UW News

September 25, 2008

Online classes or in-person instruction? UW Extension offers a blend of both

UW News

Online teaching isn’t right for every class, and in-person instruction can be inconvenient for busy professional people. Plus, there’s the traffic and the high gas prices to think of.

It’s fitting, then, that starting this fall UW Extension is offering a kind of middle path for several of its certificate classes — a combination of online and classroom instruction.

UW Extension, part of UW Educational Outreach, provides professional development and continuing education for the campus community. It offers more than 100 certificate programs to help people gain new skills and even train for wholly new careers while keeping their day jobs. The broad list includes creative classes such as writing and drawing to accounting, computer programming, paralegal studies and training for medical diagnostics and engineering, among many others.

“Most of our students are working professionals who are very interested in networking with their peers,” said David Szatmary, vice provost for Educational Outreach. “They also appreciate the opportunity to network with the instructors, who are leading practitioners in the field as well as UW faculty. So the new format combining online learning and classroom time is ideal.”

So far, the new online and classroom blended combination will apply to seven courses offered by UW Extension. These are:

• Professional Guardianship
• Information Assurance and Cybersecurity
• Advanced Interactive Marketing
• Oracle Applications Development
• Psychological Trauma: Effective Treatment and Practice
• School Library Professional
• SQL Server Specialist

Some of the classes divide online and class time about equally while others present up to 80 percent of the class material online, said Joe Dial, senior instructional designer for Educational Outreach. There is also the “bookend model,” he said, where students come in for face-to-face sessions at the beginning and again toward the end of the class.

Jan Kinney, an instructional designer with UW Outreach, said such hybrid classes can help her department — and the UW as a whole — use its space more effectively. “If we have students in their seats once a week instead of five times a week we can put five times as many classes in that space,” she said.

Kinney said classroom discussions can in some ways be more effective when conducted online — leveling the playing field, so to speak, enabling shy people or those with language or other difficulties to fully prepare their contributions to the class. “It’s all equalized online because you have time to look up supporting documents and time to write out a carefully thought-out response.”

She noted, however, that “the question has to be carefully framed and the instructor has to moderate” the discussions.

The new combined format actually got its start last year with the Psychological Trauma: Effective Treatment and Practice program, and has proved successful. UW Extension’s popular certificate program in editing will offer the blended instruction style for a new section beginning winter quarter.

The new blended approach will enable some students to consider certificate programs where they could not have before.

As Szatmary said, “It’s convenient, it saves gas, and still provides an important measure of face-to-face contact.”

View a list of certificate programs available in the new format online — of course — at http://www.outreach.washington.edu/ext/certificates/hybrid.asp.

To learn more about UW Extension and the classes it offers, visit online at http://www.extension.washington.edu.