The ABCs of online education

When Laura Pettler decided to pursue her terminal degree, she already had a full plate. She headed the Crime Scene Reconstruction and Behavioral Analysis Program of North Carolina’s Prosecutorial District Twenty A with former District Attorney Michael...

This represents a key advantage, says Hardiman, especially when you consider that some departments schedule officers for four 10-hour shifts or three 12-hour shifts each week. Driving to campus to attend class after such a long day proves very difficult.

“When I went for my master’s degree, I had to drive into Manhattan, which was a 2-hour round trip,” Hardiman recalls. “That’s 2 hours I could have been dedicating to my studies.”

D is also for diversity

Hardiman recalls attending a community college, while in the U.S. Marine Corps, to obtain his undergraduate degree. “The class was 100-percent military,” he says. “When I went for my master’s degree, the class was 98-percent police officers.”

In the classes he teaches at MSU, the student population is far more diverse. “There are active military members, civilians with no law enforcement experience, military spouses, active duty cops from all ranks, and students from across the globe,” he says.

With such varying backgrounds, students learn as much from each other as they do from their professors or their textbooks, he adds. For instance, younger people, who have not yet entered the profession, provide insight into what today’s young officers are like, how they think, what they like, what they know and what they don’t. Veteran professionals, meanwhile, can share their on-the-job experiences.

Hardiman relates a story about a class discussion regarding felony car stops. The debate covered everything from whether or not they should be called felony car stops to the correct procedural steps to take when making the stop. (Do you ask the driver to walk to the sound of your voice or tell him to take three steps back and two to the side? If he has a firearm, do you have him remove it or ask him to keep it where it is?)

“We had people posting their department’s policies and things they’d learned from classes they’ve taken,” he says. “Then we had people sharing actual experiences. Then there was the textbook discussion. It was fascinating and by the end I knew for sure my students had a solid grasp on the material.”

These discussions arise naturally from the framework of most online courses. An online course is not a correspondence course; where students complete an assignment and e-mail it to their instructors. In Hardiman’s classes, for instance, students receive a weekly reading assignment, coupled with information from the instructor and supplemental materials that may include everything from a journal article to a video. He then requires students to do their own research and post information to the discussion board by Thursday. At this point, students must comment on at least two of their classmates’ posts between Thursday and Sunday night.

“By the end of the week, you’ve read my notes, you’ve read the assigned reading, you’ve read the textbook, you’ve done your own research, you’ve analyzed and commented on two of your classmates’ postings, and you have a pretty good handle on the topic,” he says.

Pettler, who also teaches courses online, says she finds online education far more interactive than traditional education. “There’s a lot more interaction between students and instructors and between students and other students,” she says. “I really enjoy the collaboration.”

B is for beware

But be warned, says Pettler, online education is not easier, as some falsely believe.

“I found it to be quite the opposite,” she says. “For one, there’s a lot more writing involved. You are going to spend as much time learning to write as you are learning the material.”

Because of this intensity online education is not for everyone.

Pettler explains online programming works best for self-motivated, organized individuals who know how to prioritize.

Hardiman agrees, “If you lack the discipline to get your work done at a certain time, if you procrastinate or put things off, online education can be difficult because you don’t have the structure and you might push your studies down the priority list until you’re playing catch up.”

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