Distance Learning at Wentworth: What You Need to Know
March 21, 2020
While much of the world shifts to distance and online modalities of education due to the Coronavirus outbreak, Wentworth officials have experience on which to build.
Six degree programs and one certificate program are fully available remotely right now and more programs are in the works for later in 2020 and 2021.
We spoke with Ke’Anna Skipwith, director of online learning, and Julie Wong, assistant director of online student support, to learn more about how the university is well poised to take on the challenge of new e-learners while also providing opportunities for those who might suddenly have more time on their hands to go after a long-deferred degree.
Wentworth: The university has been operating in the distance-learning space for some time now and many of our undergraduate professors have taught remote courses already. Has that made for an easier transition as all students have been moved to online modalities?
Ke’Anna Skipwith: We are in a good place technically speaking. We work very closely with the faculty, to walk them through the process, providing hands-on support and best practices. And we’re glad to see that faculty are willing to step up and help their colleagues by sharing resources and support during this transition.
W: What support is available to students who have never tried distance learning on their computers before?
Julie Wong: We offer orientation, onboarding and online course support. We’ve beefed up support resources as a result of the virus outbreak, and we are working with the Library, Center for Academic Excellence, and the Dean of Students Office to connect students and point them to available resources like tutoring, student accommodations, wellness support, and other online opportunities.
W: How have distance learning programs at Wentworth evolved?
KS: Wentworth now offers distance learning degrees in both undergraduate and graduate programs: master’s degrees in construction management, project management, facility management and technology management, bachelor’s degrees in building construction management and project management, and a certificate in project management. We’ve even seen faculty teaching in these programs transform their traditional lecture content to distance learning by moving away from static PowerPoint slides to more engaging digital content using audio and video elements.
JW: The distance learning model can help level the playing field. There is less intimidation for introverted students and they often feel more comfortable getting involved and sharing their perspectives.
Our distance education students—especially ones who work full-time or have other responsibilities—can find a way to learn skills in a certain area on their time, then apply the skills and experience to enhance their professional goals.
KS: We see a lot of career accelerators—people who are looking to get a promotion, add new skills to their resume—and they want to take things to the next level with a graduate degree or professional certificate. We often see students who want to change careers, too.
W: What’s in store for the future?
KS: We are working with Durga Suresh-Menon [special assistant to the provost for graduate programs] to launch new graduate programs at Wentworth and we’re hoping to develop quality online and in-person programs. Students could easily have the option to stack their degree and take any graduate credit course with us. They can experience a distance learning course first and then decide later if that’s the program they want to continue.
JW: For Fall 2020, we’re looking to launch a Civil Engineering distance education graduate program. They already have a hybrid model. And in Fall 2021, we’re looking to launch a distance education Architectural Engineering program, as well as Computer Science, Data Science, Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering. Some of our other existing programs will also be offered in hybrid format.
W: There might be more people invested in taking online courses right now because of the Coronavirus outbreak. Recognizing the importance of social distancing and, in some cases, sheltering in place, could you see someone who has been putting off a degree or certificate for a while suddenly making time for it? And, if so, is Wentworth ready for an uptick in distance learners?
KS: We’re well-versed in distance teaching and learning. It’s unfortunate that it takes a pandemic for many people to jump into doing more with online or distance learning, but we’re confident that we will exceed expectations.
JW: It might even shift people’s mindsets about what they’re capable of doing.