June 30, 2013

Online vs. Traditional Communication Disorders Graduate Programs

As I have progressed through my online communication disorders masters program with WKU, I often get asked why I chose the e-format for a program rather than go the traditional route. I wanted to take an opportunity to discuss my personal story about why I chose one format over another, and what that decision meant for me as I approach my official graduation date.  I hope that this reflection will serve as guidance to others out there who may face similar decisions to enter into the field of speech pathology.

To begin, I wasn't always on a path to become a speech-language pathologist.  As I graduated high school, I was heavily involved in the world of dance and thought that it would make an interesting career choice-- it certainly did!  I earned a bachelor's of fine arts (B.F.A.) from Western Kentucky University in dance and went on to choreograph and teach yoga.  Finding these elements satisfying yet financially limited, I entered the world of retail management and successfully worked for a mall chain retail store for many years.  My time spent managing a multi-million dollar store was one of the best times in my life; however, I always felt that there was something more out there for me that would make me feel like I was making a bigger difference in the world.  I found myself leaving retail, relocated to my hometown, and decided to weigh my options for a total change in gears to find something, anything, that would give me the personal satisfaction I was searching for.

Serendipitously, I was offered a position in a local elementary school as an SLP-A (speech-language pathology assistant) and was immediately impressed with the entire scope of the field.  I had never previously even heard of such a career-- I was hooked from day one and never looked back!  Within 6 months of working, I had made the decision to become a speech-language pathologist (SLP).

Here's the thing... I was working in the field (as an assistant) and didn't want to give up the position I was working in-- such good, tangible experience was being learned on the job... but I didn't live anywhere near a communication disorders program.  It would be at least an hour's worth of a drive to and from the nearest program to where I was living at the time. Add to that the fact that my previous degree was not in communication disorders, I had some catching up to do, which would have taken longer for me to complete. I began to assess my options, and was speechless to learn that there were online programs out there to enable others like myself to complete an accredited SLP masters degree 'from home.'  There were a lot of things to consider, such as (but not limited to):

Elements to consider when choosing a program:
Online or traditional
Length: 2 years or 3
Opportunities, such as research or assistantships
Reputation of the program
Is the program CAA accredited?
SLP graduate school is competitive, online programs add more options!

So what does it mean if a program is CAA accreditation? CAA stands for the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology and it is the entity within ASHA authorized to accredit graduate educational programs.

Student Perspectives on Distance Learning:
Below is a .jpg of the poster presentation that myself and a group of fellow classmates presented during our 2012 National ASHA Convention Poster presentation on the subject of distance learning:

Source: WKU ASHA CD Poster Contributors W. Wilson, J. Goble, E. Welte, and H. Hetler

Once I began to study online, I found that other peoples' perceptions of what online learning actually is can vary in many ways.  Some people think that online learning consists of "buying" your diploma, but it can't be further from the truth.  I also discovered that even those within the profession--other SLPs, even-- had various opinions and misgivings about online education.  I had the amazing opportunity at the 2012 Atlanta ASHA national convention to collaborate on a poster presentation to educate fellow professionals and dispel any myths about online learning. Here's a small sample of some of the 'myths' we attempted to squash during our presentation:

Myths about online programs:
Below is a .jpg of a handout that myself and a group of fellow classmates distributed during our 2012 National ASHA Convention Poster presentation on the subject of distance learning:
Source: WKU ASHA CD Poster Contributors W. Wilson, J. Goble, E. Welte, and H. Hetler

I'll save the bulk of this story for another post, but the first time I originally applied to a communication disorders graduate program, I was not accepted (remember, I said programs are competitive!) and so the following year I decided that applying to numerous online programs (I applied to 8 programs, 7 online and 1 within 50 miles of my location) would greatly increase my chances of completing my education.  This decision led me to do a lot of research on various national online SLP programs, so here is a list for your consideration:

Online CD Graduate Programs, any state resident
Western Kentucky University
Idaho State University
University of Northern Colorado
Nova Southeast University
University of Wyoming *some states excluded
California State University Northridge
East Carolina University
Longwood University
James Madison University

Online CD Graduate Programs, limited to in-state residents only
Texas Woman's University
Florida State University
University of Cincinnati (residents in OH, northern KY, and southeast IN)

Online CD Bachelors Programs
University of Wisconsin
Utah State University
Western Kentucky University (prerequisites only, no degree awarded)

ASHA used to utilize a web tool named EdFind, that allowed one to search all programs either online or campus-based, but they have changed the format, making this process a bit more challenging. The above list is by no means comprehensive, as I am quite certain that there are additional online/distance programs out there that I did not come across.  I hope to add to this list as programs become known to me.  I hope this is helpful information to anyone else who might be thinking of this type of exciting educational opportunity!

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