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Changes on the Horizon for Groundbreaking Online Degree Program


In 2021, the online Master of Education in Digital Learning and Leading (DLL) program at Lamar University will have a new look and new parameters.

However, professors Dr. Dwayne Harapnuik and Dr. Tilisa Thibodeaux say that change is nothing new to the program since it launched in August 2015.

“We have continually been striving to improve the program,” Dr. Harapnuik said.

Streamlining the program from when it was established several years ago has been an ongoing process.

“When the opportunity came around to reduce the program from 12 to 10 courses, we took advantage of that and knew exactly what we were going to trim and eliminate to make it more efficient.”

Starting in 2021, each of the courses in the new program will be eight weeks long — a significant change from the five-week duration in prior years.

“The extra three weeks are going to help our learners get the main benefit out of some of the activities,” Dr. Harapnuik said. “In one sense, we are doing a lot of what we have done, but we are eliminating the extra information that is unnecessary.

“We have cut more as we have added more time. We are able to allow students to collaborate more efficiently, go deeper and have a bigger impact on the authentic learning opportunities. That’s what we are hoping to accomplish.”

Dr. Thibodeaux said that the changes to the program take into account student feedback they have received since the program began.

“Because students have their own learning environments, we believe we have to model what we ask them to do and immerse them in that experience,” she said. “We had to talk to each other about stepping back a little bit to give them the opportunity to take control of their learning.”

The duo continues to thrive on improving the educational experience for students and making enhancements to the program.

“Tilisa has become the face of the program,” Dr. Harapnuik said. “We collaborate on everything. We complement each other. She does a lot of publicity and works with the administration. I dream about building the most effective learning, so we are a wonderful combination in that regard.”

Ground Floor

Dr. Harapnuik and Dr. Thibodeaux took much different paths to end up as faculty in Lamar University’s College of Education and Human Development. The latter grew up in Hobart, Indiana, and now resides in Orangefield, Texas. Her father was an adult educator.

“My dad would always come home and teach me Spanish,” she said. “He was the first educator in the state of Indiana to get his professional license. He was my inspiration.”

Dr. Thibodeaux received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Valparaiso University followed by a master’s in special education from Florida Gulf Coast University. Earning an Ed.S. and a doctorate in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University rounded out her higher ed journey. The focus of her doctoral degree was instructional technology and distance education.

“I knew we were headed in the direction of digital learning with education,” she said. “When I moved to Texas, digital learning wasn’t such a thing yet. But lo and behold, Dr. Harapnuik, Dr. Cindy Cummings and a few other folks were building the DLL program. It was a perfect place for me to start.”

Dr. Harapnuik was born and raised in Canada where he currently lives. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English, theology and philosophy from Concordia University Edmonton. He then earned a master’s degree in library and information science and a Ph.D. in educational psychology with a specialization in instructional technology and online learning from the University of Alberta.

“When I went to school to study philosophy, I realized that the internet was about to explode,” he said. “I was doing a master’s degree in philosophy, so I shifted over and started experimenting with and exploring those ideas in the early 1990s.

“I taught people how to use the internet before it was really called the internet, or even before the web was the web. We were doing videoconferencing in the late 1980s in sophisticated rooms very similar to Zoom with lots of money and lots of equipment.”

After building a career as a consultant for web-based education, Dr. Harapnuik made his first foray into teaching in the Lone Star State in the mid-2000s.

“I spent some time at Abilene Christian University working to get iPhones to students,” he said. “It was the first iPhone initiative in North America. While I was at ACU, I built six or seven courses that have become the core of the DLL program at Lamar University after ACU shut down its program.”

No Ceiling

The online M.Ed. in Digital Learning and Leading has come a long way in a short amount of time. The program attracts individuals of many backgrounds, including educators, corporate instructors and military veterans transitioning to civilian life.

“We started out with two or three students,” Dr. Thibodeaux said. “There are now over 300 students taking courses in the Digital Learning and Leading program, including a stream of students from the Educational Technology Leadership program. The DLL program has grown mostly by word of mouth.

“We listen and build relationships with our students to see what the climate looks like in the educational environment. That’s important.”

Dr. Harapnuik continues to embrace the importance of learning by setting an example for students as a faculty member.

“We built the M.Ed. Digital Learning and Leading program [for a Texas-based university] with me living in Canada,” he said. “I’ve always been a person who wants to walk the talk.”

Both Dr. Harapnuik and Dr. Thibodeaux are eager to see the new format of the program in action. They are confident that the students will have an even better experience learning about a field that never stops changing.

“What we do is not really typical school. A lot of our students are quite shocked by how our program works,” said Dr. Harapnuik. He noted that they go on to do amazing work once they grasp the possibilities.

“They can leverage the power of authentic learning and the power of engaging learners in choice ownership and voice,” he said.

“We allow people to build whatever they need to build. Even if we are not subject matter experts in insurance or corporate training, the principles we use are adaptable to all of those different disciplines.”

Dr. Thibodeaux enjoys being a part of something special and learning with her students, just like her father did when she was a child.

She credits her growing appreciation for online learning to her association with Dr. Harapnuik whose experience with the format since 1995 gave him exposure to a variety of situations and people.

“I don’t think I would have that if I wasn’t in this specific program and working with him,” said Dr. Thibodeaux.

“It’s a great partnership and a wonderful program. We are always working to make it better than it was.”

Learn more about Lamar University’s online M.Ed. in Digital Learning and Leading program.


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