Monday, October 22, 2007

Online Program Coordinators Offer Behind-the-Scenes Guidance to Online Students

By Courtney Westlake

When student Colleen Joyce began researching online programs nation-wide, she ended up choosing to "attend" UIS after talking with online program coordinator Andy Egizi. Being from New Jersey, Joyce found that Egizi provided a personal connection to campus for her.

The University of Illinois at Springfield currently boasts 14 online program coordinators for its 16 online degree programs. Though the specific work of the online program coordinators depends on the goals and strategies of the specific departments in which the programs are located, the coordinators bridge the gap for online students, making them feel comfortable with their situation, answering questions and working out any problems the students might face.

Egizi was the second online coordinator at UIS, hired in 1999 as the coordinator for Liberal Studies and Individual Option. Egizi is thrilled, he said, that online learning has become an integral part of the university.

“My role is to figure out ways students can use the energy they’re expending on their education toward learning rather than dealing with all the university issues,” Egizi said. “We try to make life simple for students and try to give the guidance in the right direction so they can make good decisions.”

Many times, online program coordinators act as a tie between the faculty and students, said Shari McCurdy, associate director of the Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning.

“Without them, we wouldn’t be able to answer the questions of our students. They are critical to helping our faculty understand what’s going on, what the students are saying,” McCurdy said. “They’re vital to our success; UIS’ online coordinators are what set us apart from other online programs in the country.”

Online coordinators are students' first point of contact and follow them through their entire career, said Barbara Cass, online coordinator for the economics and business administration programs, who previously coordinated the English online program in 2004.

"If they are having problems with Blackboard, or difficulty within a class, I work with them to tried to get that figured out," Cass said. "I try to make all the processes easier for them here at UIS: applications, admission, all of those kinds of things."

Contact with the students and making friendships are high points for Cass and Egizi. Cass said she enjoys when students are able to come to campus, and she meets them in person after complete correspondence by phone or email.

Egizi admits his favorite part of assisting students as an online coordinator is when students call him with absolutely no direction, he said with a laugh.

“My favorite thing without a doubt is when the phone rings, and it’s someone who has no idea how to get a degree; I just love that,” he said. “They call me and seem to think this is impossible. They don’t realize that I’m smiling, and I say ‘this isn’t a problem; we can do this for you.’”

As for the future, online coordinators have big hopes for both the success of both online learning and success for their students. As main contacts for online students, coordinators often help students realize that the demands of online learning are very similar to traditional classes.

"Students come sometime to online learning thinking it's going to be very easy and very quick to deal with, and it's quite a surprise to find it takes a lot of time and energy just like a traditional classroom," Cass said. "So what I hope is that students get more comfortable with the technology and with the demands of the class, and that we have more students successful in the programs."