Baker Uses Technology To Teach Technology

April 16, 2002
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MUSKEGON — By all accounts, the first true school of higher education — The Lyceum — was a series of roving outdoor discussion groups in fourth century BC Athens.

And the students had a gripe from Day One: Despite the tuition they were paying to acquire the wisdom of the ages from Plato and, later, Aristotle, the classes always met at the profs' convenience, not the students'.

Well, Chuck Gurden, director of on-line admissions for Baker College, told the Business Journal he ran into exactly the same problem a few years ago.

"When I first started my MBA," he said, "the only time that a certain class I needed was offered was at 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays in Ypsilanti.  Well, that was a 45-minute drive for me — twice a week for 16 weeks? — no way could I do that, not and keep my day job."

Accordingly, he pursued his degree the high-tech way, through the program that now employs him as its admissions director.

And since then, he said, in addition to standard business degrees, Baker has developed a special accelerated bachelor's and master's program, which one might say turns computer geeks into computer system managers.

"There's an accelerated computer systems management degree for people with computer backgrounds," Gurden said, "regardless of whether they have one or two years of experience or training, or an associate's degree, or whether they've graduated from a 4-year program.

"It's a degree which focuses on leadership skills," he said. " A lot of technicians out there need to have some management skills if they're going to advance, and this is the program for them."

He explained that the program was developed by a former dean of technology at Baker's Muskegon Campus, Chris Davis, who now administers the college's online and traditional classroom information technology program, and who also is Baker's director of instructional technology.

And if being a former dean of technology in Muskegon doesn't seem to have the horsepower of a background at, say, Stanford, Gurden says Davis has given Baker's online program exactly that kind horsepower.

 

"Thanks to technology and to things like interactive video, we're able to use a national faculty. The faculty doesn't have to be in Michigan or even near one of our locations.

"In fact," he laughed, "most of our technical faculty live in California.  We're not stuck with people in our area. We develop the program to fit what our students need and then we go out nationwide and find the person to teach it."

Gurden explained that Davis also designed and set up another IT program concerning Web site development.

"We can enroll people to get a Web design certificate or an associate's degree, and both are 100 percent online."

He explained the courses involve students setting up their own Web pages. He said the thrust of the courses — depending upon whether they're certificate or associate-oriented —basically is to give the students lesser or greater degrees of advertising skills, the components Web designers need to supplement their technical knowledge.

The thing Gurden says he finds remarkable is the enrollment retention rate in online studies.

"You've got to figure that retention in most online enrollments, no matter what the school, are going to be high. Most of the students already are in the workforce and they understand education is very, very important if they're going to advance in their career."

Therefore, he said, colleges that offer online training generally get a much more motivated student.

"We take that and run with it," he added, "because we're focusing on, 'What do those people now need to achieve what their goal is?' That's how we design our courses, basically throughout the whole Baker system."

And Baker's online enrollment retention rate, he claims, is above the norm, clustering in the high 80th and low 90th percentiles.

"I think the reason for that," he added, "goes back to what I was talking about: Our goal is to make it the easiest for a student to take part in the classes in which they enroll."

To that end, he said, Baker offers traditional classes, online classes, interactive video or a combination of those.

Gurden said he found special appeal in Baker's online class program — done with software called Blackboard — because of the way it mixes in student participation.

He explained that the professor opens the class with an online lecture, which is followed by a series of questions that each student must answer.

Student answers then go, e-mail fashion, not just to the professor, but to all the students in the class, who then are required to react to the other students' reactions. "This is great," he said. "You really get a lot of material not just from the lecture but from each other.

"You must respond to the questions by Saturday. That then gives everybody several days to comment on each other's answers. And the great thing is that you don't have to respond, say, between 10 and 11 a.m. You can do it any time of the day or night that fits your particular schedule."

He cites the career orientation of the college's classes as the other reason for their high retention rate.

"We focus our programs specifically on business, technical and the health service administration area because that's where 70 percent of the jobs are. The degrees we offer, we offer because there are going to be jobs available in them."

He said the college has an advisory board from each of the industries upon which it focuses.

"For instance, we have a medical advisory board made up of professionals. It meets annually, and we ask them, 'If you're going to hire somebody, what kind of skills do you want them to have?'

"And we design our curriculum to meet those needs," Gurden said, "and in two to four years, we're going to them and saying, 'Okay, we trained them, now you hire them.'"

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