Online Education Grad Programs Make U.S. News Rankings


Northern’s online graduate programs in education are among the top 50 nationwide, according to the 2012 rankings compiled by U.S. News and World Report. NMU is 39th on the list and the second-highest in Michigan.


“We are proud to be recognized for the work we’re doing in the online environment while maintaining a high standard for communication with individuals and groups of students,” said Joe Lubig (Education). “We treat online courses with the same pride as those we offer on campus.”


Northern offers four graduate programs and two endorsements completely online. Students log in from throughout the Upper Peninsula, along with more distant locations such as Dubai, Turkey and Alaska.


“Most of them have some kind of personal connection to NMU,” said Derek Anderson (Education). “We’re not getting people who do a Google search for online master’s programs and pick us over the University of Phoenix. Instead, it’s people who are aware of the quality and affordability of our product.”


Northern has tried different models to deliver programs to working teachers throughout the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin. One included a remote cohort in Sault Ste. Marie. “We would have to drive there to teach and hope we’d get 11 students,” he said. The university also offered on-campus courses that spanned Friday night and most of Saturday, which required individuals from across the region to drive to Marquette. That morphed into a hybrid model, where half of the courses were held on campus and the remainder offered online.


Anderson said if you ask students, most say they prefer face-to-face instruction. But in practice, convenience trumps that desire when professionals are faced with the reality of having to schedule around complicated, busy lives. The flexibility of online courses allows early risers an opportunity to complete their assignments in the morning before leaving for their jobs. Others prefer to do the work late at night after their kids are in bed.


“We realized from the hybrid that it’s possible to do tremendously effective teaching online,” said Anderson. “But we were initially skeptical, so we did some research. There’s an extensive set of literature that found students can achieve equally online or face to face. No research shows students in traditional classrooms learn more or better. There are examples of good and bad teaching in both environments. You can’t just show video clips of an instructor standing in front of a chalkboard. That’s boring. To be effective online, you need to engage students, get them to interact with each other, promote deep thinking and have them substantiate their claims with evidence to make the work more meaningful.


“There are ways to engage online students in substantive discussions. Let’s say you want them to read an article on the latest research. In a traditional classroom, they have limited time to ponder it and, based on the time constraints, you can only hear feedback from a handful of students. In the online environment, you can say, ‘Here’s the article. Between now and Saturday, respond in a paragraph and pose another question.’ The responses are deeper because they have more time to think about it. The responses are also public; everyone can read them so there’s increased accountability and permanency associated with their desire to express their views. That’s clearly better from an academic perspective.”


Central Michigan University is the only state institution that U.S. News ranks higher than NMU for online graduate programs in education. CMU is 20th on the list.



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Updated: March 28, 2012

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