Skip to main content

Click your way toward a college degree

When Dan Edge arrived at Oregon State University as a wildlife specialist in 1989, the term “distance education” had a very literal meaning.

“In the early years of my job, I would drive 300 miles across the state to talk to 12 ranchers about controlling ground squirrels,” Edge says with a laugh nearly a quarter-century later. “I realized that was not an efficient way to deliver education, so I became interested in finding a better way to teach people throughout the state and, later, around the world.”

The Internet was mostly a rumor back then, a fantasy-like invention to which very few people had access. Edge never envisioned that he could someday teach his lessons in an online video chat or a 3D animated demonstration that people could view whenever and wherever they needed to learn.

But Oregon State Ecampus, the university’s online education department, has changed the game, giving learners more flexibility in their studies, and instructors a broader reach.

Along the way, 12 Oregon ranchers gave way to thousands of students worldwide who have improved their lives with an OSU education online. Meanwhile, Edge and Ecampus have garnered national acclaim for their trailblazing efforts in the industry.

Everyone wins in this scenario — except the ground squirrels, perhaps.

“Our learners come from diverse backgrounds and have unique needs, and it’s our mission to create high-quality learning environments for them,” says Lisa L. Templeton, the Ecampus executive director. “We understand that not everyone can relocate and come to Corvallis. There are people around the state, country and world who want access but can’t stop their lives to move here. What we do is provide them with a path to success.”

“We understand that not everyone can relocate and come to Corvallis. There are people around the state, country and world who want access but can’t stop their lives to move here. What we do is provide them with a path to success.”

Ecampus offers more than 30 online degree and certificate programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and its 900-plus online courses are all developed by OSU faculty. The newest offering is an Executive Leadership M.B.A. track, which blends online coursework with face-to-face sessions in Portland each quarter.

Despite increased acceptance and enrollment figures — 13,580 students enrolled in at least one Ecampus class last year — online learning still has its share of detractors. Skeptics feel that an education received online is inferior to and less rigorous than what students receive in a campus-based setting.

Numerous studies disprove that theory, however, including one conducted by Edge in 2009 when he, as the head of OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, partnered with Ecampus to launch the nation’s first fisheries and wildlife online degree program.

Since its inception, students have raved about the program’s challenging curriculum and how the format enables adult learners to succeed amid life’s many priorities. It’s a refrain commonly heard from Ecampus students.

“I started college classes over 35 years ago but quit before I earned my degree. I always wanted to return to OSU and finish,” says Laurie Staudinger Kellar, who earned a B.S. in Liberal Studies online in June. “Having the opportunity to take Ecampus classes while living and working in Portland made it possible.

“I could set up my own timeline and take classes that would fit into my work and parenting schedule. Being older, I found my classes more enjoyable because I had more life experience to add to my classwork.”

That sense of student satisfaction is a primary reason why Ecampus has earned — and sustained — a reputation as one of America’s top-ranked providers of online education. The 2013–14 academic year marks the fourth straight year OSU is ranked among the nation’s 25 best online universities by an independent organization.

“I could set up my own timeline and take classes that would fit into my work and parenting schedule. Being older, I found my classes more enjoyable because I had more life experience to add to my classwork.”

The key to Ecampus’ success, Templeton says, is its steadfast commitment to academic quality. OSU faculty and Ecampus instructional designers collaborate year-round to develop engaging online courses. Ecampus classes have identical learning outcomes as their on-campus counterparts, and they often feature interactive modules that help display principles in a compelling, comprehensible manner for students.

“I love exploring emerging technologies and some of the new online tools that are available to us,” says Cheridy Aduviri, who teaches education courses. “But it’s important to remember that it’s not all about the glimmer and glamour of the technologies, but in using them to take the content to a different level to engage students and help them interact with it.”

It’s a far cry from Edge’s early delivery methods, when he relied on his Dodge Dakota to help spread OSU’s educational expertise beyond Corvallis. The times and tactics may have changed, but the one constant through the years has been the university’s commitment to its students.

“OSU has thought very purposefully about online education, with very good course designers who provide a lot of support for nationally recognized faculty,” says Edge, who won a national teaching award in 2012 for his work in online education. “That all adds up to a great learning experience for the students. I’m honored to be a part of it.”