Who Is The Dean Of Online Learning At Egcc, Steubenville, Ohio

The problem of divergent data collection is commonplace among American colleges and universities. Data gaps—between student populations, between classrooms, between schools, etc.

When John Simon Stokman arrived at Ohio’s Case Western Reserve University in 2013 to direct its Academic Enterprise division, he turned it into “the largest online academic center in the country.” Even more impressive, it began collecting $100,000 of Indiana state tax money to support its free online courses.

“We’re educating the next generation of learners,” he told me. And Stokman is attracting incredible interest from students and employers alike.

Already, more than 25,000 students have been enrolled in CWRU’s programs online, and hundreds of thousands have signed up for the university’s other online courses. During the college’s recent flu season, thousands of students turned to the internet to stay safe and healthy.

The reasons students love the online offerings of Stokman’s division are many, said Melissa Maki of eGraduate, a UC Berkeley-based company. “You can enroll in a course with no preconceived notions of knowledge, and there are many different options for students.” Maki notes that the online offerings now also cover some of the curriculum areas not typically covered online, including health, engineering, and information technology.

“We’ve also found that students feel more comfortable and more successful because they can participate in live discussions with their peers, rather than logging on to a lecture,” Maki says.

Tom Dussault, assistant vice president for Education and Workforce Development at Segal Co., a talent development firm in Indianapolis, says that Stokman’s choices in course offerings, faculty, and even advertisements have created an “alliance to create online programs that are sustainable and innovative.”

“The recognition that this is the future of education is appreciated,” he adds. Dussault says he’s particularly impressed by Case Western’s “simplicity and affordability,” as well as its ability to keep overhead low through virtual tutoring, online courses, and clever sponsorship deals with companies like Microsoft. He predicts that because online courses are more flexible and inexpensive to start with, they will replace traditional face-to-face classes “more rapidly than they have historically.”

Brett Gilbert, an Indiana University psychology professor and President of the Association of College and Research Libraries, is also impressed by CWRU’s online efforts. The University of Chicago’s John H. Tunstead Institute, for example, has collected over 200,000 online course registrations in its Online Studies program alone, and the Indiana State University Online Community Studies program has over 2,500 members who take its more than 150 online courses.

Gilbert says that online courses represent a “significant new model of higher education,” and add that he expects them to “promote integration of online and on-campus learning and to give students greater choices.”

Gilbert’s advice to online educators: “Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things. If you don’t try new things, no one will.”

Stokman’s approach is a great example of his philosophy.

He said that one of his jobs as academic vice president, “is to build bridges between what we do and what people think we should be doing, and when that happens, I’m really happy.” His ambition is for the physical university to become “a place where really smart people can come and work together.”

He wants students to be able to engage with other students in the same virtual space, and then join real-life discussions on the web. They can take courses taught by faculty who have appeared on another university’s campus, or one they’ve studied in grade school—and they can meet with the tutors or counselors who taught them. The idea is that when the student’s academic journey is complete, they won’t need to attend a full-time campus for its socialization, and they will feel ready for life after college.

“The traditional style is learning,” Stokman said. “I want it to be fun learning.”

That is why Stokman and his colleagues have “been doing a lot of thinking about whether this [online education] is the future of education. When you think about all of the things that were integrated in classrooms 20 years ago, when teachers and teachers’ assistants, everything is consolidated at the campus level,” he said. “Now, we’re thinking about what we’d want to do when all of the synergies and inefficiency of the classroom were reduced. It’s almost like something of a different planet than we are.”

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