division of Online and Continuing Education has expanded upon its rich history and has been developing innovative and relevant online undergraduate degrees that prepare students for today’s and tomorrow’s professional challenges.
Most significantly, UWO has not stayed in-house to stay competitive. UWO has also partnered with the University of Wisconsin Extended Campus (UWEC) to design a number of cutting-edge programs:
· Master’s of Science in Sustainability Management
· Master’s of Science in Data Science
· Bachelor’s of Science in Applied Computing
· MS Applied Biotechnology
· MS Information Technology and Management
These online programs are designed to meet the needs of working professionals that are seeking to gain an edge in rapidly changing fields. The advantage of the online format is that programs are easy to access and incorporate students from across the country and internationally so that you get a rich interaction with your peers. I have been involved with the MS Sustainability Management as campus director since its inception. This topic is without a doubt one of the largest challenges facing organizations in the Fox Valley and yet one of the most misunderstood. Courses in our degree include a wide range of coverage so that the graduate is prepared to address issues facing their organization and community.
More importantly, students also complete a capstone project (required in all of the UWEC degree programs) that is typically applied in their organization or community.
In terms of impact on the area for example, graduates of the data science program are ready to tackle the pressing organizational issues surrounding the harnessing data into usable information. The biotechnology program is at the heart of one of the fastest growing fields both world-wide and in Wisconsin. When you think about the number of products designed from natural elements and their application in medicine, agriculture, energy and paper products, you understand the impact and the opportunity awaiting graduates of this program.
In summary, education has been disrupted by technology, rapid change in both globalization and resource issues, combined with a desire by students, particularly working adults, to be more accessible and cost effective.
Steve Dunn is a professor in the College of Business at UWO, where he teaches in both graduate and undergraduate programs. He is the academic director of the MS Sustainability Management and the new MS Applied Biotechnology degree programs. Dunn also serves as executive director of the Center for Sustainable Enterprise, a resource for organizations that hosts the Sustainable Leadership Group, a monthly gathering of professionals in the Fox Valley. He can be reached at [email protected] or (920) 539-8830.