Academic journal article Composition Studies

If You Build Online Classes (and Empower Faculty to Teach Them), Non-Traditional Students Will Come: One Student's Journey through the Professional and Technical Writing Program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Academic journal article Composition Studies

If You Build Online Classes (and Empower Faculty to Teach Them), Non-Traditional Students Will Come: One Student's Journey through the Professional and Technical Writing Program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Article excerpt

Writing programs consistently face pressure to recruit and retain online students. Non-traditional students are the perfect target audience for such programs because non-traditional writing students often encounter work and family constraints, needing to fit the rigors of a college education into an already tight schedule. This article describes the experience of one non-traditional undergraduate in the Professional and Technical Writing Program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, a program focused on excellence in online education as well as building close ties between students and faculty. Wendy's experiences demonstrate how supporting tenure and non-tenure track online faculty allows those faculty to, in turn, support and challenge students in their pursuit of an online education.

As a writing faculty member, Heidi has seen writing programs struggle to recruit and retain majors while fighting increasing pressure to "adjunctify" writing faculty (Modern Language Association). Some programs build enrollment through online programs serving time- and place-bound students. The 2014 Babson Survey of Online Learning notes that 70.8% of chief academic leaders view online learning as critical to their long-term strategy (Allen and Seaman 4). In 2012, one quarter of college students enrolled in at least one online course with 10% of those students enrolled exclusively in online courses (U.S. Department of Education).

In the summer of 2011, I (Wendy) was one of those students working full time. I enrolled at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) to complete a degree in business, the degree I believed that a forty-year-old married veteran with a full-time job, mortgage, and car payments should get. I had worked for over twenty-five years in a variety of businesses, always playing some type of administrative role. A business degree was the logical, practical choice. The UALR business degree was not fully online, but by taking one or two night classes each semester, I could graduate with a BA in Business around the summer of 2018.

Growing up, I wanted to write. Starting at age eight, I amassed scores of notebooks filled with my thoughts, my life, and my fantasies. I dreamed of the day my life story would fill the shelves of Barnes & Noble. I documented every moment. In the fall of 2012, I checked out the UALR English Depart- ment class options. Unfortunately, only one online creative writing class was available. My dream of being a writer remained a dream.

The next semester, my online Composition I & II teacher, a non-tenure track (NTT) instructor named Mary Henthorn, introduced me to the Rhetoric & Writing Department (R&W), which houses technical writing, editing, rhetoric, and creative nonfiction courses.1 The R&W faculty, both tenure-line professors and non-tenure track instructors, are involved in all aspects of the department; all have access to professional development funds and sabbatical leave, and all participate equally in departmental committees, teaching, and governance. Before I had even declared my major in Professional and Technical Writing (PTW), Betty Freeland and Dona Bailey, NTT faculty in the department, helped me navigate the process of declaring my major and getting accepted into the program. They introduced me to the Oliver Breeze Kennedy Scholarship for Undergraduates in Technical Communication and Digital Literacies ($1,500 towards my tuition), and I won it twice.

Most importantly, these faculty helped me chart the online courses I needed to get my BA. With nearly all the classes I needed available online, my graduation timeline shrank from six or seven years to three-and-a-half years. Out of the thirty-eight classes I've taken at UALR, only TWO of them have been on campus.2

Recent data from the Noel-Levitz Survey of Online Student Priorities shows that Wendy is not alone. In my research, I (Heidi) have found that students completing the Noel-Levitz survey indicated that their primary reasons for selecting online education were "convenience, flexible pacing, and their work schedules" (4). …

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