New this fall, online degree programs in Family and Community Social Services and Early Childhood Studies have attracted 80 students

The University of Guelph-Humber has launched its first two fully online degree programs. The two bachelor of applied science programs are for Family and Community Social Services and Early Childhood Studies.

Family and Community Social Services Program Head Paul Sherman said that the online degree program is designed to cater to those who are unable to attend school full-time “because of family or social circumstances.”

Last year, the Ontario government began funding to offer fully online degree programs at universities and colleges.

Both programs also offer a hybrid program which is a mix of online and on-campus courses. The only difference between the hybrid and fully online programs is that the online degree program is completely online.

“Everything from the orientation, to taking courses, to doing final exams is totally online. Students never have to step foot on-campus—if they don’t want to,” Sherman said. “Theoretically students from all around the world could apply.”

But this raises a primary concern by some students who say that a degree obtained through online study degrades the purpose and value of a degree. Sherman said that the concerns are valid and that “it depends on what value you place on getting your degree. If your primary objective is to use it for getting a job, then there’s no difference. Once you have your degree, whether you get it online or on-campus, nobody’s going to ask you where you got it… But if you value a learning environment that’s more personal, more interactive…then yes it’s not going to be the same.”

Vice-Provost of Guelph-Humber John Walsh said that an online degree does not lower the value of a degree; rather, “it enhances it.”

Early Childhood Studies Program Head, Nikki Martyn said students in the early childhood program may find it a barrier to be in an online degree program “because it is a very people-related profession.” She said that to enhance the experience, emphasis is placed on interaction so that “students don’t just feel like they’re on the other side of a computer.”

Students are still required to complete their off-campus field placements as a part of the online degree programs. To further increase interaction and engagement, the programs have also integrated gamification with some courses. Early childhood students will use tools such as “the virtual family, which will go across different courses and allow the students to follow a family that we’ve created,” said Martyn.

Sherman also said that the online degree programs are “more cost-effective. You don’t have to build structures. For example, we’re maxed-out in terms of rooms and seats at Guelph-Humber. We can’t fit more people into the building.”

When asked if the motive behind the online degree programs was to direct student traffic off-campus, Walsh said it was “not so much” a motive. He said, “offering distance courses provides a great deal of flexibility for students.”

To those who have concerns with online degrees, Martyn said, “in the past, certainly, online programs have been frowned upon. I think that times have changed and this is the way the world is going now.”

As the fully online degree programs begin their first year at Guelph-Humber, they remain a focus of discussion. “My worry is that the more we offer these things and make them the norm, people will just do it…without realizing what you lose and the interpersonal relations that you gain in school. I think there’s room for both as long as we make sure we know what our priorities are,” said Sherman.