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Post University’s approach to online higher education has caught the attention of Columbia University’s Teachers College EdLab.

EdLab is dedicated to research, design, and development efforts that seek to improve educational services. EdLab Product Manager Joann Agnitti described EdLab as a start-up organization within an academic institution that focuses on educational technologies, including informal, self-directed learning tools. Each week, the EdLab invites faculty, staff, and students to a discussion about current issues in higher education.

Post University's Frank Mulgrew presents at EdLab at Columbia University's Teachers College

Post University’s Frank Mulgrew presents at EdLab at Columbia University’s Teachers College

Yesterday, Frank Mulgrew, President of the Online Education Institute (OEI) of Post University, led an EdLab session in the free-form, collaborative EdLab space within Columbia’s Gottesman Libraries center in New York. He opened with a little history about the University, explaining that the school was founded in 1890 as the Mattoon Shorthand School. He talked about how it’s since evolved over the past 120+ years into a NEASC-accredited, traditional four-year University located in Waterbury, Conn., and is the largest provider of fully online higher education in the state.

The folks at EdLab were particularly interested in Post University’s approach to providing online higher education. Frank explained that the University’s initial intent was to incorporate the services and experiences of its online adult learners with those of its traditional campus-based students. However, it quickly became apparent that this was not practical because the two groups of students had very different needs. OEI was formed to consolidate all the services needed to support the University’s growing population of online and hybrid students.

To improve success rates, we’ve found it’s essential to remove the barriers that often impede an adult learner’s ability to pursue a college education while balancing work, family, and other commitments. And since many of these barriers are magnified by distance, it becomes all that more important to remove them from the first contact with a student all the way through to graduation.

That’s why each of our departments has a set of metrics centered around students — an approach that has significantly changed our culture and resulted in a careful evaluation of everything from admissions to financial aid to the Registrar’s office to academic advising to human resources.

An example of this process is our recent investment in a constituent relationship management (CRM) solution. It gives us a 360-degree view of each student, and lets us make real-time changes based on information on what’s working and not working.

For example, an interaction with a student that occurs in one department might trigger a task for another department. That department is reminded of this task until the student has been contacted and/or the issue resolved. This significantly improves our ability to be responsive and proactive, and is quite different than the approach taken by many traditional universities.

Another crucial piece is ensuring that students are actively engaged in the learning process. Since our online accelerated degree programs are offered in an asynchronous format, it’s essential for faculty to engage with students and facilitate regular interaction between and among students. Most of this interaction takes place through online discussion boards.

But, as a member of the audience who is currently an instructor in an online class pointed out, the sheer volume of discussion board posts can quickly become overwhelming. The level of engagement by students sometimes results in hundreds of posts each week, and that’s in a single class, she explained.

Don Mroz, Provost and Dean of Post University’s School of Business, and Jane Bailey, Dean of Post University’s School of Education, jumped in to talk about how we’re addressing those kinds of challenges. Coaching, mentoring, and guiding become important pieces of the faculty member’s role as moderator of these online discussion boards. For this to occur, instructional design and faculty training must be paramount.

Dr. Mroz also mentioned that the applied nature of Post’s programs where students are meant to apply what they’re learning in class to their work environments, not only boosts student engagement, but improves the level of discourse in the class.

The EdLab session lasted for more than two hours, generating many questions and lots of discussion among participants. At the end of the session, Frank invited the faculty, staff, and students from Columbia University’s Teachers College to come to Post to see firsthand how our Online Education Institute works.

We are eager to continue the dialogue about the future of education and driving innovation in online higher education. In fact, that’s why we made it the theme of Post University’s Online Higher Education conference to be held in April. Stay tuned for more details!

What do you think the future of education will bring?