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Online Education – Jan Schwartz Interview

As I’ve published posts on online education, some of my readers have sent suggestions on who I should talk to. One of those names that keeps coming up is Jan Schwartz.

Jan SchwartzJan Schwartz, M.A. is co-founder and president of Education and Training Solutions, a web-based elearning company which designs and hosts online courses. She has worked in education and training since 1988. Schwartz served as the Director of Education at the Desert Institute of the Healing Arts in Tucson, AZ and as an Executive Vice President of Education at Cortiva Institute.

Schwartz served as a Commissioner for the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation for five years and served as Chair of the Commission for three years. She was the Chair of the Commission when they were granted approval as an accrediting body by the United States Department of Education and when the Commission developed the first accepted competencies for the field of massage therapy. She is also a past member of the Board of Trustees for the Massage Therapy Foundation (MTF) and is currently on the advisory board of the MTF.

As a founding member of the Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care (ACCAHC) Schwartz currently serves on the executive committee. She co-chaired the Education Working Group for 5 years and remains a member of the committee. In addition, Schwartz contributed to chapters in several books. She received her bachelor’s degree in Economics from Rutgers University and her master’s degree in Sustainable Entrepreneurship at Prescott College. The focus of her M.A. was in the area of online education business.

Jan was kind enough to take the time to answer a lot of questions and I learned a great deal from her insights into online education.

Jan Schwartz – Education and Training Solutions

Have you taken any online courses in the past? Were they massage related?

I’ve taken several online courses in the past and some were massage related. I took the massage courses mostly because I wanted to see how others were defining and creating online courses. I generally take several online courses each year, primarily on education and online learning topics. Some have been MOOCs, some webinars and some interactive facilitated courses.

What got you started in designing online courses for massage therapists?

I was working for a large corporate school that was looking to standardize their curriculum across all of the campuses, from FL to WA. I thought one way to do that would be to put some of the non-hands on courses online and allow multiple campuses to take a course together or in groups made up of students from different campuses. I thought it would also be a way to build a culture within the company.

From your website, I see that you are using Moodle* to deliver your online courses. What helped you decide on Moodle?

I first investigated Moodle when I was working for the corporate school. Moodle was, and still is, open access and free to use. So it was an easy way to experiment. I am a big fan of Open Education Resources and Creative Commons licensing, so Moodle was attractive to me because of the community of learners that were involved. Plus, there wasn’t much else out there that wasn’t outrageously expensive!

I then found some online courses offered by a Moodle partner and was impressed with how robust the platform was and how (fairly) easy it was to use. First and foremost I needed a platform that could create groups within it and Moodle could do that. I started the investigative process around 2002 and came to Moodle in about 2005.

At the same time I had been having a lot of phone conversations with Whitney Lowe (we had not formed our joint venture at this point) and it turns out he too was investigating Moodle. It was helpful to bounce ideas off each other and in the end we both chose Moodle for our respective projects.

What are the drawbacks, if any?

I don’t really see any drawbacks to Moodle. The Moodle community is both huge in number and outstanding in skill and knowledge; and almost any question that is asked on a forum gets a quick answer. People are very willing to help problem solve. Of course, now we host with an outside vendor so we get help there too. Moodle does everything we need it to do and more.

That said, you still need to learn how to move around in it, as an instructor and as an administrator. It’s not always intuitive.

What format do you use for your courses? (Ex. Live webinar, pre-recorded video, etc)

Primarily our courses are self-paced, self-directed (or categorized as home study by NCBTMB). People work through modules one at a time and at the end, after completing what we call a final knowledge check, they can generate a certificate. The newer version of Moodle allows us to hide succeeding modules until the current one is complete. In most of our courses we use problem, or scenario, based learning. The courses consist of outside websites, branched scenarios, videos and screencasts.

We’ve also run courses that include online discussions. One of the schools that use one of our self-directed courses asked to customize the course to include dates instead of topics and add discussion forums and the ability to upload assignments. We were able to do that easily for them.

How do you asses students’ learning?

Primarily through scenario based “quizzes” for the ce courses that are self paced and self directed. One cannot get to the final quiz until all the material has been viewed.

In the business course I teach, students upload assignments to the dropbox on the course site module, I comment and send back to them. For the discussion boards I use a rubric to grade the level of post. In general it’s not much different than how I would grade in the classroom, except online everyone must participate in the discussion, as opposed to just raising their hands in the classroom.

As a teacher, was this an effective way to deliver a course?

Works for me! I currently teach a hybrid, or flipped, business course at an acupuncture school. The curriculum is pretty much the same as you will find in a massage school (where I used to teach business), but twice as long as most with 5 credits. I’ve been teaching it this way for four years. Some think that the flipped classroom is a new concept–it is not. Students really like it because the time in the class is spent creating their work, sharing with each other and getting specific questions asked and answered instead of listening to me talk. In addition, there is not an option to not participate in the discussion forums if a student wants the points, so this works well for getting people engaged. It is also helpful for those who need some time to think before they respond. It also allows flexibility for my travel schedule. It’s easier on the students too, they don’t fall behind just because they miss a class. No snow days. 🙂

As a course developer, what is missing from the current online course delivery systems? I.E. if you had a team of software developers, what would you have them create or change?

I’m not sure that anything is missing. There are so many plug-ins that can be used that everything we need is covered. You can take a program like voice thread and plug it into an LMS if you want students to literally talk to each other. There are tools to create things like mind maps, self-paced storylines and capture lectures that can be plugged in. All can either be done in the delivery system or uploaded into it. Everyday something new is popping up. What we look for now are improvements of what we already have. That’s what is so cool about Moodle. There is a huge community out there constantly working on improving and developing new tools. The amount of sharing that goes on is really quite awesome.

What do you think the future is for online learning in the massage school teaching environment?

I see the community colleges jumping on the bandwagon right now because they have the infrastructure in place. At the last ABMP School Issues Forum I saw a huge shift in the level of schools’ interest in online education. There are enough doing it now that the others are getting their questions answered by those who are actually using the various platforms.

Do you see any roadblocks to that future?

Licensing boards are the biggest obstacle. The laws need to be rewritten so that schools can make the decision about how courses are taught, not massage board members, many of whom are not educators.

The next biggest obstacle is teacher buy-in and training. It doesn’t matter if a school owner wants online education if they don’t have buy-in from faculty and provide training on both creating a course and delivering a course. Online courses and delivery of those courses is quite different from standing in front of live students.

What do you thing the future is for online learning in the continuing education environment?

I think CE is leading the charge in this environment, but I would sure like to see some more creative courses out there besides webinars. It’s happening slowly and some good people are taking the risks to make it happen.

Do you see any roadblocks to that future?

Not really. I do think that all states that have CE requirements need to lighten up on how many hours can be taken online. After practicing for 20 years and knowing what I wanted to know, it became a real challenge to find something where I wasn’t just paying for the hours. There comes a point in time that you know what you want and need and being forced to find a hands on class that will neither teach you anything new or challenge you in any way is a waste of time and money, and quite frankly, insulting. Professionals should be able to make these decisions for themselves.

Any further thoughts or comments that you would like to share or discuss?

What I like about online learning, as an educator, is that I learn something new every single day. I like engaging in the conversations on education blogs and participating in MOOCs and other courses where there is discussion. There are always people many steps ahead of me who are willing to share and to help problem solve.

I want to thank Jan for her time and generosity in sharing this information with me.

If you have any questions or comments, please share them below. I would love to hear your thoughts.

* From the Wikipedia entry on Moodle:

Moodle (acronym for Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment) (stylised in lower-case as moodle) is a free software e-learning platform, also known as a Learning Management System, or Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). As of June 2013 it had a user base of 83,008 registered and verified sites, serving 70,696,570 users in 7.5+ million courses with 1.2+ million teachers.[3]

Moodle was originally developed by Martin Dougiamas to help educators create online courses with a focus on interaction and collaborative construction of content, and is in continual evolution. The first version of Moodle was released on 20 August 2002.

2 Responses to Online Education – Jan Schwartz Interview

  1. Great article! We started online business hybrid classes at a local Community College several years ago on Blackboard which was great! It took time to learn and create course design.Unfortunately, the online format was dropped due to lack of instructor interest in learning to run it. So back to chalk & talk. Also the level of computer skills in some cases with massage students was truly frightening, with some other faculty suggesting that I should pass students “since they had great hands”. Sorry but without business skills that value is somewhat lessened, unless an MT only wants to work for others.

    • Robin, Thanks for the comment. I’m sorry to hear that your local community college gave up on the online courses. I have a feeling that those instructors are simply going to have to suck it up and get comfortable with the tools or they may end up without a job. And massage therapists need business skills and, in 2014, that includes computer skills. It’s not 1960 anymore.

"Dream large, laddie!" - Local Hero, 1983