“We are excited to officially be up and running, but this isn’t the finish line. It’s merely the end of the first leg of the marathon — there is still quite a bit to be done to get where we want to be,” said Marc Austin, PhD, associate provost and dean of Augusta University Online.
“When we announced Augusta University Online last year, our goal was to become both an extension of the university and a model of best practice in online education. I am so proud of what the team and our amazing faculty have been able to accomplish for each of these programs, and I am confident that when the first class launches in August, we will have a set of programs that makes our first students feel like they are truly a part of Augusta University, and the quality and personalization will be that online ‘experience like no other.’”
The Augusta University Online staff has been working closely with the faculty and staffs of the Institute of Public and Preventive Health, the School of Computer and Cyber Sciences and the College of Education and Human Development to design each curriculum to ensure the quality of instruction and student experience exceeds national standards. With the vital input from the current faculty and staffs of each department, Augusta University Online students will be guaranteed a quality online experience with access to the same faculty as those attending in-person classes.
“As the saying goes, it has taken a village to get to this point in the process, and our staff is extremely grateful for everyone from Human Resources, IT, Admissions, the faculty and more that have supported the creation of something this complex,” said Cristina Raecke, assistant vice president for strategic marketing and enrollment management.
“We are working as a team to create new capabilities, processes and resources that were not present at Augusta University until recently. All of this will help AU reach more Georgians and more people beyond the CSRA, while also strengthening the resources here in Augusta. We are very excited for where we are, but also where we are going.”
While Augusta University Online will be open to all online learners, there will continue to be a focus to ensure all qualified Georgians who want to earn a quality master’s degree from Augusta University can do so at a great price point, regardless of where in the state they live.
“We were very intentional in the process for choosing what three programs we would launch with, looking at workforce needs here in Augusta, the state of Georgia and beyond, but also looking at national studies pointing to what online students want and need from online programs,” said Corey Vigdor, assistant vice president for online education.
“Augusta University has some of the best faculty I have ever had the pleasure to work with. They have been extremely helpful in providing us the resources needed to build out these curricula, and they are learning new skills, as well. Once we identified what programs we wanted to start with, we work closely with the faculty to design the asynchronous curriculum, ensuring that the quality of the education we offer doesn’t differ from on campus to online. Each of these programs will not only be highly engaging, but will also be taught by the same faculty teaching the in-person programs.”
Two of the most important parts of the process have been identifying and understanding who the online learners are and will be, and then ensuring that there is a good, two-way engagement between the student and the faculty. Austin wants to ensure that Augusta University Online offers online students a sense of belonging, noting that education is a two-way street, not a one-way transaction.
With this in mind, Austin and his staff engaged the services of Tyton Partners and its Center for Higher Education Transformation — a leader in the field of online program management design — to help define the Augusta University Online strategy and learner population.
The online learner is generally classified as a non-traditional student. Oftentimes, they are balancing work, home, family and the pursuit of an education. To accommodate this balance, they desire access to learning based around their schedule, that goes beyond the weekly grind of studies and includes looking at the overall academic calendar as quarters vs. semesters, while building upon previously completed sections and making degrees achievable a piece at a time.
“Online learning can feel isolated or distant at times. We need to foster an inclusive model for online learning that makes the student feel connected with and supported by the university and their fellow learners,” Austin said. “This comes from not only participation with faculty and students who come from similar circumstances, but also from a sense of security and support in the learning process. We can help with that sense of security by building wraparound services which embrace the broader concerns that students have outside of the classroom itself. These student support services remove barriers, foster dialogues and ultimately help the learner earn their degree.
“We call this the connected classroom — connections with faculty, with employers and with each other, all underpinned by a support structure that helps them feel connected.”
In the coming months, Austin hopes to fill four positions that will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact on his team’s work to support students, including director of instructional design, assistant director of instructional design, instructional designer and director of online student support services.