Gannon University has been expanding beyond the City of Erie and increasing its digital presence.

The master’s of education degree is the university’s newest online program. It joins other master‘s degrees in business administration, public administration and engineering management, as well as a registered nursing to bachelor of science in nursing undergraduate degree.

But unlike its four predecessors, which give students the option of online enrollment or classroom enrollment, the master of education is an online-only program.

Kathleen Kingston, Ph.D., associate professor of education, said the program will provide current educators a chance for professional development.

“We have standards that we are ensuring that this program follows,” Kingston said. “When you think of online programs, especially when you’re converting from a face-to-face program, you have to think of ‘contact hours’ in a different way.

“So, the 12-15 hours per week – that we recommend – is really going to be equivalent to a 42-hour course, along with the extra assignments.”

Maintaining a high standard for the educational experience was a critical emphasis when designing the program. Young educators in Pennsylvania will have the opportunity to achieve the required hours to maintain their certificate, while also earning their master’s degrees at the same time.

As an additional bonus, the program now has a reduced tuition of $450 per credit, which is below the rate of state universities, making Gannon’s program one of the most cost-effective in the region. These educators will get a quality educational experience for a great price that they can complete in their own time, Kingston said.

Amanda Holmes, a first-year graduate student in the program, said the price is definitely a benefit to the program moving online.

Holmes, who received her undergraduate degree from Gannon, said she can see some of the benefits of taking the program online, but she is going to miss the one-on-one experience of the classroom.

“In class you get to talk to everyone, all the other teachers, and see how they’re doing,” Holmes said. “We like seeing each other, and unfortunately you can’t get that aspect online.”

Kingston, however, pressed the idea of communication and discussion.

“There’s something really rich that happens in online courses,” she said, “and I’m not saying that one is better than the other, but it’s an interesting phenomenon.”

Larry Kessler, an assistant professor and interim program coordinator, said that dialogue is a critical aspect of any education, and an online degree is no exception.

“Having taught in the online program, I’ve noticed that the students take advantage of the discussion boards and the emails and the dialogue,” Kessler said. “It’s not only part of the process of delivering the course, but it’s also part of the learning.

“I also find that because the students are required to write their thoughts, I think they’re more articulate. It makes them think a little bit deeper.”

Kingston agreed, saying the characteristics of an online program reinforce the curriculum.

“To see it written, you process it differently,” Kingston said.

Holmes still said she ultimately prefers the classroom experience to online work, and she said it was a factor in her decision to attend Gannon in the first place.

“I really like Gannon and that’s why I chose Gannon,” she said. “That’s my learning style.”

Meanwhile sophomore theology major Jared Schaaf expressed, “Online education is a way for students to juggle both being successful leaders in the modern world as well as academic students,” he said.

“Online education offers a healthy medium.”

This article by Michael Haas originally published in The Gannon Knight on Wednesday, Apr. 10, 2013.