Online Education in Public Affairs: Current State and Emerging Issues

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1 Online Education in Public Affairs: Current State and Emerging Issues Martha H. Ginn and Augustine Hammond Augusta State University Augusta, GA ABSTRACT The advances in, and diffusion of, technology have resulted in a growth of online educational opportunities. While programs in public affairs are part of this proliferation in online education, there is limited information on the current state of online education in this area. Using data collected from a survey of 96 National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) affiliated institutions, this exploratory study provides an overview of the current landscape of online education in the fields of Master of Public Administration and Master of Public Policy (MPA/MPP). Areas studied include the rationales for offering or not offering online education, concerns with technology, modes of online instruction, student services, faculty and staff demands, and enrollment patterns. The primary goal stated for offering courses and degrees online is to reach more students. We found substantial diversity in teaching methods and types of degrees and concentrations, which suggests students and instructors alike are attracted to online education due to its flexibility. Surprisingly, we did not find any significant problems with technological concerns. Apprehension about the quality and effectiveness of online education persist in the field of public affairs, as well concerns about faculty and staff workloads in online education. Finally, this survey suggests that the most successful schools are those that offer particularized degree concentrations that are able to recruit from a niche market. The advancement in technology has resulted in a remarkable increase in the number of postsecondary educational institutions offering online courses and programs (Allen & Seaman, 2007; Vernon, Vakalahi, Pierce, Pittman-Munke, & Adkins, 2009; Williams & Corkill, 2007). Williams and Corkill (2007) have observed that about 66% of colleges and universities offering face-to-face courses also are providing graduate courses online and that 44% of schools offering face-to-face master s degree programs also offering master s degrees online (p. 40). In a study of trends in the use of distance education in social work education, Vernon et al. (2009) reported exponential growth in online education in the discipline over a period of 10 years and indicated the possibility JPAE 18(2), Journal of Public Affairs Education 247

2 M. H. Ginn & A. Hammond for online education to coexist with traditional classroom degree programs. Allen and Seaman (2010) found that online enrollment rates are expanding at much faster rates than traditional classroom enrollment growth. Specifically, since 2002, online enrollments have grown 21% whereas growth in overall higher education is only two percent. Allen and Seaman estimate that over 5.6 million students took at least one online course in the fall of 2009 which means that approximately one third of all higher education students are taking courses online. The reasons for the growth of online educational opportunities are varied and include the desire to provide or expand educational access to underserved individuals, effective management of classroom space and financial resources, institutional changes, and the need to capture emerging market opportunities presented by working adults and transient students (Allen & Seaman, 2007; Austin, 2009). While the future of online education cannot be predicted, with the prevalence of online education in the 21st century, it is reasonable to assume that online education is here to stay. Graduate programs in public administration, public policy, and public affairs (MPA/MPP) have been affected by the proliferation of online courses and online degree programs. In the academic year, the National Association of Schools and Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) was aware of only eight member MPA/MPP programs that offered online courses, but the number of programs offering online courses almost doubled to 15 by The NASPAA website currently lists 51 member schools that provide online offerings. In an attempt to assess the prevalence of online education within the discipline, we surveyed all NASPAA members asking whether they offered courses with online components. If they did, we asked members what type of courses were offered and whether they offered their entire degree programs online. The intent of the survey and following exploratory analysis is to provide an overview of the current state of online education for Master of Public Administration and Master of Public Policy degrees. THE CHALLENGES OF ONLINE EDUCATION The appeal of online education notwithstanding, online education has not been without challenges, and the excitement and expansion in online education has been accompanied by debate and concerns. A review of the literature reveals several issues and problems that need to be addressed for an online educational program to be successful. One debate is rooted in the quality of online education and the effectiveness of the use of technology as a pedagogical tool. Aside from the effectiveness debate, online education has been surrounded by other concerns ranging from technological problems to institutional issues. Perreault, Waldman, Alexander, and Zhao (2002) have identified three major categories of concerns associated with online education: technology-related, instruction-related, and student-related. These concerns are shared by other researchers, though they may have used different vocabularies and categorizations (Bolliger & Wasilik, 2009; Vernon et al., 2009). 248 Journal of Public Affairs Education

3 Online Education in Public Affairs Effectiveness The general view has been that online education is a complex process with several challenges and that its effectiveness or success requires intensive preparation (Allen & Seaman, 2007; Bates, 1997; Bolliger & Wasilik, 2009; Jones, 2008; Perreault et al., 2002; Vernon et al., 2009). For instance, Bates has observed that the effectiveness of technological changes cannot be realized unless it is accompanied by major structural and organizational changes in teaching. Another facet of this debate is the effectiveness of online education in promoting learning. Despite the debate surrounding the effectiveness of online education, the general view seems to suggest online education is as effective as traditional on-campus education, if not better (Donavant, 2009; Fortune, Shifflett, & Sibley, 2006; Williams, 2006). Examining the efficacy and feasibility of online education as it relates to professional development of police officers, Donavant (2009) found no statistically significant difference in the effectiveness of online and traditional classroom instructions and indicated that learning was taking place regardless of the delivery method (p. 239). Fortune et al. (2006) share a similar view when they conclude, from their study of business communications students in Silicon Valley, that the practical significance of perceived higher learning by on-campus students was minimal. Consequently, they argue that the two modes of instruction can be considered equally effective with respect to skill development. Available evidence suggests that the effectiveness of online education depends on factors such as the academic level and the nature of delivery (Williams, 2006). In a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of allied health distance education courses, Williams did not find differences in academic achievement between online and traditional undergraduate and graduate students, but she did find differences for working professionals. Specifically, working professionals in online programs were found to outperform their counterparts in traditional classrooms. Given that all online courses are not created equal, Williams found that while professionals in traditional classroom models were outperformed by their counterparts in synchronous and open learning models of instruction, they (professionals in traditional classroom) outperformed their counterparts in asynchronous learning models (p. 135). The debate on effectiveness of online education has also focused on whether online education is appropriate or effective in certain aspects of learning (Austin, 2009; Donavant, 2009; Vernon et al., 2009). For example, Austin (2009) has argued that the requisite skills for current students and public administrators are not supported by the current state of online education (current or emerging technology). Similarly, respondents in Vernon et al. s (2009) study were of the view that though practice courses are regularly taught online, those courses should not be taught online. This observation is contrary to findings from the study by Donavant (2009), where the police officers indicated their preference for the traditional classroom instructions but also viewed online education as an appropriate mode of delivery for their professional development. Journal of Public Affairs Education 249

4 M. H. Ginn & A. Hammond In sum, while considerable disagreement still exists on the effectiveness of online education for various fields of study as well as different types of students, evidence does suggest that online instruction fares relatively well when compared to traditional face-to-face classrooms. More research needs to be done of the effectiveness, particularly in the long term, of online instruction; but the current research suggests that this type of instruction offers educational benefits on par with traditional classroom experiences. Technology The concerns with technology are wide-ranging, including limitations on communication and interaction through technology (Austin, 2009; Williams, 2003). Communication has been observed to be quintessential to effective online teaching (Young, 2006); most of the online faculty s time is spent communicating with students, building and sustaining learning communities (Santilli & Beck, 2005, p. 159). Nonetheless, technology can hinder effective communication in the online environment (Austin, 2009; Santilli & Beck, 2005). Austin identified broadband limitations and conversational delays as some of the key technological concerns limiting interaction in the online environment. If effective instruction depends on communication, these limitations and delays, if they are widespread, are not trivial matters. Other technological concerns include reliability of technology, technical support, and levels of technological competence by students as well as instructor (Jones, 2008; Perreault et al., 2002; Santilla & Beck 2005; Vernon et al., 2009). For instance, Vernon et al. identified technological support as a major challenge to online education, while Santilli and Beck found most faculty identified students lack of technological skills as a major obstacle to effective communication. All these factors affect smooth instructional delivery in the online environment. Another aspect of technological concern, the digital divide, seems to contradict the view that online education helps provide or expand educational access to underserved individuals. According to Jones, directors of postsecondary online education programs have expressed major concern about the digital divide and the varying degree of connectivity among their student populations (p. 52). Instruction The instruction-related issues and concerns include, but are not limited to, access to resources, students communicating with the instructor and peers, and assessment and testing (Perreault et al., 2002). There is also the issue of the time, cost, and training involved in course creation and delivery (Allen & Seaman, 2007; Jones, 2008; Barth, 2004; Williams, 2003). Effective online teaching is time consuming, and most faculty resources are spent on communication (Santilli & Beck, 2005; Young, 2006). As observed by Young, the demands of 250 Journal of Public Affairs Education

5 Online Education in Public Affairs communication in the online environment can be overwhelming; the volume of messages alone can quickly become a huge burden (p. 73). Barth (2004) notes that even once you control for the intensive preparation time required the first time an online course is offered, an online course takes almost twice as much time to deliver as a traditional class. Specifically, Barth estimates that a traditional class with familiar material takes an average of 270 minutes a week, whereas the same course online takes 480 minutes including time spent on s, composing and entering notes, taping announcements, and moderating chat rooms. Young (2006) noted further that effective online teaching requires constant visibility and more active involvement of the instructor in the process than may be required in the traditional classroom environment. She noted that effective online teaching involves, among other things, the instructor giving considerable attention to facilitating the course fully absorbed with communication and working hard to meet the varied needs and demands of the students (p. 74). These demands not only make effective online teaching a complex process, requiring more time, but also require special competencies and skills training (Santilli & Beck, 2005) beyond the normal training of faculty. Williams (2003) has identified 13 roles and 30 general competencies essential for the successful implementation and management of online education. He noted that the roles of instructional designer, instructor/facilitator, trainer, and leader/change agent were ranked as very important role-specific competencies. Apart from the complex nature of online teaching, it can also be cost intensive (Allen & Seaman, 2007; Jones, 2008). Allen and Seaman (2007) have noted the high costs involved in the development and delivery of online courses as a major concern to the success of online education. Jones took a similar view when he observed that cost with respect to money, time and manpower, and support of the technology are the frequently cited concern by directors of postsecondary distance learning programs. Citing Carr (2001), he noted that cost is minimized only in situations of large courses with many sections. The role of program size in cost minimization makes recruitment and retention a challenge to online education. This view seems confirmed by the finding that respondents from schools that have issues with lower student enrollments and retention were concerned that efforts at minimizing cost might undermine the quality of online education. Directors of postsecondary distance learning programs with lower student enrollments and retention concerns indicated that effort to maximize return on investment could have a negative impact on instructional quality, course deliver flexibility, or student/ instructor attitudes toward the selected online mechanism (Jones, 2008, p. 51). While it seems obvious that schools and programs seeking to maximize the benefit of online investment must make recruitment and retention a priority, studies suggest that online education is not for everyone. The view that online education is not for everyone tends to limit the market potential for recruitment Journal of Public Affairs Education 251

6 M. H. Ginn & A. Hammond and retention. Fortune et al. (2006) gives credence to the notion that online courses are not for everyone by finding that online students valued face-toface interaction less than their counterparts in traditional on-campus courses. They attributed this result to the fact that students opting for online courses are typically more independent than their counterparts opting for on-campus courses. Not surprisingly, Dupin-Bryant (2004) has found that pre-entry characteristics are related to retention in online programs. She found prior educational experience, including cumulative grade point average, class rank, and number of previous courses completed online were related to retention (p. 204). Interestingly, Barth (2004) found certain students were attracted to online classes due to the perceived equal learning opportunity. These students embraced the ability to interpret the material independently and felt they had more freedom to challenge both the instructor and fellow students in the online environment. In this study, students acknowledged that this independence came with a price, particularly development of effective time management skills. Echoing the view that online education is not for everyone (students and faculty alike), Bocchi, Eastman, and Swift (2004) noted that attracting motivated online learners goes beyond program accessibility, convenience, accreditation, and fit with student s growth plans. It involves the profile and selection of both students and faculty most adept at online learning, and the active involvement of faculty in all facets of student learning from shaping student expectations to equipping students to better work as teams in the virtual environment. In effect, recruiting and retaining students for an online program is different and may be more demanding than doing so for on-campus programs. The notion that online programs are not suited for everyone is also demonstrated in the area of effectiveness. Williams (2006) has observed that students with prior work experience and more professional knowledge performed better in the online environment than their counterparts in the classroom (p. 135). Explaining the possible reason why allied health science students in online programs outperform their counterparts in traditional classroom, Williams further argued that the online students are mostly older, highly motivated, and self-disciplined and most often voluntarily seek further education in hopes of career advancement (p. 135). She added that online education provides self-paced instruction in a convenient/comfortable location for working professionals (p. 135). Students, Faculty, and Institution The success of any teaching-learning experience depends on the studentinstructor interaction. Bolliger and Wasilik (2009) found that students are the most important factor in online education, an observation leading them to believe that many online instructors are student centered (p. 112). However, they added that other factors, particularly faculty and institution, are related 252 Journal of Public Affairs Education

7 Online Education in Public Affairs to student outcome. Considering that effective learning involves interaction between students and instructors, Allen and Seaman (2007) suggested that faculty acceptance and disciplined students are key concerns to quality of online education. Bolliger and Wasilik (2009) share similar views and highlighted the need for continued assessment of faculty and student satisfaction with online education to help enhance its success. Emphasizing the critical role of faculty acceptance to the success of online education, they noted that online teaching is a complex task that requires commitment from faculty and can be time consuming and demanding (p. 114). An important factor in faculty acceptance is their satisfaction with online education that ranged from self-gratification to intellectual challenges and from interest in technology to belief in their ability to promote student outcomes (Bolliger & Wasilik, 2009). In an examination of faculty attitudes toward online education, Gibson, Harris, and Colaric (2008) found that while perceived usefulness of technology was a strong predictor of faculty acceptance of online education, perceived ease of use was not a significant predictor. They surmise that ease of use was not a predictor, because faculty tends to be pragmatic in their acceptance of technology and place more emphasis on the compatibility of the technology with their duties (p. 538). Thus they encouraged the emphasizing of perceived usefulness of technology in the early stages of the adoption process of online education. Bolliger and Wasilik (2009) also found student-related and institutionrelated factors to influence faculty satisfaction with online education. With respect to student-related factors, flexibility and convenient access to courses were found to be the most important factors on faculty satisfaction with online education. Both students and faculty most often cite flexibility and convenience as factors that make online education advantageous and appealing to them (Donavant, 2009; Perreault et al., 2002; Young, 2006). Donavant, in a study of online education in the professional development of police officers, found that online education was appealing to the police officers due to factors such as convenience, flexible schedule, the ability to access educational opportunities without being physically present, and working at one s own rate. Similarly, Young has noted that students appreciated the flexibility that online courses offered for their own time management. They liked the freedom of doing their work when and where they wanted (p. 74). These issues and concerns of online education are institution based, making the institutional environment important. Williams (2003) observed that the roles and competencies essential for the successful implementation and management of online education vary according to institutional environment. Further, Bolliger and Wasilik (2009) noted that faculty satisfaction with online education is influenced by institution-related factors. They found that faculty satisfaction was higher when the institution values and supports online teaching, recognizes the higher workload involved, and provides release time, adequate compensation, and an equitable reward system for promotion and tenure (pp ). Journal of Public Affairs Education 253

8 M. H. Ginn & A. Hammond The literature on online education is extensive and expanding with the increasing trend in online education. This brief assessment of the literature suggests that online education is a complex and cost-intensive process with several challenges; but with proper development and delivery, it can be as effective as traditional on-campus education. A systematic study of online offerings is necessary for any program to optimize the benefits from online education. This exploratory study sets the stage for a more systematic analysis of online education in public affairs education by investigating the current landscape of online education in MPA/MPP programs. After administering a survey to a NASPAA affiliated schools, we review the responses to assess any patterns in the motivations for offering or not offering online education. Next, we discuss the concerns programs raised in terms of technology. Then we review other instructional concerns of online instruction, such as methods of delivery, student services provided, and demands on faculty and staff. We also discuss patterns in enrollment with regard to online courses and programs as well as the types of degree concentrations currently available in online degrees. We conclude with some insights from the surveys for schools contemplating entering the online education arena. METHODOLOGY The survey instrument used for the current study was developed by the researchers in collaboration with NASPAA. The survey used filter and contingency questions to explore programs in different stages of online education. The first question asked of all respondents was whether their MPA/MPP program currently offers any courses with online components; the response options were (a) Yes, offer fully online courses; (b) Yes, offer hybrid courses: some content/classes meetings held online but class meets physically on campus at times as well; (c) Yes, offer both fully online and hybrid courses; and (d) No, do not offer any courses with online components. If the schools chose option d, the survey asked several follow-up questions about why the school was not offering courses with an online component as well as if they were considering offering courses with online components and why. If schools chose any of the Yes options, they were asked a follow-up question to describe their current online offerings. For this question, the options included (a) An MPA/MPP degree can be obtained entirely online; (b) An MPA/MPP certificate can be obtained entirely online; (c) Only certain courses available online or with online components, remainder of courses must be completed in classroom on campus. From this filter question, we grouped together schools offering online degree programs or certificates and analyzed schools offering degrees or certificates separately from schools offering only online courses. The survey included a series of questions for schools that offer either online courses or entire degree programs online. These questions explored areas such as motivations for offering online courses and programs, estimated enrollments, methods of delivery, and technological issues encountered. 254 Journal of Public Affairs Education

9 Online Education in Public Affairs The survey was administered in January 2011 using Survey Monkey, a webbased survey program, to all 270 principal representatives of NASPAA affiliated institutions. Several follow-up reminder s were sent out to help increase the response rate. Of the 270 NASPAA-affiliated institutions invited to participate, 63 completed the survey at the close of the survey administration period (representing 23.3% response rate). The low response rate compelled the researchers and NASPAA to extend the survey deadline and encourage nonrespondents to complete the survey. This step resulted in an increase in responses from 63 to 96 NASPAA-affiliated institutions, representing an overall response rate of 35.8%. The sample appears to be representative of the general NASPAA membership programs in terms of type of institution. While 76% of NASPAA members are affiliated with public institutions, 81% (n = 78) of our respondents were affiliated with public institutions. NASPAA membership is 23% private nonprofit institutions, and our survey included 19% (16) private institutions. As a result, our sample included both small and large programs and reflected significant geographic diversity. Of the 51 schools listed on NASPAA s website as offering online courses or programs, 18 (35.3%) completed the survey. Through the survey, we were to identify 44 additional schools that offer online courses or programs. Therefore, our admittedly incomplete list of schools with online offerings includes 95 schools, and 62 (65.2%) of those schools completed the survey. FINDINGS Sample Characteristics Of the 96 schools that completed the survey, 34 (35.4%) indicated that all of their coursework is provided completely on campus without any online components, 17 (17.7%) offered hybrid or blended courses in the programs on campus with some content/class meetings held on online, 22 (22.9%) had programs that offered both fully online and hybrid courses, and the remaining 23 schools (23.9%) had programs offering fully online courses. It is important to note that this survey question asked about current online course offerings, not whether the courses were offered exclusively online. Therefore, schools with fully online courses may also offer traditional on-campus classes. We did, however, ask the follow-up question of whether the entire degree or certificate could be attained online. A total of 19 schools offered programs that could be completed fully online: 15 offered the entire MPA/MPP degree online, and an additional 4 schools offered an MPA/MPP certificate online. Thus, of the schools participating, almost a fifth offer fully online programs, and almost half offer courses completely online. On the other end of the spectrum, over a third of responding schools offer no online courses or courses with any online components. Note that this figure may underestimate the schools without online programs; such schools may have elected not to complete the survey in the first place, since it was about online education. Journal of Public Affairs Education 255

10 M. H. Ginn & A. Hammond Rationales for Not Going Online Because the primary intent of the survey was to assess the current availability of online courses and online programs, those schools that indicated they did not offer any courses with online components were prompted to answer only a couple of other questions. The responses to these questions highlight the debate and concerns over the proliferation of online education. We asked schools to indicate all applicable reasons for not currently offering courses with online components, and the figures appear in Table 1. The most common response, 58% of the sample, was skepticism about the quality of online courses. Table 1. Reasons for Not Currently Offering Courses With Online Components or for Not Considering Offering Program/Certificate Fully Online* Response Options No Online Components (% of sample n = 33) Online Courses Only (% of sample n = 30) Offered in the past unsuccessfully 6 3 Faculty unwilling to teach online courses Skeptical about the quality of online courses Limited demand in our program for online courses Technology resources not adequate on campus 12 3 Other (please specify) * Percentage of sample for each response category, rounded to the nearest whole number However, the literature suggests that there is no real difference in the quality of online versus traditional classrooms in other disciplines such as criminal justice (Donavant, 2009) business communications (Fortune et al., 2006), and allied health (Williams, 2006). Williams findings that working professionals actually perform better in online environments than their traditional classroom counterparts is especially relevant to those pursuing MPA/ MPP degrees, particularly since schools surveyed indicated the most commonly recruited population for programs include individuals with 3 to 5 years of work experience. However, contrary to Donavant s findings, there is work specifically related to our discipline that suggests that the online format may not be well suited to the needs of the MPA/MPP degree (Austin, 2009; Vernon et al, 2009). Clearly, further research needs to be done in evaluating the quality of online education in MPA/MPP programs exclusively, since many schools remain skeptical about its applicability. 256 Journal of Public Affairs Education

11 Online Education in Public Affairs The next most common response for not offering online courses concerned faculty being unwilling to teach online courses. Allen and Seaman s (2007) work also found that some faculty members were reluctant to enter the virtual classroom. With the exception of only one school, those that indicated faculty were unwilling to teach were also skeptical about the quality of online education, which suggests a clear relationship between the two rationales. While some of the hesitation may be attributed to the previous point concerning skepticism about quality, other factors could be at work here as well. First, instructors may have technological concerns or feel they lack the appropriate training to run an online course. Furthermore, instructors may be keenly aware of the additional time commitment to run an online course, both in course preparation and in facilitation. As noted previously, effective communication with students and successful building of learning communities are critical in effective online teaching (Santilli & Beck, 2005; Young, 2006). These components require extensive time commitments by the instructors and could possibly play a factor in preferring to teach in the traditional classroom where communication and learning communities are more easily facilitated. As further evidence for these points, in the open-ended responses, some schools indicated a willingness to explore online options but raised concerns about start-up costs, faculty workloads, and resources. Both Allen and Seaman (2007) and Jones (2008) acknowledge that starting online courses or degrees are cost intensive, and Allen and Seaman also address the quagmire of issues that arise in determining faculty workloads for online course preparation and teaching. Interestingly, a third of respondents that do not offer online options suggested that there was limited demand in their programs for online courses; this response contradicts national trends. However, since online programs can compete for students nationally, as the number of programs increase, it is possible the market is getting saturated and those schools not already in the online business are carefully evaluating whether they want to join with so many other options out there. It does appear that an effective strategy to increase demand for a program is to offer a degree specialization to create a niche market of students. Ultimately, growth in online offerings is more likely to come from existing online providers rather than new schools entering the mix. According to Allen and Seaman (2007), approximately one-third of higher education institutions account for three-quarters of all online enrollments. Future growth will come predominantly from these and similar institutions as they add new programs or grow existing ones (p. 2). Still, of the schools not currently offering online classes, 14 indicated that they are currently considering offering courses with online components in their MPA/MPP in the future. However, 19 schools indicated they had no plans to explore online formats and preferred the face-toface format instead. Journal of Public Affairs Education 257

12 M. H. Ginn & A. Hammond Rationales for Not Offering Entire Program Online In a related question, we asked those schools that offered online courses if they were considering transitioning from online courses to a fully online MPA/ MPP program and/or certificate. The responses to this question also appear in Table 1. Of the 39 schools offering online courses, 30 (76%) indicated that they do not want to take the entire program online. The responses as to why they are not interested in offering an entire program online are quite similar to those provided for not offering online classes altogether. Again, the most popular response is skepticism about the quality, and the next most popular response is faculty unwilling to teach. The argument that online education is time consuming is bolstered by the fact that schools already offering online courses indicate they are having trouble getting faculty to teach online. Perhaps these faculty realize firsthand, or from their colleagues, how taxing the communication demands can be in an online teaching environment, as demonstrated by multiple studies (Santilli & Beck, 2005; Young, 2006). The relative frequency of the other option suggests that some schools have idiosyncratic motivations for not offering courses and/or programs online. Although the most popular response for not taking a program completely online was skepticism about the quality, the schools with online programs felt their programs had overwhelmingly positive reputations when asked how their programs were perceived in general. Schools indicated that their programs were seen as rigorous, challenging, and well regarded. Schools that had online programs with NASPAA accreditation emphasized how the accreditation increased their prestige. Consistent with Bollinger and Wasilik (2009), Donavant (2009), and Perreault et al. (2002), several schools commented on how the students and the faculty both enjoyed the flexibility that an online environment provided. Furthermore, consistent with Allen and Seaman (2007), multiple schools acknowledged that the online format allowed them to reach students they might not reach otherwise. Collectively, these comments suggest that skepticism about online courses/programs is not an insurmountable barrier for online programs. Rationales for Going Online Online courses and programs are proliferating across academia, and it appears that MPA/MPP programs are not immune from this phenomenon. The survey sought to identify the motivating factors in offering courses online. The results appear in Table 2. The first column displays the motivations for taking an entire program online, the second column displays the motivations for offering online coursework, and the final column includes the motivations behind schools that are currently considering offering online courses. 258 Journal of Public Affairs Education

13 Online Education in Public Affairs Table 2. Primary Motivations for Taking a Program and/or Certificate Online, Offering Courses Online, or Considering Offering Courses Online* Increase enrollment/reach more students Online Degree Programs or Certificates (% of sample n = 19) Online Courses Only (% of sample n = 41) No Online Components (% of sample n = 12) Increase revenue Compete with other similar schools Physical space concerns on campus Other (please specify) * Percentage of sample for each response category, rounded to the nearest whole number While the survey questions were worded slightly differently for each category of schools, there are clearly commonalities in motivations to offer online educational opportunities. The questions included check all that apply in order to accurately capture all potential motivations, therefore the cells display the percentage of schools in each sample that indicated the response category was a motivation for considering (or offering) online courses/programs. The most popular motivation for entering the field of online education is to increase enrollments and reach more students. This same theme appears frequently in open-ended responses throughout the survey. Many schools suggest that an online format allows them to reach students who would otherwise be unable to take coursework due to geographic limitations, work/home constraints, and even physical impairments. To further support the idea that the decision to move to an online format is student driven, the primary reasons provided in the open-ended other (please specify) category were to reach more students and to accommodate students with varying needs. The second most popular theme in the other response field was the need for flexibility for both the students and the faculty. Interestingly, the motivation of competition with other schools was not very prevalent for those with online programs but was cited as an influential motivation for those offering online courses and for those considering online courses. This response may be due to the fact that those schools with online programs or certificates are typically more established in providing online courses and have most likely already established a client base through the establishment of one or more degree specializations. In other words, they have potentially distinguished themselves from other schools by offering a somewhat unique Journal of Public Affairs Education 259

14 M. H. Ginn & A. Hammond product: a specialized degree concentration online. The creation of a niche market may insulate the school from the competitive pressure less established schools experience. In support of this theory, the two schools with online programs that indicated that competition was a motivator indicated that they did not offer any degree specializations. In general, these findings suggest that those not offering online components are feeling the pressure and perhaps sense that they are losing students to other schools with online programs. Furthermore, increasing revenue appears to be a motivating factor in those without online programs but appears to have been less important for those with already established programs. Again, the few schools motivated by increasing revenue with degree programs or certificates were not currently offering degree specializations. Technology As discussed in the literature review, a primary concern in online instruction involves technology. The survey explored the prevalence of technology problems in both online courses and online programs. The responses to this question appear in Table 3. While other scholars (Jones, 2008; Perreault et al., 2002; Vernon et al., 2009) have raised concerns including reliability of technology, technological competence by students and instructors, and technical support, overall, the responses here suggest that technological resources and technological problems are not as prevalent as one might have assumed they would be for schools offering online instruction in MPA/MPP programs. Table 3. Percentage of Schools Indicating Problems With Information Technology Resources in Online Courses or Program/Certificate* Not a Problem Slight Problem Major Problem Online Courses Only IT support for students IT support for faculty Infrastructural development System upgrade Maintenance Online Programs/Certificates IT support for students IT support for faculty Infrastructural development System upgrade Maintenance * Percentage of sample for each response category, rounded to the nearest whole number 260 Journal of Public Affairs Education

15 Online Education in Public Affairs The modal category for all but infrastructural development in online programs is not a problem. Percentagewise, online programs do have more slight problem responses than online courses only, but that is most likely a function of frequency of use. The largest concern, although admittedly slight, is infrastructural development, followed by system upgrades. These concerns are most likely artifacts of recent budgetary restrictions in higher education that are probably forestalling both infrastructure development and system upgrades in order to meet more pressing budgetary needs. Another relevant point is that the data provide insight on these problems from the MPA/MPP director s standpoint only. The problems with IT support for students may be much more widespread for students than faculty realize. Regardless, technology does not appear to be a significant barrier in online instruction within the discipline. With regard to technology and instruction, there appears to be relative uniformity in the course management systems used at the schools who participated in the survey. Over 75% of schools offering online courses or online programs indicated that they used Blackboard or a Blackboard owned product (WebCt) for their course management platform. Five schools indicated they used university-specific platforms, and two schools used E-College. We did include an other category in the survey, and the most commonly named product was Desire to Learn, followed by Moodle. Regardless of the other products available, Blackboard seems to be overwhelmingly the favored product in online platforms for our sample. Using instructional platforms such as Blackboard should keep start-up costs lower for schools offering online instruction. Instruction Instructors can pursue multiple instruction formats in providing a course online. In our survey, we gauged the frequency of the use of various methods of instruction currently available. For schools offering online courses as well as schools offering online programs, we asked them to indicate how often they used the differing methods of delivery. Table 4 presents the frequency of use for each method, divided by whether the school had online courses only or entire programs online. The distribution of responses clearly shows the wide range of instructional methods used in virtual classrooms. The lack of a clearly predominant method of instruction reinforces the idea that many schools are adopting online formats at least partially due to the flexibility it provides for the instructor. As mentioned previously, students and faculty alike cite flexibility and convenience as factors that make online education advantageous and appealing to them (Donavant, 2009; Perreault et al., 2002; Young, 2006). Journal of Public Affairs Education 261

16 M. H. Ginn & A. Hammond Table 4. How Often Methods of Delivery Are Used for Online Classes* Response Options Never Occasionally Frequently Online Courses Only (n = 37) Very Frequently Always Simultaneous broadcast with interactive features Taped lecture broadcast Narrated PowerPoint lectures Written lectures posted or ed Online Programs/Certificates (n = 19) Simultaneous broadcast with interactive features Taped lecture broadcast Narrated PowerPoint lectures Written lectures posted or ed *Percentage of sample for each response category, rounded to the nearest whole number Clearly, there is no one-size-fits-all for instructional methods. It does appear that simultaneous broadcast and taped lectures are the least popular, and narrated PowerPoint lectures and written lectures are the preferred method. The preference for these self-paced methods does suggest, as evidenced in previous literature, that online education is not for everyone and that independent students with self-motivation are more likely to succeed in this environment than others. The preference for narrated PowerPoint lectures and written lectures feed into Austin s (2009) perceived limitation of technology to MPA/MPP education. The use of narrated PowerPoint lectures and written lectures does not support real-time or synchronous interaction (p. 164) and, by extension, the kind of educational practices necessary for the development of the requisite skills for current students and public administrators. This question regarding methods of delivery also provided an open-ended other, please specify option that many schools chose to provide further information regarding their instructional methods. Several other methods of instruction were discussed in the open-ended responses, and the most common was the use of discussion boards or online discussions to reinforce material. 262 Journal of Public Affairs Education

17 Online Education in Public Affairs Multiple responses emphasized the importance of interactive assignments with the instructor and other classmates. Schools also indicated that online assignments, either turned in within the platform or ed to the professor, were critical to the instructional methods. Finally, two schools indicated that they used some variant of a real classroom setting that required weekly checkins for students to assess progress. The common theme in these open-ended responses was the necessity of persistent student and instructor interaction. As emphasized in Bollinger and Wasilik (2009), schools appear to embrace the idea that continued interaction and assessment by dedicated faculty members leads to more successful online courses. Student Services It is clear that effective online instruction is dependent on effectively communicating with and engaging the students. Instructors must go to extensive lengths within the virtual classroom to make sure the students feel connected. Furthermore, schools must provide a variety of administrative student services for these students as they navigate through their educational pursuits, sometimes at an extended distance from campus. Schools that offer entire degree programs or certificates online are increasingly offering these types of student services online as well. Of the 19 programs with online degrees or certificates, 13 provide academic advising online. Five of the 19 schools provide financial advising online. Academic support, such as tutoring, is offered by 5 out of the 19 schools. Six of the schools provide career placement and career support services online. Faculty and Staff Given all of the added services that need to be provided with an online program, it might be assumed that the administrative burden created would necessitate the hiring of additional administrative staff. However, only two of the schools with online programs indicated that they employed administrative staff dedicated exclusively to their online programs. In addition, only five schools indicated that they had to hire additional faculty or staff to accommodate their online program. Furthermore, these additional positions included from 1 to 4 full-time positions, and one school indicated it had to hire an additional 10 part-time instructors. The lack of additional staffing is somewhat surprising given the acknowledgement or the recognition, both in the literature and in the survey results, that effective online teaching is time consuming for the instructor. We expected the increased workload would lead to additional faculty and staff hires. The relative absence of increased personnel may be more a function of current economic times than a true lack of need to hire additional instructors. The other possibility is that offering online courses has not created the increased enrollment schools may have anticipated and so justifying additional hires to upper administration might be difficult. Journal of Public Affairs Education 263

18 M. H. Ginn & A. Hammond We also asked each school to provide the number of tenured or tenure track faculty and part-time or adjunct faculty/practitioners. While it might be assumed that online programs would require more faculty, we found the opposite. Specifically, we found that schools with online courses had an average of only 9.6 tenured or tenure track faculty and 7.6 adjuncts, whereas online degree programs had an average of 7.1 tenured or tenure track and 6.5 adjuncts. However, when we did difference-of-means tests for both tenured/tenure track and part-time faculty by type of school, the difference was not significant. Obviously, the number of faculty members would be dependent on total enrollment in the program; and while we found that schools with online degree programs did have slightly higher enrollments than those with online courses only, the differences were not significant. Specifically, schools with online programs average 89 fulltime students and 107 part-time, whereas schools with online courses average only 71 full-time students and 94 part-time students in their programs. We also asked schools that offered online coursework, but not full degree programs online, how many courses with online components they offered; the mean number of courses per semester was 3.7, and average enrollment was 15 students per course. Enrollment Patterns On the topic of enrollment, given that the most common motivation for offering online courses and programs was to reach more students, it is useful to evaluate whether schools feel they successfully met that goal. Table 5 includes an exploration of the patterns in enrollment since the school began offering online courses (or programs). Table 5. Patterns Seen With Regard to Enrollment Since Began Offering Online Courses or Programs* Online Courses Only (% of sample n = 39) Online Degree Programs or Certificates (% of sample n = 19) Dramatic increase in enrollment 5 26 Modest increase in enrollment No increase in enrollment Modest decrease in enrollment 0 0 Dramatic decrease in enrollment 0 0 * Percentage of sample for each response category, rounded to the nearest whole num 264 Journal of Public Affairs Education

19 Online Education in Public Affairs It appears that offering online courses is helping to reach more students because the modal category for both courses and programs is a modest increase in enrollment. Additionally, 26% of the online programs saw a dramatic increase in enrollment, while only 5% of online courses did. This finding would suggest that in order to achieve dramatic increases in enrollment, the schools may need to consider taking their entire program online. The table also clearly shows that no schools experienced a decline in enrollment when offering classes online. Still, the absence of dramatic increases in enrollment for either online courses or programs does support our supposition that the lack of additional hiring may be related to fact that offering online courses has not created the increased enrollment schools may have anticipated. Exactly how many students are enrolled in online MPA/MPP degree or certificate programs? Only 13 of the 19 schools in our survey that offer online programs provided an estimated enrollment in their online degree or certificate programs for fall The range of enrollment figures was 10 to 140 with an average of 56 students. These numbers suggest a demand for such programs. Given that these programs do not require students to be located near the institution, schools considering offering an online program may want to consider catering to a niche market by providing a degree specialty that is not now readily available in the current marketplace. We asked the question, What percentage of your students enrolled in your online program and/or certificate reside outside of your state? While most schools (11 out of 19) indicated that 20% or less lived out of state, two schools indicated that 80% or more did live out of state. The other five schools fell in between these two extremes. Ultimately, this result demonstrates that online programs are competing regionally or nationally for students. Degree Concentrations What types of degree concentrations are currently available in completely online degrees or certificates? Table 6 provides a breakdown of concentrations offered as well as the number of schools providing each concentration as an online degree. The most popular degree concentrations are nonprofit management and public management, followed closely by administration justice and health care administration/management. The remaining degree concentrations are offered by only one school each in our sample. The wide array of degree concentrations available suggests that many schools have opted for the specialization route to attract more students in the ever-expanding pool of potential students nationwide. Journal of Public Affairs Education 265

20 M. H. Ginn & A. Hammond Table 6. Degree Concentrations Currently Being Offered in Fully Online Programs Number of Schools Offering Degree or Certificate Nonprofit Management 6 Public Management 6 Administration Justice 5 Health Care Administration/Management 4 Criminology and Criminal Justice 2 Aviation 1 Budgeting and Financial Management 1 City Management 1 Economics and Global Strategy 1 Environmental Science and Public Policy 1 Human Resource Management/Leadership 1 Information Resource Management 1 International Public Management 1 Organizational Leadership 1 Policy Studies 1 Public Personnel Management 1 Public Safety and Justice Management 1 Public Works 1 State and Local Government 1 In general, the current landscape of online educational offerings in MPA/ MPP programs reflects both uniformity and diversity. The existence of diversity in teaching methods and types of degrees and concentrations offered validate the idea that many students and instructors alike are attracted to online education due to its flexibility. While only 19 of the schools surveyed provide fully online degrees or certificates, other schools are considering taking their entire programs online. Schools moving in that direction would be wise to consider the degree concentration route and carefully assess their program s strengths along with the current supply of concentrations offered online. This survey represents the starting point for this type of careful analysis, so that schools can be competitive and offer a unique product. Continuing to expand the diversity in degree concentrations will also serve the often mentioned goal of reaching more students, a primary motivation for offering online courses and degrees in the first place. CONCLUSIONS AND DISCUSSION This study represents an initial exploration of the current landscape of online education in public affairs. A review of the literature suggested that many obstacles exist in offering a successful online educational program, and we 266 Journal of Public Affairs Education

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