Rick Fehrenbacher talks about what’s already underway and up ahead for continuing, online and professional education at Seattle University

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The Commons:  What is your office working toward accomplishing specifically in the year ahead and beyond?

Rick Fehrenbacher:  We have begun work with our first cohort of 25 faculty from all across the university-some who are working in graduate programs, others in summer programs. Our plan is to have some of our graduate programs capable of being offered in online or hybrid fashion by fall of 2014 and to have about a dozen or so undergraduate courses offered this summer in online format. We're also planning on having our first adult completion certificate ready to go by fall of 2014, as well. And then by 2015, we hope to have a couple baccalaureate degrees ready to be offered for adult degree completion, and even more summer classes and graduate courses ready to go, as well. So we're moving pretty quickly here.

The Commons:  What's the biggest challenge in moving into online/hybrid education?

Rick Fehrenbacher:   The biggest roadblock to doing online courses is always faculty resistance. And I can understand that as a faculty member myself; I just happened to be a little eccentric in my love of technology and teaching. In a lot of ways, this faculty resistance is justified. There were a lot of terrible online courses that were done in the first wave of online course development. And there's apprehension over MOOCs (massive open online courses), which have a place, but generally remind me of bad public television. But the fact of the matter is that technology has advanced tremendously since the bad old days, and nowadays there are many different ways to engage students and to find ways to interact with them using technology that you just didn't have before-and these technologies are much easier to use. You can build some absolutely stunning online courses now.


Proposals Now Accepted

COPE is now accepting course design proposals for its winter quarter faculty cohort. To learn more about the types of courses for which proposals are invited and to submit a proposal, visit Program Development. The deadline for proposals is Nov. 12.

But with that being said, it's important to reiterate that it's not about the technology; it's about the teaching. When faculty go through our cohort program, they don't touch a computer for the first couple months because we take them back to basics. We talk about learning outcomes, we talk about what it is that they really want their students to get out of this course. Then we start building from that, because if you let the technology be the tail that wags the dog, you've lost already.

Again, I understand how apprehensive faculty can be about this stuff, and I'd like to extend an open invitation for them to come down to our offices and look around or to take a look at our website. If they have any questions, we're always available to talk.

The Commons:  Without getting too much into the weeds, what are the cohort sessions like?

Rick Fehrenbacher:  They're a lot of fun. It's more of a workshop than anything else. The faculty members who come in here generally leave saying, "I really enjoyed that." I think they look forward to it. It's a chance for them to talk about their teaching and work with other faculty members and their courses, and in my experience faculty don't often have a chance to do that.

The Commons:  How will it work in terms of who owns the courses that are developed? Will the university own those, or the faculty members?

Rick Fehrenbacher:  At most institutions, when faculty develop online or hybrid courses with university resources the copyright belongs to the university. But we're giving the copyright to the faculty member. That's because we want them to feel a sense of ownership of these courses.

The Commons:  Your academic background is English. How did you become so fully immersed in continuing and online education?

Rick Fehrenbacher:  Continuing education is important to me because I was a non-traditional student myself. I didn't start college until I was 27 years old. When I got out of high school I joined the Army and after that I beat around doing a bunch of different jobs-I worked in an oil field, I shoveled shrimp off of boats, stuff like that. I think I was trying to live my life like a Dylan song, circa Blood on the Tracks. I just wasn't really ready for school yet. So at 27 I came back to school and while it wasn't the easiest thing in the world, I had a lot of help from faculty, staff and administrators along the way. I started at the University of Southern Mississippi and eventually earned a Ph.D. from Duke. Working in continuing and adult education is my way of paying it back to the people who helped me succeed.

As far as online education, I was a Medievalist and Medievalists are kind of geeks. We learn old, dead languages that nobody else speaks. I had a (Commodore) VIC-20 and I learned to program very early on, just because I thought it was fascinating-like learning dead languages. So when technology and teaching-two of my passions--started to conflate, I just sort of fell into it. I became the default tech guy in the English department. At first that meant I was the person who could install printer drivers, but then I started building out websites for teaching and started using more and more technology in my classes until it kind of took over what I was doing, and frankly I became less and less of a Medievalist and more and more of a teaching and technology person.

The Commons:  OK, how about some non-work questions…What do you like to do in your free time?

Rick Fehrenbacher:  I'm still an English guy so I still read a good bit, mostly historical fiction and poetry. I also enjoy the outdoors. I take week-long backpacking with my sons pretty much every summer and have started to get into sea kayaking. I lived in Idaho for 20 years, so  I like to hunt and fish. I travel a good bit, and have run the bulls in Pamplona five times. Is engaging in high-risk behavior a hobby?

The Commons:  As a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, do you ever run into Brett Favre at alumni events?

Rick Fehrenbacher:  Here's a bit of trivia: My brother played on the Southern Mississippi football team and he wore #4 before Brett Favre did. My sister-in-law was there getting her master's degree (after my brother played), and she would be on campus wearing his old jersey and sorority girls would say, "What are you doing wearing Brett Favre's jersey?"

The Commons:  Anything else you'd want to add while the floor is yours?

Rick Fehrenbacher:  No, just that I'm very happy to be here and I think this is going to be a terrific initiative for Seattle University, for its students, for the faculty and for the community. I can't tell you how much I enjoy working here. It's been great. 

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As someone who attended Seattle University as a non-traditional student for both undergrad and grad school (I had a gap in my undergrad education due to a stint in the Army and during my masters attended part-time while working and raising a family), Rick's vision is compelling and I am excited that Seattle University is moving in this direction. The Ignatian educational philosophy is one of the reasons I chose to go to school and ultimately work at SU, and I agree that it is key to how SU can provide outstanding online and hybrid education while differentiating itself from other online/hybrid education providers. Supporting faculty is also key, and it's inspiring to watch COPE at work. John Buell, BA, M.Ed. Class of 1996 and 2007
(11/6/2013 3:49:00 PM, John Buell )