Spotlight

My Cyber Route to Higher Learning

by Matt Hutcheson

As a school administrator living and working in a rural area, with the nearest university more than 50 miles away, I found a way to continue my own education without it hurting my day job.

Since April 2005 I’ve been enrolled in a doctoral program with Capella University, a cyber university (www.capella.edu) that provides a variety of options for students like me who need to schedule their educational pursuits around their daily life schedule.

Capella has enabled me to work toward an advanced degree in my field without the hassle of driving two hours to reach the nearest university. This has proven to be an efficient means of expanding my knowledge base while working as superintendent of a rural district of 250 students in north-central Pennsylvania.

Capella’s doctorate of education in school leadership is one of the most popular programs with more than 700 students enrolled. Capella is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Sharper Thinking
I’ve completed my share of graduate work previously — I have one master’s degree in reading from St. Bonaventure University and the equivalent of a second for my administrative certification from St. Bonaventure and Westminster College.

From my first Capella class onward, I discovered an electronic course requires a learner to think cohesively when communicating with other learners online. Communicating exclusively through writing requires a conscious, coherent thought process, which provides more focused communication than in a traditional classroom discussion.

This writing process ensures that thinking is of high quality targeted toward the question that is being addressed. Personal accountability is reinforced through postings by the professors. As a learner, I find I have a tighter focus while responding to the professors and my fellow students.

While the learning environment in a traditional setting does promote the social aspect of learning with an expectation for independent work, a cyber setting promotes independent work with the expectation that social interaction will occur electronically.

This type of communication produces a higher degree of targeted topical discussions, though often with fewer learners than you’d find in a typical graduate school classroom. Responses from my professors and fellow students tend to be of a higher quality than conversations in a traditional setting. My online learning experience has provided a greater educational challenge while enhancing my research and writing skills applicable to my work. I’ve gained a better understanding of the importance of research in a school setting through the projects and postings in such courses as Evaluating the Effectiveness of the Educational Process and Advanced Study in Research Methods.

In-Person Help
One of the greatest benefits is the flexibility. As a superintendent, I don’t always have control over my time so an online forum lets me complete the coursework and meet the demands at work. It enables me to keep a balance — something that was much more difficult when I was taking master’s level classes through a traditional university.

Although most of my academic work is completed in front of my PC at home or in the office, Capella requires I participate in three five-day residency programs. These are offered to those in my doctoral program a half dozen times in various locations, the closest to me being in Virginia.

The Capella staff at each of these colloquiums have been willing to assist students on their doctoral journeys. I have been extremely impressed by the faculty. They know my name and are willing to work with me personally on location and remain regularly available online. The professors are experienced administrators who offer a high level of practical knowledge through their teaching. Based upon their work experiences, these professors know and understand current research practices along with the contemporary demands placed on administrators.

At each of the three colloquiums I’ve attended, including one in Dallas, I’ve had opportunities for social networking, which is a key aspect to a learner’s educational growth. I’ve interacted with fellow students in content-oriented classes on educational leadership that focus on current research and prepare us for the dissertation process.

My advisers have been a great asset along the way. As with any activity, of course, you get out what you put in. My work load for the 12 courses I’ve taken so far is comparable to that of a traditional program. Capella also offers me a wide variety of services, including an electronic library that hosts multiple databases, e-books and connections to other libraries.

Matthew Hutcheson is superintendent of the Austin School District, 138 Costello Ave., Austin, PA 16720. E-mail: MHutcheson@austinsd.com