Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The New Green | Hybrid Degrees, the Residency Model, & Innovating Education for Impact

Water cover on lawn at Gonzaga (above)
Me on-campus (above)
Wind turbines in the desert on the way home from the intensive (above)
Enjoying my work station at home (above)
"How does an online degree compare to traditional program?"  More to the point: "Is such a degree credible?"  I answered this question early on in my hybrid program.  Isn't an online degree just an e-degree... you know, like those profit mill schools?  Where is quality assurance?  Plenty:


A hybrid degree is one that combines residency and online learning.  More fully, this degree allows people to apply their education, competencies, interests, and research to their spheres of influence.


I enrolled in Gonzaga University's MA in Communication and Leadership Studies program in Fall 2008.  Online.  The degree is 36 credits with at least 3 of which fulfilled in a 3-day on-ground intensive course with online follow-up.  I sing the program's praises:  student-centered, transformative, and dialogic teaching philosophy, reflective inquiry, scholarship rigor, versatility in creative, conceptual, qualitative/quantitative applied research course.  The combination of theory and praxis allows descriptive/interpretive and empiric studies to illumine each other.  Supportive profs, rapport with peers, and multi-faceted learning including in-depth, reflective, research design, and team projects.

Formative process fuels my passion.

Loving every moment. 


What's more:  The National Communication Association (NCA) awarded my program the prestigious "Innovative Program of the Year" (2010) award for its "strong focus, high-quality teaching, and attention to service as features that raised it above the competition (ComL Online)."  Watch the NCA awards presentation ceremony.  This distinction demonstrates the openness and opportunities facing academia, and Gonzaga's program provides affirmation for institutions considering integrating technology into their graduate programs.

Ready the Writing!

What's more, no parking fees.  Yup.  That's a perk of studying online.  No parking permits, tickets, relocation, gas, wear-and-tear vehicle costs.  No hours on end sitting in traffic when I'd rather be studying, or eating, or sleeping even.  No one tailgating me.  And absolutely no hiding in the back row.

After all, online education requires immense writing skills.  To participate, I write.  To identify who I am and what I'm about, I write.  I show and tell in text and in pixels:  photos, and more recently, audiovisual movies or PowerPoint presentations with audio narration, graphics I designed, and photos I photographed.  If my name doesn't appear in the discussion board, it's obvious.  I think as I create, and so I learn by poiesis, not just theory, praxis, and phronesis.  Online education empowers learners to co-create their learning context, to drive their outcomes, and to participate with immediacy, or in the hear and now.  I wrote plenty of discussion posts, papers, presentations, digital media profiles, and researched for my thesis.  Physical presence, my body, for once is not enough.  This is why online education loves me for my mind.  

"Virtual" Teams

Online learning loves me for my heart, too.  I learn to work with people in dynamic ways.  I've successfully completed 6 team projects so far consisting of national team members.  I even worked with a colleague who was holed up in a military base in a mountain somewhere.  Other colleagues traveled, often finishing and posting their work... mid-flight.  The challenge with working with digital teams involves coordinating timezones, finding an online a/synchronous platform to coordinate and share our finished tasks in a timely manner ( a good one!), and those pesky final 24-48 hours prior to delivery when even the computer seems to have a meltdown.  These technicalities remain the size of specks when compared to the benefits of learning to work, learn, and perform collaboratively with diverse people in a dynamic environment.  

Computer mediated technology and new media mediate learning by providing a space with limitations and purposes that shape outcomes.  I'm not hyped or hysterical about technology, just grateful.  I know that education and its designed systems are value-laden.  Anyway, as one prof said, "remember that there are real people" on the other end!  There's no such thing as a virtual person.

Education for the Next Generation

As the dubbed "Millennials" enter college and the workforce in 2014, will on-ground only programs appeal to them, or will they expect at least a hybrid program with interactivity and social networking online?  What programs can we design where the vehicle's body doesn't rattle off the engine, where substance and style, content and delivery, meet expectations and serve academic organizations, profs, students, and even community?  Going Green sensibilities have expectations, too.

Presence, Narrative, and Digital Literacy

The on-ground courses challenge my leadership presence.  As another prof put it, "asking those butterflies to fly in formation" (M. Hazel, personal communication, February 26, 2009) so I can confidently, creatively, and clearly explain the ideas I've developed online.  Good stuff.  On-ground intensives (I've seen range from 3 days in my MA to 2-8 weeks elsewhere, usually in the Summer) satisfy state/land or sea grant institutions' residency requirements.  Moreover, hybrid education enhances narrative awareness, an ethic of engaging with others authentically via story as shared in text and pixels.  Hybrid education increases digital literacy, too, a needed awareness as to the ways that digital media shapes our identity, dialogue, and our lives.

What's in a Hybrid Degree? 

A hybrid delivery format is the best of both worlds:  Learners bond in the intensives and gain an ear for audience, while traveling to new places and networking cross-culturally.  Learners develop presence, digital literacy for a knowledge era, and refine their writing online.  Learners learn to collaborate cross-culturally, multi-modally, and virtually.  Meanwhile, the pocket-book, the mind, and the environment benefit:  Learners need not relocate -- unless they like the campus' home and want to move there -- and can incorporate their course work into their already existing connections in their respective communities.  No need to sell an underwater mortgage product or find a new job... yet.  Graduates can teach adjunct from wherever they live in the world opening up more markets of influence. 

In short, hybrid models allow learners to grow interpersonally and professionally and require more rigor than an on-ground format, but in a more focused format and time-to-completion.  Hybrid degrees are a localized yet global, sustainable and innovative way to "do" education that the dubbed millennial generation will most likely come to expect when they enter the work and education markets in 2014.

So whenever anyone questions the validity of a hybrid degree, I chortle and point to the 18" high stack of paper bound books that I made and Staples printed for me.  Yup, I wrote those 1000+ pages... for year 1.  I've learned and developed my ideas from the discussion board postings and responses to my peers.  Sure beats the raise-my-hand-once-in-class rule.  That other stack?  That's journal articles, not including the books sitting pretty with fluorescent paper sticky tabs flagging important waters once traveled.  Gonzaga's hybrid program allows me to better myself when solely a on-ground program might have limited my opportunity due to seasons of illness and relocation constraints.  I broach hype here, but with all sincerity say this program, with it's caring and supportive profs and peers, has provided an open door, a kind of liberation.

Affordability and Sustainability

In any case, I'm happy to report my hybrid MA knows good planets are hard to find, so I sold my car and bought a laptop.  This degree format has helped with the housing market given we need not relocate at this time, and has helped with family life, given we are godparents of our niece.  While some may be concerned about less face-to-face interaction, I've experienced a quality affordability and sustainability as this format offers the best of both worlds:  quality interaction face-to-face, and improved digital literacy and writing.  Gonzaga gives library and interlibrary access to its online students.  I received my books and articles expediently.  Technology may soon allow for more synchronous classroom interaction year round, too, such as with Old Dominion University's use of technology that allows distance students to, via a camera image on the wall, participate live with the on-ground class.  More schools are adding hybrid options that empower adult learners, or people who already live and work in their area and who want to grow, to do just that and on a virtual and global scale.

Learning with People is the Classroom

I am passionate about empowering people to learn by developing academic programs that engage culture, esteem sound scholarship, inspire creativity, and all within the context of relationships.  Do we need a brick-n-mortar for relationships?  Not necessarily.  Should education go all-out-all-online?  Not necessarily.  Programs at their best are designed for each participant to succeed in reflecting their individual, affiliate, and organizational goals, passions, and research interests together.  Relationships provide that space without category, where, expanding from Bakhtin, the "word" in the context of a relationship is the territory to explore.  I've found this dynamic to be prominent in my hybrid graduate program.

Recommending Change

While my anecdotal evidence here may not be generalizable, it's not supposed to be as it can be scalable.  Consider some who believe the PhD to be a failed system, which I suggest is in need of reform.  The "mainframe" model of education, as with healthcare, fails to be sustainable or to produce localized solutions that benefit people and their field as applied to their communities.  Meritocratic assumptions and primal scenes of communication may be barriers to institutional change, but my experience at Gonzaga has shown me the power, practicality, and liberation of innovating education.  

As the Doctor of Arts in its intended sense, a doctorate popular from the '30s to '80s and thankfully returning, education must at its heart seek to empower citizens to critique their roles and field, to apply these critiques to their decisions situated in a larger system, to apply their gifts for a social benefit, to shape culture, and to share what they learn with others.  The latter requires humility, or the willingness to empower future generations to grow with, beyond, and from what we've learned and accomplished.  This humility requires a willingness to work oneself out of a job, or to transition to advising roles, something the PhD mainframe model, or when all the smart people and expenses go to one place for a long time and at high cost, is not well-equipped to do given its emphasis on fashioning students who will then, building from Ramage (2005), fill professorial ready-made roles.  While I want to teach at the university level, I'm aware of the need to build a diverse portfolio as I'm mindful of my desire to apply what I learn to additional spheres.  This means educators must build programs that encourage learners to apply what they learn via a gifts-based approach.

Democratic education in an ideal sense provides access to equip people to influence their pond.  Current residency, online, and hybrid programs offer this access.  However, cost and time to completions still constrain access, and these programs often replicate the former mainframe and PhD model.  To more fully change, I recommend graduate programs adopt an iterative vs. waterfall approach (1), elevate narrative and digital literacy (2), and focus the taught courses on critique, creativity, and application instead of tinkering with methods (3).  Fancy words for this include a passion for poesis, a striving for ethos, a drive for praxis, a mindfulness of our own pathos, and a critique and seeking of logos (see here for definitions).  I conceive logos as knowledge in a holistic sense, both intrinsic, somatic, and tacit knowledge, or that which people carry with them, and systemic, relational, social, and cultural knowledge, or what we know in a systemic sense.  Of course there's always the conundrum in learning:  Which did we know first that was not already known, taught, or influenced before?  

An iterative approach means we scale a dissertation in at the beginning of the program, not after we've exhausted learners by forcing them to learn what we learned and then, only then, are they deemed "worthy" of writing their own work.  The dissertation meritocratic process reeks of Freire's (1970; 1994) complaint with education as a banking system, or treating people as containers for other people's knowledge, which yields an unfortunate, but designed, result of perpetuating the system as-is.  In this sense, education risks the same oppression as other institutions.  Freire preferred education as empowerment.  

Today's societies must also develop narrative and digital literacy as those are (and have been) the texts by which we communicate, project identity, and even assert power.  Consider the implications of the following statement: all written and recorded texts as legal documents.  Who has the power?  Are people even aware of the implications of living in a digital and narrated world? Hybrid delivery can aid this transition.  

Lastly, make no mistake:  a sleuth of research methods cannot save the world from bias or bury our biased assumptions or veil the power that we academics wield when we write, analyze, and conceive our research (never mind the privilege in pursuing education to begin with).  Is it possible that methods replicate a human pursuit of guarantee and reflect cultural values for elevating science and reason over other frames?  The liberal arts matter.  Are we courageous enough to stand in the no-mans-land between education and socialization?  Are we visionaries enough to create something different and better? Education is not something to consume nor is it to be confused with monetary value (though earning an income is necessary!).  To me education involves identifying and applying my calling while seeking wisdom; education critiques the systemic and my situated influence.  As the Apostle/Teacher Paul advised his protege (1 Tim. 4:14-16, NIV):
Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.  Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.


Now before you think I've swum off the deep end, let me paddle my way back to you:  I am passionate about designing graduate degree programs that are more humane, just, caring, creative, courageous, and effective.  Overall I found my MA program to carry those themes, or to integrate an ethos the seeming dialectics for reflection/engagement, research rigor/creativity, individual authenticity/teamwork, social praxis/cultural relevance, and writing/sharing.

Let's design education to confirm people and to be of a more dialogic, caring, compassionate, participatory, empowering, friendly, relationally-based, creative, narrative, sustainable, healing, credible, vocational in the classic sense, vocal, and congruent kind (see Buford, 1995; Cissna & Sieberg, 2005; 
Csikszentmihalyi, 1994; Denzin, 2003; Freire, 1970; 1994; Laszlo, 2001; Mattingly, 1998; Noddings, 1984; Neuwirth, Frederick, & Mayo, 2007; Palmer, 2000; 2004; Rogers, 1989; 1994; Russell, 2004; Tillmann-Healy, 2003).  In short, a hybrid degree meets people where they are and vice-versa for a social benefit.

Graduation photos (above 4)

Beneficial Outcomes

I loved my graduate experience at Gonzaga.  I'm grateful for the support, scholarship rigor, and creative freedom afforded to me.  I've a network within and beyond my physical locale, and participated with a life-changing process in a humane way that did not require me to relocate in a recession. Be free to access my thesis and research and learn more about future directions.  At Gonzaga I focused on communication, digital arts, social media, and research ethics as applied to narrative healthcare, holistic leadership, and vocational development.  As with many things in life, you receive in measure to what you give.  Thankfully, in this supportive program, I was able to give my best.  So here's to the new green and 3 cheers to Gonzaga!  I <3 Gonzaga, Go Zags!

Moving Forward

Now, I'm ready to continue the love.  What's love got to do with it? Everything (Rosko, 2010 December 17, emphasis added).  So where to for the doctorate in my overlapping and interdisciplinary research interest areasApplying arts/writing, communication, and leadership to health (1) and designing innovative and hybrid degree programs (2)?  

Thank you for reading,

References and Recommended Reading

Angus, I. (2000). Primal scenes of communication: Communication theory, social movements, and consumer society. New York: State University of New York.

Buford, T.O. (1995).  In search of a calling: The college's role in shaping identity.  Macon, GA: Mercer.

Chvasta, M. (2003). The mediated life; ‘And I loved her’.  Unpublished essay.  Retrieved 
October 26, 2010, from

Chvasta, M. (2005).  Remembering praxis:  Performance in the digital age.  Text and 
Performance Quarterly, 25(2), 156-170.

Cissna, K.N., & Sieburg, E. (2005).  Patterns of interactional confirmation and 
disconfirmation.  In J. Stewart (Ed.), Bridges not walls: A book about interpersonal communication (9th ed.).  New York: McGraw-Hill. 

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1994).  Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention.  New York: HarperCollins.

Denzin, N. K. (2003). Performance ethnography: Critical pedagogy and the politics of culture
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Durham Technical Community College. Ethos, pathos, and logos.  Retrieved May 23, 2011, from

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed.  New York:  Continuum.

Freire, P. (1994).  There is no true word that is not at the same time a praxis.  In R. Anderson, K.N. Cissna, & R.C. Arnett (Eds.), The reach of dialogue: Confirmation, voice and community (pp. 300-305).  Hampton, NJ: Hampton.

Kouzes, J.M., & Posner, B.Z. (2003).  Credibility:  How leaders gain and lose it, why people demand it.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Laszlo, E. (2001).  Macroshift: Navigating the transformation to a sustainable world.  San Francisco:  Berrett-Koehler.

Mattingly, C. (1998).  Healing dramas and clinical plots: The narrative structure of experience. New York: Cambridge.

Neuwirth, K., Frederick, E., & Mayo, C. (2007).  The spiral of silence and fear of isolation.  Journal of Communication 57(4), 450-468

Noddings, N. (1984).  Caring.  Berkeley, CA:  University of California.

Palmer, P.J. (2000).  Let your life speak: Listening for the voice of vocation.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Palmer, P.J. (2004). A hidden wholeness: The journey toward an undivided life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Ramage, J. (2005). Rhetoric: A user's guide.  New York: Longman.

Rogers, C. (1989).  On becoming a person:  A therapist’s view of psychotherapy.  New York:  Houghton Mifflin.

Rogers, C.R. (1994). The necessary and sufficient conditions a therapeutic personality change.  In R. Anderson, K.N. Cissna, & R.C. Arnett (Eds.), The reach of dialogue: Confirmation, voice and community (pp. 126-140).  Hampton, NJ: Hampton.

Rosko, D.M. (2009, October 2). Organizational frames and leadership case study: Recommending a holistic framework to transform embeddedness in medical organizations. Retrieved October 13, 2009, from

Rosko, D.M. (2009, October 17).  Leadership philosophy: Vocational leading as living whole via sharing creativity in organizations to heal during loss.  Retrieved October 19, 2009, from

Rosko, D.M.  (2010, May 1).  Envisioning social change: Transforming Western medical organizations’ power imbalance by designing CMC technology to co-create chart narratives. Retrieved June 28, 2010, from

Rosko, D.M. (2010, May 17).  
Course posts for Interpersonal & Small Group Communication (pp. 22-29).  Retrieved May 23, 2011, from

Rosko, D.M. (2010, December 17).  Master’s thesis:  Performing impressionistic autoethnographic narrative in Text and Pixels to explore fear of death in end-of-life care-giving contexts.  Spokane, WA:  Gonzaga University.  ComL 680, Section A3, Thesis Director Nobuya Inagaki; Mentor Lois Melina.  Retrieved May 23, 2011, from

Roth, M.S. (2011, May 21). Why liberal arts matter.  Retrieved May 23, 2011, from

Russell, L. (2004).  A long way toward compassion.  Text and Performance Quarterly, 24(3/4), 

Tillmann-Healy, L. (2003). Friendship as method.  Qualitative Inquiry, 9, 729-749.