Determined to get her degree, Jasmine Millard took just two online courses during her time at CWU—both in her final quarter. Shelby Bryant was equally determined, but she took an alternative path, completing upwards of 15 online courses toward her degree.
Both women recently earned their bachelor of arts degrees in professional and creative writing from CWU, although they chose the online learning route for different reasons.
Millard was accustomed to taking classes in the traditional way—face-to-face in the classroom. However, in the summer of 2018, her life was changing fast. She had moved out of town, was working part time, and was planning her fall wedding, which didn’t leave much time for a normal class schedule.
“Taking those last courses online freed up time and money from having to travel to campus,” she said. “I had the flexibility and room to stay on pace, and the condensed summer session allowed me to finish faster.”
Bryant chose the online learning route for different reasons. In addition to working part time, she was suffering from anxiety and depression. At times, those conditions would be debilitating, making it hard for her to focus and be around people. Online learning proved to be a perfect alternative, especially when she was feeling anxious or her work schedule changed. The online curriculum freed Bryant from feeling pressure to attend class.
“I could do it in my own time,” she said. “For nocturnal millennials, like me, online classes let us do our work in the middle of the night.”
Bryant said being able to take advantage of the self-paced option was another big draw for her. She learned to maximize her time and finished her 10-week course in a fraction of the time. She was then free to concentrate on her many other obligations.
Being place-bound without transportation for most of her college career made the online learning option a necessity for Bryant. She completed a wide range of courses within her major and minor, as well as an exploratory course in American Sign Language. Most of the courses were 100 percent online, but she also took advantage of the hybrid option.
“It really helped me,” she said. “I could manage my personal health a lot better and I could balance my work life.”
For the Not-So Traditional Student
Gone are the days of the traditional college student and only one method of instruction. While in-class instruction remains fundamental to both teaching and learning, it’s not conducive for all. The world continues to change rapidly, and CWU purposefully evolves to meet the needs of its ever-changing students.
“Both students who choose to attend in-class and online learning are equally dedicated,” said Mark Soelling, a senior lecturer in the psychology department at CWU-Pierce County. “They are highly motivated to work hard; those who choose distant learning typically have more challenges in their lives.”
Today’s students are balancing more responsibilities than ever. Nearly 80 percent of all college students work at least part time—and CWU students are no different.
Yet, an even larger percentage of students at the University Centers have additional life responsibilities to balance. Many of them are parents, active duty military, veterans assimilating to civilian life, and/or full-time employees. A large number of them also find themselves place-bound, so having flexibility is crucial.
Online learning—which encompasses a broad spectrum of instruction—was developed for all students, but especially with the needs of this particular group of students in mind.
“Online Learning brings a rich environment of different points of view,” said Joy Fuqua, executive director of interactive instruction and innovative delivery. “The makeup of multi-generational students brings learning up to a whole new level.”
How It Works
University Centers work closely with their community college partners. When students begin attending courses at a center, they already have completed their general educational requirements and only need to take degree- and certificate-level courses.
Center students also can enroll in 12 online undergraduate degree programs, plus nine online master’s degree programs.
There are two methods for students to learn online: asynchronous (independently at a time and location that is convenient) and synchronous (together in a live online environment). Most online programs utilize both approaches, while distance education is almost entirely synchronous, with students interacting face-to-face via web conferencing.
Synchronous courses are led by an instructor who teaches from anywhere in the world. Whether they are based in Ellensburg, Des Moines, or Yakima, they stream their lectures to
audiences across the state and beyond. Most students meet at the centers as they would for a regular class session. Others attend class from home, work, or wherever is most convenient for them.
“Our faculty are prepared to simulate a real interactive environment, and sometimes in an even stronger way than a typical brick and mortar classroom,” Fuqua said.
The classes are also designed to be accommodating for all participants.
“Active duty military may change locations prior to the end of the quarter,” Soelling said. “National Guard personnel are also required to take two weeks of training each year, and we don’t want them to lose momentum.”
With the use of technology already embedded into the learning process, students are able to utilize online resources in an immediate, responsive way to enhance their ability to learn. In distance education, streamed lectures are recorded and made available to students through Canvas, CWU’s learning management system. The platform has become a helpful study tool and is especially useful to those who miss class.
Lecturer Ellen Bjorge spent last summer teaching RMT 379 (Information Technology Management Career Planning) via distance education. The course was created after CWU learned that veterans are required to attend a certain number of “face-to-face” courses to qualify for their VA benefits. Within two weeks, the course was converted to distance education and offered in time for summer session.
“Distance education is great because (the students) get a face-to-face experience,” Bjorge said. “They can see me, ask me questions and can interact—they get that in-person class session but don’t have to be in Ellensburg.”
The RMT 379 class is a core requirement for information technology and administrative management (ITAM) degrees. The class was broadcast from Ellensburg and made available to students at the CWU-Des Moines, CWU-Lynnwood and CWU-Pierce County centers.
“It was amazing to see all the military students and others across the state,” Bjorge said.
New Hybrid Master's Degree at CWU-Sammamish
This fall, CWU will offer its first degree program at CWU-Sammamish. What’s more, it’s a master’s degree offered via the hybrid educational track, and it can be completed in just one year.
The master’s in ITAM is the first program of its kind to be offered at CWU-Sammamish. Students may choose specializations in the high-demand area of cybersecurity, as well as administrative management and structures of data and analytics.
“Every organization today needs cybersecurity professionals,” said Robert Lupton, chair of the ITAM department. “This new program will offer the essential skills that meet the needs of busy professionals who live throughout the Puget Sound and have work, family, travel, and other obligations.”
The graduate program will have both full- and part-time options. Students attend on-site classes once a month at CWU-Sammamish on Friday and Saturday; the rest is entirely online.
This new master’s program is exactly the type of outreach envisioned when the instructional site was opened two years ago through a partnership between the university and the city of Sammamish.
“It will be especially attractive to professionals who work in high tech and CWU international students,” Lupton said.
“CWU offers the right education, in the right place, and at the right time.”
—Robert Lupton, ITAM department chair
Online or In the Classroom
Regardless of how CWU students choose to take classes, everyone is provided with the same access to student services.
Online learners may visit any University Center or the Ellensburg campus for face-to-face service. Many of these resources are also available online for better accessibility. The Online Student Resource Center, run by online advisors, provides information to get started in a program, as well as general and academic advising.
CWU centers in Des Moines, Lynnwood, and Pierce County also share a campus life coordinator who facilitates fun and engaging activities for students.
“I encourage campus life to talk with my online classes when they have announcements about activities like cruises and outings,” said Soelling, the psychology lecturer at CWU-Pierce County. “It helps online students participate and get engaged.”