Learn about PSU's business online option, launching next fall
Author: Anne Laufe, Contributing writer, Portland Business Journal
Posted: October 22, 2012

Date: Friday, October 12, 2012, 3:00am PDT

Next fall, Portland State University will launch an online undergraduate business degree, with a focus on management and leadership.

The online program will replace the weekend undergraduate business degree program, which PSU has already phased out. While the curriculum is the same, Jeanne Enders, associate dean for undergraduate programs for PSU’s School of Business Administration, said that the content delivery will be vastly different.

“One doesn’t want to simply upload face-to-face courses into online environments, so we are giving special care to the ‘recreation’ of these courses as we put them online,” Enders said. “The PSU Center for Online Learning has been an excellent partner for us in using the latest scholarly knowledge about great online pedagogy for this.”

Features of the online classes include regularly-scheduled video chats with professors, class discussions using Google+ Hangouts, online teamwork and problem-solving skills directly related to online environments.

Enders said that the school decided to suspend the weekend undergraduate program because it wasn’t serving students’ needs. Students ended up coming to campus during the week anyway, and found it too difficult to meet on weekends.

Administrators knew there were still plenty of students with associate degrees who were busy with families and full-time work, yet were eager to earn their bachelor’s degrees, prompting them to move the curriculum online.

According to Enders, Southern Oregon University is the only other Oregon public university that offers an online undergraduate business degree. PSU has offered an online MBA program since 2001, which Enders said is the model for the undergraduate program. Six of the new undergraduate classes are being piloted this fall and the School of Business Administration is currently recruiting 30 students for next year’s first cohort.

Palageya Zechmann, a 36-year-old mother of four who lives in Banks, is an example of the kind of student that Enders imagines benefitting from the new program.

Zechmann had her kids early in life and went back into the workforce before deciding she wanted to earn a degree. She got her associate degree at Portland Community College while working full-time, and said that taking classes online simplified her life.

After her recent acceptance into PSU’s business school, Zechmann planned to earn her bachelor of arts through the weekend program. When that folded, she enrolled in two of the pilot classes, Research and Analysis and Organizational Behavior.

“Taking classes online is just an easier option for me, it’s more accessible for me at this time in my life,” said Zechmann.

If she had more time, she’d take courses on campus, but she prefers some things about the virtual classes, such as not having to commute or waste time waiting for class. She also likes getting prompt feedback from her professors, rather than waiting until the next class, which might be a full week away.

The ability to give more individualized feedback and the opportunity for ongoing conversations with students are among the many benefits of online classes, Enders said.

Video chats with professors are a required part of the new curriculum, both as identity checks to make sure that students are who they say they are, and to build relationships between the students and teachers.

“Research shows that students like it when professors know their names,” Enders said.

The new online chat groups also help build the comradery of a regular classroom. When a student starts to speak, their face immediately moves to the front of the screen, making them the center of attention.

In addition to being more convenient for students and professors, virtual classes help students become savvy users of the latest technology. Enders said they hone their critical thinking skills as they interpret and analyze data encountered on the Internet, and they master the ins and outs of the many virtual meeting sites available, such as Hangout, Skype and Blackboard Collaborate, making them even more desirable to employers.

Students must have two years of college or an associate degree before applying to the PSU program. The 18-course online program is spread out over three years, with students expected to take two courses in the fall, winter and spring terms and either do internships or take time off in the summer.

Enders said that Gary Brown, head of PSU’s Center for Online Learning, was key in developing the online curriculum. An important element that he added is leveraging resources in the communities where students live. Students will be asked to interview, shadow and intern with local business owners. Community members will also be asked to review students’ online portfolios, and to help PSU assess the success of the program.

With more than 2,600 business majors currently taking courses at PSU, next year’s online cohort will be tiny compared with those taking classes on campus, but Enders expects the program to grow. The school is hiring a director to market the program to the wider region, including in Idaho and California, and is investing in a structure that could eventually spread to students even farther away.

Other PSU online programs emphasize graduate studies. They include master’s degrees in systems engineering and in social work.