Online Programs for the Health Professions
When Wade Redman recalls the distance learning environment at the start of his tenure at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Health Professions roughly 15 years ago, inherent obstacles first come to mind. “You couldn’t do a lot,” says the associate dean for educational technology. “You had limitations based on how fast your internet connection was.”
A lot can change in 15 years. Today, mobile phone cameras can capture images at greater quality. Broadband internet access has allowed users to more easily create and share videos that load and play with ease. Users are accustomed to interacting with online content instead of merely consuming it. And an entire generation has been raised in a world in which smartphones and handheld mobile devices are ubiquitous.
Along the way, online learning at TTUHSC SHP has evolved as well.
Today, the online programs at TTUHSC SHP provide opportunities for students throughout the country to be successful, Redman says proudly. “Success in some programs for passing the certification tests and licenses is higher for distance education than face to face,” he says. “I think it’s very telling for not only students but also the faculty’s time and energy that we put into our online education.”
TTUHSC SHP remote learners engage with technology in innovative and exciting ways to prepare them for a future in the health professions. “The technology has advanced to the state now that we can make and share videos — students can make their own videos of how to do a project and then upload it within the learning management system,” Redman says. “In the past, that wasn’t a possibility because the technology was not there.”
Addressing Learning Styles
Online delivery options allow faculty to incorporate video for laboratory instruction, and to have content that is delivered not only through PowerPoint but with accompanying audio. The result is a far more interactive and engaging experience for students pursuing online health care degrees, one that Redman says addresses multiple learning styles.
Having recorded materials at the ready means students can go back and listen anytime they want. “They can look at the videos we record for our laboratories to see how things are done ahead of time, which will allow them to stop and pause the content.” Some courses include transcripts or closed captioning so students can understand and see things a lot better in real-time. “Some students don’t even understand what their learning style is,” Redman says, explaining that the school offers a VARK assessment to help identify the right style or combination of styles to play to an individual’s needs and strengths.
The VARK questionnaire was developed by researchers Neil Fleming and Colleen Mills to reflect the modalities experienced by students and teachers, and the assessment of an individual’s learning preferences focus on the learning styles of visual, aural, read/write and kinesthetic, or a combination. “Most students may have an idea of their learning style, but they don’t really know for sure. Once they know what their strengths are, they can understand. Are they a read/write person? Do they need to hear it? Or is it a combination of both? Then we try to coach them through their advisors.”
Today’s Online Learners
While some students who sign on for the online programs offered by TTUHSC SHP may be intimidated by technology, Redman says the opposite is usually true.
“A lot of our learners whether they are traditional or nontraditional — have used online content before,” he says. To ensure every student has the chance to be successful, Redman says faculty provide a baseline introduction on what tools will be used in their course and how to use them. While each program might choose a slightly different set of tools or employ them a bit differently, students can count on that introduction to find their weekly content, videos, and exams.
“Once they understand how the technology works, they really appreciate that they can go back and look at the content at their own convenience.” Redman says students of varying backgrounds tend to appreciate the flexibility of the asynchronous tools used to facilitate their learning. A significant contingent of the enrollment in TTUHSC SHP’s online health care programs are coming back to school as nontraditional students, many of them balancing other responsibilities.
“They are a little older. They’re more grounded. They’re more driven. A lot of them already have a job,” Redman points out.
The chance to reread and review materials on their own schedule is a big bonus for those juggling work or family obligations. In many cases, these students have buy-in from their employers — and some of those employers are helping to pay their tuition.
“A lot of our success is that people know we have the reputation of doing online long-distance education well,” Redman says. Employers recognize the value of the TTUHSC offerings, so they encourage their employees to continue their education to keep them happy in their careers and provide a path to advancement.
Support for Student Success
Redman is proud that TTUHSC SHP fosters a learning environment where students are poised to succeed. Advisors are on hand to provide assistance with technical issues and formal evaluations help track progress in each class.
“We try to intervene ahead of time and most programs have formal advising at both an early and mid-way point,” Redman says. “We try to help them as much as we can. We make sure the faculty are in touch with their students.”
Timely feedback allows advisors to address concerns as quickly as possible. Although the coursework is delivered online, students can still have face-to-face interactions through Zoom counseling sessions.
“If they need to ask us questions in real-time advising, they can actually see our faces and voices and we can see them, as well,” Redman says.
Support for day-to-day questions can be handled via online forums. Redman says these tools often get more use in the online classes than they do in those conducted in a traditional classroom setting.
“Usually if one person has a question, all of them will have the same kind of question. They can see the questions written there and follow the thread,” Redman says. Students may build on each other’s inquiries, and teachers can share responses online. The opportunities for students to engage with one another are enhanced, rather than constrained, by the technology available.
Setting a Course
Some courses, Redman says, naturally lend themselves well to delivery in online programs — clinical mental health counseling, clinical rehabilitation counseling, and addiction counseling are among those that don’t require students to travel to a physical classroom.
“It’s not a lockstep program,” Redman says of the health care administration track. In other words, students don’t have to commit to a full course load but can schedule their eight-week courses in a way that fits their own personal schedules.
The job outlook for medical and health services managers is poised to grow about 18% through 2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Increased demand in this field is linked to the aging baby boomer population and their increasing need for health care services. TTUHSC SHP’s flexible access to bachelor’s and master’s degrees in this and other growing health care fields motivates prospective students to make the decision to enroll.
But Redman cautions that there is one important factor to keep in mind: Ease of access doesn’t translate into less challenging work.
“Never underestimate the rigor of an online program,” Redman warns. TTUHSC SHP’s online programs are pretty intense, he explains. “You still have deadlines to meet, reading, and following up with forum discussions and tests. Don’t underestimate or put things like studying off to the last minute. That is the key to success for online education.”
Developing the educational rigor of SHP’s programs lies in the hands of faculty and staff like Redman, who also serves as the department chair for Laboratory Sciences & Primary Care. Redman says it isn’t unusual for professors to teach both on campus and in online environments.
In addition to being comfortable with the multiple formats to present material, TTUHSC SHP looks for faculty who typically have experience in the field they are teaching.
“Almost all of our faculty have actually worked in a clinical laboratory, have worked in the health care environment or they still do,” says Redman. “They understand it, keeping up with the latest technology and regulations.”
Redman is among those professionals working and teaching. He consults for a clinical laboratory and also teaches within the clinical laboratory science program
Having that field experience lends relevance and credence to the classroom experience.
“When you say, ‘At the clinic today I noticed this,’ students think, ‘Oh! They actually do work in a clinic,’” Redman says. That validation becomes so critical that many staff serve as mentors to their students after graduation.
“When they want to get a job, they call us back and ask, ‘Which job should I take? Do you have advice on this hospital vs. this other hospital?’” Redman says, “And we can provide input there, as well.”
Beyond the Degrees
After a decade and a half with TTUHSC, Redman says the alumni are the school’s biggest success story.
“Many of the students I taught way back when are employed as faculty members or have become CEOS, CFOS in hospitals now,” he says. “We like to hear them come back and say, ‘I’m the manager of this lab,’ or ‘I’m a director or CFO of this hospital or insurance company’ or we hire them as faculty. That happens a lot.”
Because TTUHSC SHP takes the time to intervene when students are struggling and puts an emphasis on student-first success, its graduates remember that support later in life.
“We’ve had people have health concerns or problems or pregnancies and they think they’re not going to make it through the program, and we work with them the best we can,” Redman says. Some of the school’s best marketing comes from the word of mouth of their alumni. “They take a chance and realize what great education we have. The next thing you know, they’ve graduated and then they’re sending students our way to better themselves.”
Make the Move
Sometimes, the hardest part of beginning a degree program is taking the first step. But before signing on to the time and resource investment of any online health care programs, Redman recommends that students take the time to check that any school under consideration is accredited.
“That’s critical for anyone to dive into,” Redman explains. TTUHSC SHP’s Clinical Laboratory Science program is accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science, also known as NAACLS, comes with a stamp of quality, accountability, and transferability.
Redman also encourages prospective students to contact the advisors or the program directors they are interested in to see how the program works.
Many applicants will interview as part of the application process before beginning a course of study, but Redman says the chance to talk to faculty prior to applying provides a great lens on what lies ahead and gives a more personal touch to the search for the right school. Because in spite of all the technological advances that make distance learning such a great option for so many students, it’s important not to overlook the very human element that remains. “Obviously we have a lot of information online, but I think it’s important to call and follow up with a faculty member to see how things work, to see how they interact with students,” Redman says. “I think prospective students will be very surprised and happy that they have done so.”
To learn more about the online health care programs at TTUHSC SHP, please visit our program page. To speak with an admissions advisor, please contact the SHP Office of Admissions and Student Affairs by email at email@example.com or call 806-743-3220. You can also follow the TTUHSC School of Health Professions on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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