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Published: Tuesday, 4/29/2014

Learning Curve: Siena Heights University’s Nationally Recognized Online Program Has Been Serving Working Adult Students for 10 Years

A typical day for Siena Heights University Online Associate Professor of Humanities Gail Ryder starts by checking email, then logging in to her course to make sure her assignments are posted correctly. She also reads student postings called “threaded discussions” that are similar to blogs or text messages, responding as she goes. All of this happens from her home. A typical day for Siena Heights University Online Associate Professor of Humanities Gail Ryder starts by checking email, then logging in to her course to make sure her assignments are posted correctly. She also reads student postings called “threaded discussions” that are similar to blogs or text messages, responding as she goes. All of this happens from her home.
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Angela Woods considers herself to be a pretty shy person.

So when the 2012 Siena Heights University graduate considered taking her first online class at SHU, she didn’t know if distance learning was right for her.

“I wasn’t sure how the whole format was going to work,” Woods said. “How do I have a discussion with my classmates and instructor and not go to class? How will I submit my assignments?”

Those questions and more were quickly answered, thanks to innovative and responsive instructors and all the tools technology can provide. That combination has been a winning one for Siena Heights. Its Distance Learning programs have been one of the university’s fastest-growing enrollment areas over the past decade, especially for adult, working students.

Many of the students who were initially reluctant to take a class online now can’t imagine learning any other way.

“If it were not for online classes, I would not be able to further my education,” said Jodi Neuman ’11, a clinical instructor in dental assisting. “I think (online learning) is better than in a traditional class. I think people that wouldn’t speak up are able to because of the online format.”

Earlier this year, U.S. News and World Report recognized Siena Heights in its 2014 Best Online Bachelor’s Programs rankings. SHU’s Distance Learning Program was one of only 12 Michigan colleges and universities to make the national list, and one of only four private Michigan institutions ranked. SHU has offered online bachelor’s degree programs since 2004.

SHU Associate Professor of Humanities Gail Ryder had her own transition to make as online instructor several years ago. For years, Ryder taught writing classes using the traditional face-to-face, eye-to-eye, chalkboard method of learning. When she was approached to teach similar courses online, she had her doubts.

“I’ve taught writing all my life,” Ryder said at the time. “How do I do what I’m doing in an online class?”

However, her classroom has certainly changed. Now, a typical day for her starts by checking email, then logging in to her course to make sure her assignments are posted correctly. She also reads student postings called “threaded discussions” that are similar to blogs or text messages, responding as she goes. All of this happens from her home.

Ryder said a key to being a successful online instructor is availability.

“I field emails all day long, some days more than others,” she said. “I often check emails before I go to bed, just in case someone out there has a question. Students log in when they can because many of our students work 24-hour shifts as firefighters, EMTs or nurse’s aides. They can log in any time of the day, seven days a week. I also have students in different time zones.”

“I like to be able to put my thoughts together before I express them, and the online format really helps me with that,” said Woods, who completed an online Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Radiologic Technology.

For Neuman, an online BAS graduate, the ability to complete her degree online meant she was able to keep her job as a community college instructor.

“I am required to obtain my bachelor’s degree to keep my position,” she said. “However, I work full-time during the day and do all my grading and correspondence with my students in the evenings. This leaves me no time to take a traditional class. That is why the online program was the best option for me.”

Siena Heights offers online bachelor’s degrees in Applied Science, Professional Communication, Business and Multidisciplinary Studies and a master’s degree in Leadership.


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