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April 30, 2009

Two new web-based graduate programs to begin

Pitt is extending its programmatic reach into cyberspace by offering two graduate degree programs that can be earned online in toto. The University is launching the pilot programs in education and nursing this fall through its new Pitt Online web site (, part of the Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education (CIDDE).

The goal, program officials said, is to unite traditional academic standards with the convenience of online learning.

Students can earn a Master of Education in English Education, offered through the education school’s Department of Instruction and Learning. This 36-credit graduate professional program is designed to develop beginning and experienced secondary teachers’ proficiency in English and communication education research, theory and practice.

Students in this program can get a jump on the degree by enrolling for any or all of three courses offered in the summer term.

The School of Nursing now is offering a Master of Science for the Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) online. The CNL is an emerging nursing role developed by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing in collaboration with leaders from the academic and service arenas. A certified CNL can perform a number of roles in health care, including as a clinician, an outcomes manager, a client advocate, an educator, an information manager, a risk analyst and a team manager.

This area of concentration prepares nurses to earn a Master of Science in Nursing and function as an advanced generalist in a variety of settings across the continuum of care. Upon completion of the program, students are eligible to sit for the national certification exam.

Online courses differ from on-campus courses only in that all course material is available via the Internet and that’s where student-teacher and student-student interactions take place, according to Holly Shiflett, associate director of online programs at CIDDE.

“The goal is to create an environment for students that equals the classroom environment,” Shiflett said. “The schools provide the experts in the field — the faculty — and we do the project management to make sure that students get the needed services and are properly equipped.”

Pitt intends to add two or three more graduate programs in the totally online format each fall, she said.

Both of the new online programs, which are available full and part time, follow their respective traditional curricula and are taught by the same faculty who teach on-campus courses. Each online program follows the same 15-week schedule as regular on-campus programs. Both required and elective courses are offered online. Students who discover that the online format is not right for them can transfer into the traditional on-campus programs without penalty.

Anthony Petrosky, associate dean and professor at the School of Education who holds a joint appointment as a professor in the English department, will be one of the faculty members tackling the education school’s online program.

“This program was chosen because of the convergence of a couple of factors,” Petrosky said. “We felt there were enough English teachers out there who need master’s-level training, and we have the faculty available and willing to teach these courses.”

One bugaboo, he said, is that because these programs reach beyond state borders, there is differential tuition for in-state and out-of-state students. “We’d like to find some way of leveling that playing field for out-of-state students, maybe making an exception when programs are offered all online,” Petrosky said.

Petrosky will teach Theory and Practice for Teaching Writing for the Pitt Online program. “I’m used to using Blackboard in my courses and that’s a good starting point. I’m looking into whether to add discussion boards or wikis. But the big issue for me is to create the kind of interaction that one finds in a traditional classroom, which is very important. How do you create that bond, and how do you get the students to communicate, which, obviously, is very important in teaching English and communications?” Petrosky said.

He said he plans to incorporate video into his courses. “I’m going to produce a short video of me teaching, so that the students can get to know who I am and how I teach. And I may require students to make videos of themselves.”

Petrosky also is following the lead of fellow instruction and learning faculty member Amanda Thein, who is developing ways in an online format to divide students into small groups for completing some assignments and requiring that students alternate leading online discussions.

A half-dozen students have signed up for the program so far, Petrosky said. Interest also was generated in another half-dozen potential students who participated in last week’s “virtual open house” information session, he said. “So the program is definitely happening and I’m looking forward to it.”

Rosemary Hoffman, assistant professor of acute and tertiary care at the nursing school, said students who, due to travel distance or other factors, formerly could not attend Pitt now can have the advantages of a highly rated Pitt degree. Pitt is ranked 7th nationally in the most recent rankings in graduate nursing education in U.S. News & World Report.

“We want to pull in people who ordinarily would not go to Pitt, so we’ll be pulling in from all areas, including far away,” said Hoffman, who will teach Organizational Theory and Practice in the CNL program this fall. To date, she said, 15 students have applied and are being evaluated for admission.

“To me, the instructor needs to be much more creative in teaching approaches for completely online courses, whether it be to offer wikis, discussion groups, blogs. I’m been working with [staff at] CIDDE to learn some of these strategies. They’ve been very helpful,” Hoffman said. “I do establish guidelines from the start, regarding methods and strategies for discussion and what’s required of the student. The most important issues are assessment and development. In that sense, this is a pilot program, but it carries the full benefits of traditional courses.”

—Peter Hart

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