We met with Brian Teasdale to discuss the pandemic’s impact on their program, the future of online education, and why should student’s consider an online undergraduate degree. Enjoy!
As a result of the pandemic, Dr. Teasdale and his team at Kean University developed an online bachelor’s degree program in biology. The program provides a more accessible option that allows students to receive the exact same degree as in-person students. During the pandemic, the online biology degree program proved to be more organized than traditionally in-person classes that had to shift quickly to an online format.
Dr. Teasdale echoes what other leaders in online programs have mentioned, which is that students who are focused, organized, and self-motivated are excellent candidates for an online degree. He predicts that in the coming years, there will be a growth in online programs of every kind, including hybrid courses that offer even more flexibility for students. Teasdale suggests there will be large shifts in higher education, especially as more competitive schools embrace online programs.
Kean University’s online biology program ranks highly based on the influence of their faculty and alumni:
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(Editor’s Note: The following transcript has been lightly edited to improve clarity.)
Karina: Hi everyone, it is Karina Macosko from Academic Influence, and I am here with Brian Teasdale, and we are focusing on another online program, but this one is for undergrad, a bachelor’s degree, and so I am really excited to hear about this and we just wanna start out with, how did your program get started, and what was kind of the original goal and vision for that?
Brian Teasdale: Sure. First of all, thanks for having me on. I am always excited to talk about our programs. Our university, like a lot of universities, was starting to build up its online course offerings. So we had envisioned some of our courses and how they would translate as an online course and had developed one course before 2020, and that was a medical terminology course. It was something that worked very well in an online environment, but then all of a sudden the pandemic hits, and here we were, and especially me, because I manage our Biology faculty, and we have a fair number of 12 months of biology faculties who work year-round. And I was basically in a situation in which I would have a lot of faculty that would not have anything to do during the summer months, because our institution had gone fully online due to the pandemic. And so we all got together and said, "How do we utilize this time effectively for our institution, for our students," and we decided to work with our online school, we have a school of online learning, and spent the summer developing a fully online Bachelor’s of Arts in Biology degree program.
And so that was really sort of... The biggest hurdle was really how we do the labs. In science, if anybody’s taken a chemistry or a biology course, the one thing you can remember about the class is your lab experience kind of going in and touching the frog or bubbling up some chemical in the chemistry lab, and so how would we be able to develop something that fulfills all the required learning objectives and give a very rewarding experience for these students. And so that was a challenge but unlike 10 years ago, where I would have said, "Well, there is no way we are gonna be able to do this." We have advanced so much in the way of virtual technology and virtual learning that all the tools were there, and so in some cases, we developed our own sort of lab tutorials, but we also contracted with external virtual lab companies in order to fulfill that need.
Karina: Wow, that is awesome. And when creating this program, did you have a target audience in mind? A lot of the online programs you have talked to are kind of people who are going back to school and maybe have kids or life that they cannot go up and move somewhere to complete an online degree. So what was your target audience in mind when you created this program?
Brian Teasdale: Great question. So our target audience was really... It is like you said, we were kind of looking at students who would not normally be... Would easily have access to our in-person kind of environment. So we were definitely looking for non-traditional students, was an audience, full-time working students. And so it is unusual, that was sort of how we envisioned, we really did not envision it for, and we kinda wanted to stay away from students who were looking at graduate clinical programs, ’cause there is... And rightfully so, a lot of these graduate programs, so let us think of a physician assistant program or a doctorate...
A physical therapy program. They are targeting students that really have this kind of hands-on in-person experience, make sure that you hold the model of the muscle, that you are pulling apart different aspects of the nerves and the brain in an anatomy course. And to this day, we still sort of do not target this for those students because we are afraid that there may be a bias in the graduate application process of having online courses, and that might hurt them as they apply for a graduate program. But of course, with the pandemic and almost every institution going virtual, this is not gonna be an aspect that is gonna count against students at least in the near future, but it is something I think when it comes to online learning that people will be looking at a lot in the future. Can you fulfill sort of what is needed and what is desired by a graduate med school program in online course offerings? So it is gonna be a really exciting time in the next five years in online learning, I think.
Karina: Yeah. And that is such an interesting point you bring up because we have asked a few of the other people we have had on here for online programs, if they have seen kind of a difference in what people are willing to hire, whether you want... Either you get your degree online or in-person, and so for bachelor’s program, is it different, especially not only for employment, but if you are planning to get in a degree after that, have you seen differences in who they are willing to accept?
Brian Teasdale: We have not seen differences, and it will be interesting to see whether we are gonna somehow be teased out when... I always think of institutional research, sort of how an institution tracks its students. Right now, our students are sort of tagged as either online or as an in-person student, but their degree is the same. So their degree does not say BA Biology online or BA Biology in-person. Because our accrediting body and our requirements for our course is the same, and so we have met the criteria for the learning objectives for each course, and so they are fulfilling what is needed by an institution of higher learning to fulfill that aspect of their degree. So whether there is an asterix in the future, I think of baseball when they were going through, "Should we put asterix to people’s names?" But whether there should be an asterix saying, "This is a fully online degree program or not," I do not know. Once again, we are kind of in an uncharted territory here for us, when it comes to a science degree being fully online. Right now, I believe we are the only fully online Biology degree program in the state of New Jersey, and so it will be interesting to see how the state of New Jersey and our crediting body kind of looks at online degrees and how we need to identify ourselves.
Karina: Well, yeah. And a lot of these programs are so new, which makes them exciting, it is a great option for people, especially if they cannot go back into school, but like you said, it is also uncharted territory. And so we did get a good comparison of traditionally in-person classes and online degrees, when everything had to go online. So coming out of the pandemic, how do you think it was for something that had been set up as an online degree compared to an in-person learning that just had to move really quickly online? Did you see a difference in what people were learning?
Brian Teasdale: We did. So our online courses, the one that we developed fully online were just much more organized. A lot of our courses that were our in-person courses that sort of stayed as in-person, so when Kean University went through pandemic, so besides having these fully asynchronous online courses for our online degree program. Our in-person courses went what we call modality of being remote. In other words, they still met at the same time, and so everybody had their cameras on, they met, and they went through it, just like their in-person class. That is very different than our asynchronous online degree program. Our online degree program is fully asynchronous, that means you do not have to meet at any day or time, and so most of this is done through discussion groups at students own pace on a week-to-week basis. And so it was very, very different but very, very organized. And so if a student was very organized, they really liked our fully online courses. If a student really kinda wanted to keep sort of how they were doing things in-person on campus, then our remote modality where they still met at the same times, we continued doing our labs in-person during the pandemic.
So our students still came on. They had an option, so they could either take our remote labs, which we use in our fully online courses, or they could come in-person on campus, and so our students had an option the entire time we were in the pandemic.
Karina: Wow, that is impressive. And I think you kinda touched on what I like to ask people, is, who would really benefit from an online degree versus an in-person degree? And it kind of sounds like you pointed that out, if they were very organized, then it might be better for them to do the fully asynchronous, and if they kind of needed more of that structure, it is better for them to go in-person, would you agree?
Brian Teasdale: 100%. We were finding, especially if a student who is not organized or needs some supplementary help, they may have a deficiency in math or just needed that extra touch, it was a lot easier to get still in an in-person environment because there is just more time with the instructor, but if you are a person who is very focused, very organized, this type of student does very, very well in our fully online asynchronous format. So it is not for everybody. And I think that is what we were looking for is how do we give our students more options. So we have an option of in-person where you get sort of that constant touch by the faculty member, sort of that constant interaction, and you could always go to them for help, but if you are a person who really does not need a lot of that extra help and you are very organized, our online works very, very well because then you kinda set your own time management on how you are gonna complete that course. And so the fact that we had two options and said "Students, which works for you, choose the option, move forward with it," I think it was an advantage for us as an institution, and it was perfect timing for us at least.
Karina: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that flexibility is really key, just giving students more options of what fits their lifestyle, especially people who are trying to go back to get a degree and maybe do not have the traditional student life where they can just leave everything and go to class. And I think even that point of it will not work for every student that is really key to emphasize because we have talked to people who are even college admissions officers for fully in-person colleges, and they say the same thing. Every college, even if you are comparing to in-person colleges, they are just not gonna work for everyone. So you really have to find what works for you. And so we have kind of looked back to how the program got started and as it moved through the pandemic, and so now I just wanna look forward, what do you see in the future for not only your program, but programs like in the future? I mean right now, you said you are the only fully online Biology Bachelor’s in New Jersey. And so do you think we will see more of these? I am guessing the answer is probably yes, but in what sense do you think we will continue to see more online programs?
Brian Teasdale: I think 100%, we are gonna be seeing more online programs, we are gonna see more online courses, even at our institution. The one thing I did not mention is we set this up, Graham, specifically for a student to come into the program and be an online student, but what I did not say is that for spaces... So let us say we have in a course, 24 spots and 20 of those spaces going into the fall semester are these online students, those remaining spots are coveted by our in-person students. So we will have some of our in-person students and they will say, "I just cannot organize my schedule but if I take this online course, this one single online course, all of a sudden my schedule gets me very easily, I can work around my work schedule." And so it is our in-person students are now demanding more flexibility in kind of dual modalities, they wanna be in-person, but they also want the options to be taking some of these online courses as well. We are gonna be developing more online courses, and I think it is really kind of getting... There is a bias out there, I think even in higher education with faculty and administrators that online learning cannot be equivalent to an in-person experience, and I think that faculty have to take a look at technology and where we have come, and I disagree.
I think we can do amazing things online that we could not do in the past, and we need to start embracing that technology, because I think it works for our students. It cannot always just be what works for the school or the faculty, we have to bring the student perspective, and right now, I think the student feedback has been, we want more, and if that is the feedback, then we need to adjust and adapt to that desire in order to grow, and that is kind of where we are looking right now.
Karina: Well, yeah. And it has just been so interesting to hear about your program, and I really like the fact that you brought up the quality of education that can be offered with online. And so just wrapping up the interview, this is kind of a little off-topic, but I am certainly very interested in it, and I hope a lot of people are out there. Do you think we will see some of the highly competitive universities coming out with more online programs? I mean part of the reason, we have seen this trend of colleges getting increasingly more competitive in admissions, and so do you think if some of the higher schools, maybe the Ivys or the top public universities come out with online programs, do you think it would make it less competitive, and do you think they would still be able to offer the same quality of education?
Brian Teasdale: Yes, a lot of them already are, I think of... And I just wanna throw out some names because we kind of looked at some of these programs as a model for when we were developing ours, and the University of Florida is doing wonderful things in online and learning, the University of Arizona, and we talk Ivys, Harvard has actually been one of the first universities that really kinda came out and embraced online environment and sort of short courses online, and so I think of a lot of these schools are there, and they are ramping up now, I think the pandemic is pushing us to move a little bit faster. I think schools that were not embracing this before the pandemic are playing a lot of catch-up, and that is causing a lot of frustration, but you are seeing jobs out there for what we call instructional designers for online course development. I mean boy, if you are in this field right now, you are gonna be very busy. So it is a pretty exciting time in that area of education, so I 100% believe that universities will need to embrace it and grow it in order to survive and grow.
Karina: Well, thank you for that, and yeah, I am really excited as a student, and I am sure you are as an educator to see where online school takes us, because especially with the pandemic, I feel like it is just accelerated this process of moving things online, and I think you are absolutely right. That we will continue to see more online programs in the future, so thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us, it was really fun to just hear about your program and hear your thoughts on online programs in general, so thank you so much.
Brian Teasdale: Well, thanks for having us.