Prior to 2013, Boise State University’s online Master of Science in Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning (OPWL) was known as the Master of Science in Instructional and Performance Technology (IPT).
Sweet Home Alabama
(written by Jackie Schnupp, originally published in the Boise State University Focus magazine)
When Linda Himmelright was working toward her master of science degree in Instructional and Performance Technology (IPT), she was never late for a class. Not once in four years.
On the other hand, she never did actually make it to Boise State’s campus—except at the end , when she served as a student marshal for the graduation ceremony last spring.
Himmelright, a resident of Huntsville, Alabama, earned her degree through the distance-education option of Boise State University’s IPT graduate program, which is offered through the College of Technology.
The distance-education option allowed Himmelright to participate in the program from the comfort of her own home, through “time-and-location-flexible” (TLF) classes. Via her home computer and telephone connection, Himmelright was able to interact with professors and other class members.
Employed since 1985 as an instructional systems specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Huntsville, Himmelright discovered that she needed more job-specific education in order to design career-training programs. She investigated the options available at the five college campuses nearest her home, but found they were focused more toward public school administration training. The only program even close to what she required was offered in Tuscaloosa, more than 150 miles away.
“I couldn’t just give up my career in order to obtain my master’s,” says Himmelright. “I was ready to give up the search when a friend read the ad for Boise State’s IPT program in a trade circular.”
Enrolling in the program in the fall of 1990, Himmelright took one course at a time, even skipping one semester. She was required to attend “class” a certain number of times per week, follow strict curriculum guidelines, complete class projects and participate in on-line discussions. She even attended class during a business trip to Alaska, via her laptop.
“The burden is on the student,” Himmelright says. “Many people might feel that because this is a distance program, the classes are ‘crib’ classes, but I worked harder that I ever [did] in my life!”
The IPT program evolved in the 1980’s when the National Guard approached Boise State about developing a computerized course of study for Army personnel who wanted to pursue advanced degrees, but were limited by busy schedules and unplanned locations.
The first of its kind, the program has matured to the point that it now strives to equip students with skills needed to identify, analyze and solve human performance problems in various settings such as industry, business, the military, education and private consulting. Graduates of the program have created highly successful careers in such areas as instructional design, job performance improvement, human resources, training and training management.
The classes are conducted by computer conferencing using a bulletin board system. The instructor acts as a facilitator for the classes and poses questions for the students to answer and/or discuss. Students in the class see the questions and the comments of all rest of the students in a natural flow of classroom discussion.
“This encourages a high level of interaction among class members and results in some very dynamic exchanges of information,” says David Cox, IPT program director.
Another interesting aspect of the program is the classroom demographics. “Students often say that the ‘networking’ is one of the major benefits of participating in a distance class like this,” says Jo Ann Fenner, IPT program developer. “Another benefit is the global feel of each of the courses and the timelessness of the subject matter, both of which are a direct result of the classroom not being restricted to a designated location or specific time.” Students from as far away as Japan and Italy have taken IPT classes through Boise State University.
Himmelright was pleased with the practicality of the courses. She says “I never took a course that I wasn’t able to apply in my job.” Further, many of her school projects were tied to actual work.
An added bonus, she says, is that “other classmates were also working at full-time jobs, so I got the benefit of a lot of valuable input from very different perspectives.”
Though Himmelright had never met any of her professors or classmates in person during her four years in the program, she says, “I was bound and determined to participate in the commencement exercises on campus in person, because I felt such a connection to the school and its people.”
Is the IPT program on the right track? “Absolutely,” says Himmelright. “Boise State has a whole lot to be proud of.”