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Investing in the future of online education

A close-up of a student using a laptop. Their left hand rests on the laptop's touchpad, while their left hand holds a pencil over a piece of paper.

By Julie Cooper
Feb. 2, 2018

When it comes to education, Wes Prebeck believes in a “boots on the ground” approach.

“Who better to help make recommendations about online education than students actually enrolled in the programs?” asks Wes, an Oregon State Ecampus student in fisheries and wildlife sciences.

Oregon State’s resounding answer: no one.

With their eyes on the emergent future of online learning, Ecampus faculty and students are leaving their mark as experts in the online education experience.

Wes is one of two Ecampus students selected to serve on the Oregon State University Online Education Committee (OEC) this year, along with graduate student Sage Kirk.

The OEC provides recommendations to OSU’s Faculty Senate on a wide range of issues considered important to faculty and students involved in online and hybrid (in-person and online) education.

The committee consists of six faculty members and two students with online education experience. Students participate and vote as equal members during monthly meetings.

“When we have students, they bring a completely different perspective,” says OEC chair and Ecampus Spanish and Italian instructor Raven Chakerian. “As faculty, we don’t always know or remember the student perspective.”

This year, Sage and Wes will use their expertise as current students to advise on topics central to their education.

“With the rising popularity of distance learning, serving on the committee provides an opportunity to be on the forefront of these issues,” Wes says.

“Who better to help make recommendations about online education than students actually enrolled in the programs?”

While residing in Louisville, Kentucky, with his wife and four kids, Wes plans to continue his education next year as a graduate student, enrolling in the Ecampus wildlife management graduate certificate as a pathway to earn his Master of Natural Resources.

His degrees will bring him one step closer to his dream of becoming a federal wildlife biologist who works with migratory waterfowl.

Sage, a resident of Seattle, Washington, is pursuing a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling with a focus on treating depression and anxiety through pet therapy and a cognitive behavioral approach.

While seeking support that will transition them into new careers, both students discovered their leadership roles on the committee via referrals by trusted Ecampus staff and advisors.

“Connections are essential, because when you’re on campus, you have all these human connections built in,” Raven says. “I think it can be hard for online students to know what’s out there. More committees should actively reach out to online students.”

A primary focus for Sage will be creating more opportunities for online students to build support networks with peers, faculty and staff.

They (Sage uses gender-neutral pronouns) hope to draw from the many viewpoints and experiences of their close-knit Ecampus counseling program cohort to inform the OEC’s work.

“My experience as an online student and professional is the first pool of knowledge I draw from when considering issues related to online knowledge and skill-building,” Sage says. “I would like to include my opinions in the issues we work on, but also bring the many other ideas my cohort can provide.”

This year, the committee will create guidelines for review of online courses that are consistent with on-campus courses, helping Ecampus faculty build coherent records of their teaching and ensure consistent quality and accountability in course presentation.

It will also prioritize increased access to scholarships and awards for Ecampus students and faculty.

“Everything the Faculty Senate does is about faculty,” Raven says, “but it’s going to affect students.”

Wes and Sage’s participation comes at a critical time for the OEC as it begins to streamline its advocacy of online education. Soon they will distribute a faculty survey that will direct the committee’s work for the next three years.

“I believe the OEC understood the gap that can be present between students and professors, and as a testament to their desire to truly effect change in the online experience, (they) included the other half of the online learning equation – students,” Sage says.

Julie Cooper is a student marketing writer for Oregon State Ecampus.

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