It's time for online education

It was time to take the master of education program at Dordt College to a full online status. 

SIOUX CENTER—As leaders at Dordt College in Sioux Center looked at the explosive growth of the master of education program over the last five years, they realized that they needed to do something.

That something was transitioning the master of education program to a fully online degree.

“The options were to offer students a choice between two weeklong on-campus sessions, make the on-campus week optional, or move all at once to a fully online program,” said Steve Holtrop, director of graduate studies and professor of education at Dordt College. “Since the program is growing so fast, we no longer have the space to do the kinds of face-to-face learning activities we’ve been doing, and since a number of our international students and international prospective students express reservations about travel costs and hassles for just one week, we decided it was time to make the change total.  This will be a welcome convenience to many prospective students in the U.S. as well, who would rather not give up a week of time in already busy summers.” 

The transition to a fully online program will provide the convenient, 100 percent online program that many working professionals are looking for; it will also enable international students to gain easier access to the program.

“We see a growing number of teachers from other countries for whom a trip to campus is too cost prohibitive,” Holtrop said. “So, our graduate program often gets ruled out as an option for them even though they would like a Reformed perspective in a graduate program.”

Dordt’s master of education thoroughly integrates faith into learning and offers more than 40 courses within two tracks of curriculum and instruction or administration, offering eight specializations such as school leadership, teacher leadership and sport leadership. The program has grown during the last 10 years, with 143 students currently enrolled.

 “It is important to offer online learning options to provide opportunities for individuals to earn degrees that also have other responsibilities that prevent them from enrolling in a face-to-face program, such as a full-time job or living far away from the college.” said Joe Bakker, Dordt director of online education.

The program is designed to be flexible, affordable and collaborative, involving peers in similar professional situations, with practical, relevant, and immediately applicable projects for both classroom teachers and administrators.

“The program utilizes the Canvas learning management system,” Bakker said. “Dordt has several employees dedicated to training, coaching and troubleshooting the Canvas system, ensuring that the online learning experience is high quality and meets each student’s learning needs.

This change was implemented immediately once we decided in early December.  The only course affected is our introductory issues in education course, which previously had one week of face-to-face class meetings in July.  Affected students will be incoming new students or those who have not yet taken the course, which is offered every summer.” 

 In all other courses, Holtrop said that the college puts a lot of emphasis on student engagement, in which Dordt is highly ranked, and which also happens to be a key component of adult learning.  The now fully-online introductory course will be taught by a full-time faculty member who specializes in maximizing the effectiveness of educational technology.  

“Like most of our other online courses, this one will use synchronous video meetings, discussion forums, group projects, and other collaborative tools to enhance learning with not only the instructor and curriculum materials but also with the other students in the course, who are also working professionals in similar educational settings,” Holtrop said.

The college is expecting this change to open the door to enrollment in the program for many students whose summer commitments or travel costs were previously making the one week on campus a barrier.  Current students who have already taken this one course will continue as is.