The University of North Dakota offers several self-paced, enroll-anytime (SPEA) courses, in addition to traditional, semester-based online curriculum. My name is Kate Blalock, and I’m a stay-at-home mom who is taking an enroll anytime course for the first time. I invite you along for the ride as I share my experiences and impressions of the SPEA program.
Today, I started with my course, Management 300 (MGMT 300). The course is delivered through Blackboard, just like any other online course UND offers. The first day of a SPEA course is very similar to the first day of a regular college course, except I could begin my first day whenever I wanted. This was great for me, because over the last few weeks I have been trying to wrap up my semester-based courses and prep for the holidays. As a stay-at-home mom, the hours I’m able to dedicate to homework are limited, so I was very grateful for the added flexibility of my MGMT 300 course. Today, free from distraction, I sat down and began my course.
I started by reading the announcement from the professor, which was more in-depth than my semester-based classes. The professor, Kathy Jones, introduced herself and the course and asked me to read the syllabus. She also asked to send her an introductory email, which I liked, it gave me the sense I was more than just a faceless student taking an online course.
The course’s Blackboard site was very well organized, unlike some online classes I have taken. I didn’t have to hunt for the syllabus or the lessons — the navigation was clearly labeled and everything was where it should be. This is important for self-paced courses, since you’re on your own more than with a semester-based class. The syllabus was also more in-depth than most class syllabi; it was written in lecture format and did not leave much gray area. The textbook was clearly listed, and there was even a guide for ordering textbooks from the University.
The structure of a SPEA course is different from most online courses. This course has 17 lessons, three of which are proctored exams. For those without access to a proctor, don’t worry — UND partners with ProctorU, an online proctoring service. I use ProctorU for all my exams; the service is inexpensive, reliable, and you can take the exam wherever and whenever you want. Each lesson is similarly formatted and includes objectives, a reading assignment from the text, instructional notes and an assignment. There are a variety of assignment types, including multiple choice and matching exercises, quizzes, discussion questions and experiential exercises.
In addition to the basic coursework, the instructor also uses the textbook’s companion website. I’ll primarily be submitting my chapter quizzes on this site; however, the website also has flashcards, practice quizzes and exercises to help me study. The instructor has provided a lot of resources, which helps me feel prepared. One concern students often have about SPEA courses is being left on their own, but I feel I have access to the same amount of help and resources I would for a semester-based course.
After reviewing the syllabus, I looked over the “lesson completion tips” the instructor had provided on Blackboard. I found a key element to SPEA courses; although, the course is “self-paced”, you can only submit up to three lessons each week. This is designed to help you keep pace and give the instructor time to provide feedback. Students must also submit a lesson notice form, notifying their instructor they have completed a lesson. I noticed there was a form attached to each lesson.
I finally navigated to the first lesson, where I was assigned to read the first chapter in the text and submit a practice quiz to the instructor. I also explored the lesson objectives, instructional notes, summary and a PowerPoint presentation. I feel prepared to complete my first lesson, even without interaction with the instructor. After seeing what the class entails, I’m planning to complete two lessons a week; this will allow me to finish the course well ahead of the nine-month deadline. That’s the goal I’ve set for myself, and the flexibility of the SPEA course allows me to change this as my schedule dictates.
My first impressions of the SPEA program are good; I feel I’ll get as much out of this course as I would a semester-based course. I’m enjoying the course flexibility and the trust the instructor has in her students. In my next blog post, I’ll let you know how I did with the first couple lessons and my impressions of the SPEA program.