Innovative Online Degree Experience: How St. Catherine University’s OTA Program Takes Learning to the Next Level

Millions of students all around the world are now earning their college degrees online. The online degree experience has exploded in the past decade, sparking a revolution in education. In fact, online courses are now outperforming face-to-face courses. The reason for the increase is simple: online coursework provides students easier access to an education and ultimately a degree.  All you need is a Wi-Fi connection and the necessary computer requirements.

St. Kate's Online OTA Program uses interactive course design to enhance the online degree experience

Nowadays, a majority of students have had some experience with online learning, but stereotypes still exist. Some people still view online learning as reading a text-heavy document or PowerPoint presentation. There is also the stigma about online degrees being less legitimate. Higher education institutions are debunking these stereotypes and changing how everyone perceives the online degree experience.

One university at the helm evolving online education is St. Catherine University. Through creative design, 3-D animations and simulated situations, students in St. Catherine University’s Online Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) program, are able to engage with course material like never before.

We did these interactive modules that make learning more engaging.

– Marie M., St. Catherine University Online OTA program graduate

 Interactive Learning Online

Instructional designers for St. Catherine’s Online OTA program know that innovation is key to attracting students and engaging them through the online degree experience.

“Many people don’t understand how much goes into developing a course online,” says Mike Oberlin, an Instructional Designer for St. Catherine’s Online OTA program. “The design and animations have to really enhance a student’s learning experience. We really try to stay away from typical lectures.”

Here’s an example of a simulation module that St. Catherine OTA students use to experience what it’s like to go with an OT as they perform a home visit.

It can take up to eight months to develop, design, and complete an online course activity like this. That’s because instructional designers have to work very closely with the faculty to make sure the courses’ learning outcomes align.

“We work closely with faculty, soliciting feedback and obtaining course evaluations, to understand which concepts students struggle with most,” says Beth Bruner, Instructional Design and E-Learning Manager for St. Catherine University’s OTA program. “We use this information to develop and perfect our course activities.”

From imagery, to audio, to video, to the answers – designers make sure every aspect of the learning modules are enhanced for maximum student engagement. For instance, students don’t just see if their answers are right or wrong; they also receive feedback from their instructor about why an answer is right or wrong.

While these interactive modules increase engagement, they do not replace traditional education methods. For instance, students will still learn through online lectures and PowerPoints as well. The team at St. Catherine University knows the importance of engaging students while also recognizing the value of traditional education methods.

Engaging Students Online: The Faculty Perspective

St. Catherine University faculty members also benefit from the innovations in the online degree experience. They are able to educate students beyond the classroom and beyond state lines.

“These online courses are just amazing,” says Becky Anderson, Didactic Adjunct Faculty Coordinator, St. Catherine University OTA Online. “It’s where education is going, and it’s especially exciting for our profession [occupational therapy] because we’ve never been able to educate this way before.”

Because the Online OTA program is 80% online and 20% onsite, students don’t have to reside in the state where their skills labs are located. They just have to be able to travel once a month to the lab’s location to complete their practice in-person with an instructor and their peers.

“I love getting the people who always say, ‘If it weren’t for this program, I would not have been able to do this. I live too far out. I couldn’t relocate for full-time school’,” says Becky.

Just because St. Catherine University’s instructors aren’t teaching students face-to-face in a traditional classroom environment, they are still able to engage with students in a very beneficial way.

“I enjoy talking to our students in chats and we all bond more than you think. It’s nice because it makes me feel like more of a peer and not the one at the front talking.”

-Kathleen Matuska, OSOT Department Chair/Professor

Experience St. Catherine University for Yourself

Course developers for the Online OTA program at St. Catherine University are always looking for ways to engage students. The online coursework is more interactive, like an educational video game, and more dynamic than it has ever been for OT education. The innovation never ends as instructional designers are continually optimizing learning activities for the OTA curriculum.

Often in pursuit of a career change, students choose St. Catherine University’s Online OTA program because it provides an accessible path toward earning your associate’s degree. The curriculum is offered in two options and can be completed in as few as 16 months, depending on your academic history. It combines online coursework, on-site skills labs, and 720 hours of in-person fieldwork experience that together help to prepare students to sit for the NBCOT® Examination for OTA certification.

Having the flexibility of an online degree experience allows students to start the program without disrupting their schedules too much. Once those courses are complete, students will have had time to adjust their lives/schedules for the in-person portion of the program. Upon successful completion of the program, students will receive a quality associate degree from an accredited university with an impressive history in OTA education.

If you’re ready to take the first step toward a rewarding career as an OTA, contact us today.

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