A degree in parks and recreation is just a click away

On line learningIn the field of recreation, parks and tourism, we have to adapt to our ever-changing markets and our evolving demographics.   However, when the idea of offering the Recreation, Park and Tourism Management (RPTM) degree at Penn State on-line came up in a department meeting, I was one of the early naysayers.  Aren’t those on-line degrees hokey?  How can we match the in-class interaction, the engaged learning and the hands-on application of theory that is a hallmark of the college experience, particularly in parks and recreation?  How can we help students meet learning objectives in key areas like leadership and programming without the four walls of a classroom?  What about cheating and academic integrity on tests and assignments?

The times, as they say, are a-changin’.

While the overall number of college enrollments across the country is decreasing, the number of students enrolled in on-line education is increasing.  We are seeing that trend at Penn State. According to Penn State’s annual Fact Book, university wide enrollment dropped from 85,168 students in 2014 to 82,678 in 2018.  However, during that same time period, enrollment at Penn State’s World Campus increased from 10,805 in 2014 to 14,458 in 2018.  In addition, data released by the National Student Clearinghouse indicates that close to one third of college students who are actually on campuses take at least one class on-line to meet the requirements of their degree.

Penn State currently offers 150 degree and certificate programs through the World Campus –courses designed and taught by Penn State faculty as part of curricula that meet the same academic standards as those programs offered on our campuses.

Effective Fall 2019, Penn State will be offering Recreation, Park and Tourism Management as a major through the World Campus.

I’ve spent the past two semesters developing the introductory course in RPTM that I teach on campus (also called face-to-face or F2F learning) into an on-line version.  Reviewing learning objectives.  Transferring course content from my lecture notes into on-line lessons.  Picking out reading assignments.  Identifying videos and support materials.  Developing assessments – including group activities – that allow students to interact with their peers and well as with the instructor.  In a course that relies heavily on guest lecturers from our field, the course development team has included instructional designers as well as technological and media support to bring that same sense of interaction to the on-line setting. In this lengthy process, I have learned from the experts that there are ways to address accountability and cheating such as low stakes quizzes as self-checks rather than mid-terms and finals and video assignments to complement written work.  Even the milestone curriculum assignments like our “spend a day in a wheelchair” can have an on-line version.

Ironically, the work I have done to prepare the on-line course for a Spring 2020 launch has improved what I am bringing to students in the traditional classroom setting.

The on-line degree offers options for people to access post-secondary education.  The full-time professional who can’t quit his/her job to return to school.  Parents who can work on their education around their children’s school or activity schedules.  Budget conscious students who can earn a degree without the expense of moving to campus.  Students with disabilities.  Military personnel.

We anticipate that the major will be of interest to professionals who are currently working in the RPTM field who are looking to grow in their position.  We anticipate active duty service men and women who are seeking careers in their communities or within the parks systems post-discharge from the service.  Our front line parks and recreation employees who may not be able to afford to attend college full-time may take advantage of the cheaper tuition that on-line education offers as well as the flexibility in scheduling.  It’s a win-win for all.  We are already seeing applications and new students coming into the major.

As our culture changes, we need to change too.  On-line education is one more way to continue to support and encourage the development and growth of the field of parks and recreation.  If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about on-line education at Penn State, visit worldcampus.psu.edu.

Author: Patty Kleban

Senior Instructor Director, Student Success Center Recreation, Park and Tourism Management Penn State University

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