Susan Birden, professor and chair of the Adult Education Department, is one of Buffalo State’s leaders in online learning.
"We were among the first programs in all of SUNY to be 100 percent online," she said. "Working with faculty who are involved in Open SUNY+ provides many opportunities for collaboration and information-sharing, and it’s been really helpful for us."
The Adult Education Department first offered online graduate courses in 2001. "In 2004, we were approved to offer the entire program online," said Birden. "In 2009, we dropped the campus-based courses because our on-campus classes had empty seats and our online courses had waiting lists."
Birden describes the adult education program—which prepares its students for careers in adult education and human resource development—as "high-touch, not high-tech." It's her way of stressing that faculty members work with students to provide individualized, experiential learning. "It's not like a faculty member just records a lecture for the students to watch," she said. "Some students tell us that they never want to sit in a face-to-face course again because they get more attention from their professors in our on-line courses."
The technology works both ways. In the program’s methods courses, students video record themselves with their learners using a number of different teaching methods. They then upload the videos and share their experiences with one another, so that their peers as well as their professors can provide feedback.
Classes have from 16 to 20 students, and the average age of students is 37. "Most of our students are working professionals," said Birden, "so they bring a rich experience base to the classes." Students include professionals who are teaching in many fields in community colleges, scientists and health professionals who are moving into teaching, as well as people who are educating in corporations and community-based not-for-profit organizations.
"In the class that I teach," said Birden, "I assign nine texts, and students write weekly papers, collaborate with other students, and produce a final paper. Students quickly realize that an online program can be very demanding—but the rewards are customized to their needs and their professional goals. Much of what they learn can be utilized directly in their current jobs."
Birden is available to discuss many aspects of online learning, including the technology required, student response, and how to plan successful courses.
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