Pandemic Education at Western Governors University
The pandemic has forced schools to move their education online for security reasons. But there are educational institutions that got connected years ago to be more convenient for their constituents.
One is Western Governors University, a nonprofit online university that was established by Western governors about 25 years ago to provide a cheaper alternative to traditional higher education.
“We provide online access for people who want to advance their degrees. Maybe they want to become teachers, get into health professions, business, or computer science fields. These are the areas of high demand labor that we primarily serve, ”said Tonya Drake, Chancellor of the WGU Washington branch.
Drake was in Spokane last week for a political summit sponsored by the Association of Washington Business. I asked how the pandemic changed a university that didn’t have to spend time worrying about in-person learning.
Tonya Drake: “We are seeing a lot of students rethinking their careers after the pandemic and what they want to do. The people who might be in Hanford and the engineers who are in transition because they want to be STEM teachers in the area and so we are excited, not only to see the growth of the programs but also the state of our students’ minds on how they can make a difference in their communities as well.
Drake was joined in Spokane by WGU Washington Executive Dean for the College of Education, Mark Milliron.
Mark Milliron: “We really looked at a new program, for example, which we call our para-pro-to-teacher journeys. We secured a grant of approximately $ 5 million from the US Department of Education to leverage federal co-op to work directly with school districts to enable them to help their para-pros, help fund these para-pros, get them involved in educational programs and, they work as teacher assistants, as they work as support people in schools, they can follow the path to becoming a teacher and, like you can imagine, this is a great way to make sure someone from Spokane can stay in Spokane because they can get paid because they are on that path even though they are teaching students and becoming a regular teacher . We are definitely looking at innovation during this time. We are seeing great expansions in cybersecurity. We are seeing big expansions, particularly in behavioral health care. It’s going to happen after the pandemic. “
I asked how the college recruits people for careers that seem to be losing their luster, where there are shortages of workers, in education and health care.
Mark Milliron: “We’re seeing a big increase, for example, right now. We had a 20% increase in our teaching requests in the last quarter alone. Part of that is because we’ve heard from parents who had to help their kids home school last year and are actually rethinking their careers. They say, hey, I really like this teaching thing. I can do this for a living. The idea of doing something that makes sense. I think the same thing happened after September 11. People took a deep breath and they said, I kind of want to do something that’s going to make a difference and if I can find a way to work while I’m learning and I’m on that path I think i am ready to try this. We see the same with nursing and with education. If we can give them a viable path for them to work and learn and go down that path of the sense that they can make a difference, they’re ready to go and do it. I think we are going to have to redouble our efforts because we are going to have real challenges with people who have been exhausted and who have gone through real heartbreaking situations in teaching and nursing during the pandemic. Meaningful occupations are going to have real appeal to many people, especially after the pandemic. “
Tonya Drake: “You know, I heard story after story during the pandemic what our students went through and the online model that applied the skills they learned in their own classroom and became mentors within. their own schools and who tell others about this flexible online model.
Mark Milliron: “I think there is a lot of sloppy amalgamation where people equate online learning with emergency distance learning that people had to do. Many teachers and many schools have done a heroic job of getting online immediately. The challenge is that it was emergency distance learning. It’s totally different from the 25+ years of experience people have in high quality digital learning. It’s a bit like equating an emergency liferaft with a luxury liner. They both float, but they’re very different things. What we’ve tried to do is help people understand that there are people out there who are really good at blended learning online and we want to make sure that we can help them make it happen. ‘experiment with something like Western Governors, if they want to do it. The second thing I would say is that we’re really worried that people are looking at, and I hate to use that technical term, but reactionary traditionalism, where the idea is to get back to normal as quickly as possible. We actually think it’s a particular time, in the world of education, but also maybe in health care, maybe also in law enforcement, maybe in d ‘ other areas. The idea that we can pick up a pace and envision not just a new normal, but maybe a new possible. Let’s see how we can recreate things, take advantage of the new tools at our disposal and do things differently. That’s what our college of education is trying to address, is to be able to catalyze the next generation of education. “
Tonya Drake is the Chancellor of the Washington branch of Western Governors University. Mark Milliron is the Executive Dean of his College of Education.