Grazing - a personal blog from Steve Ehrmann

Steve Ehrmann is an author, speaker, and consultant.

Monday, February 18, 2013

GW Launches 2nd Gen Online Degree Programs

George Washington University has recently launched a second generation suite of online master's programs called the George Washington Digital Community.  I call them  'second generation online programs' because they take advantage of online media to be, in some significant ways, better than a campus-bound program could be.  Patty Dinneen and I wrote "Beyond Comparability" last year to describe a dozen ways in which online and hybrid programs could be qualitatively different from, and superior to, campus-bound programs.  (We didn't mean superior in all ways; simultaneously there will be ways in which those same campus-bound programs would be superior to the online programs.)  Even though the online program would have somewhat different goals and content from a campus-bound counterpart, it's possible to assess their quality, as we suggested.

The first 2Gen Online MBA program I noticed, years ago, was "OneMBA" - jointly designed and offered by five institutions on four continents, it's an Executive MBA in Global Management that teaches courses in which students work in international teams.  And twice a year, students and faculty meet at different spots around the globe to do research (never a spot where one of the campuses are, by the way).  So it's really a hybrid master's program - so much the better.

Now GW's Digital Community has been launched.  It will soon include masters degree programs in four areas: Masters of Business Administration, Masters of Science in Information Systems and Technology, Masters of Science in Project Management, and Masters of Tourism Administration. The new GW online MBA began teaching its first cohort of students last month.  It takes advantage of online and multimedia to transform how students learn, when compared either with on-campus or with the linear, text-based, asynchronous world of the 1Gen online program:
  • The spine of each course is organized around a sequence of high production value, brief videos; these videos seem to strike a great balance midway between the crude talking heads that characterize films of instructors talking to their classes and the expensive video that might be produced for television broadcast.  The camera is positioned to make the learner feel part of a small seminar discussion.  The resolution is crisp.  I know the faculty I saw, and the process really brought out their personalities. These were no wooden talking heads. 
  • At a variety of points within each brief video segment, students can branch off to other resources and tracks, from narrated slideshows and animations that go deeper into a topic, to readings, to other videos, to practice problems, and other web sites. This video clip, after some initial generalities, paints a pretty good picture of this articulate approach.
  • Students can also pop into an asynchronous discussion of an idea or question raised in the video, and then pop back and continue the video.
  • These online courses are paced by extensive use of scheduled real-time online discussions among students and instructor.
  • Videos of recent alumni are being filmed; the alumni explain why students should work hard to learn a particular idea or technique, based on experiences the alumni has had with using that since graduation.
  • The architecture of the system will enable faculty to gradually add more options and tracks to courses, if they wish, so that students with differing goals or needs can get just the instruction or assignments they need, within the same course.
  • The courses are set into a larger digital community that should help students make lasting friendships and intellectual relationships with one another, within and across courses.  Students can also participate in the Digital Community's co-curricular program, which includes (1) First Sundays, a variety-show monthly webinar, featuring guest speakers and reports from various student groups and organizations; (2) Digital Roundtables, periodic small-group facilitated discussions with business and policy leaders from around the world; and (3) 1+1 Mentor Program, matching students with GW alumni mentors with common professional interests and background.
If this works as planned, it may well have a long-term and perhaps unexpected benefit.  I suspect that building community in this way may also lead to deeper bonding among students, and with faculty and the institution.  The cohorts of students may feel a bit less like GW customers, and more like (generous) GW alumni.  Give us a decade or two, and we'll see.

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