In this first installment of Crash the Course*, I’m taking you on a journey into WPI Online’s “Introduction to Systems Thinking” course.dan weagle photo

I don’t just work at WPI; I’m also a student in one of the first courses offered in a revolutionary new education model: Personalized Online Education (or POE). Here’s why POE works for me.

It’s convenient – I’m a new father, a working professional, and a landlord, to name just a few of the hats I wear every day. My schedule can fluctuate on an hourly basis. What I love about the POE delivery method is that I can access course materials on many devices at any time to catch up on readings, watch module videos, and participate in group discussions. Not only that, but there are no set deadlines for assignments. For example, last week I took some well-deserved vacation time to catch up on housework and re-connect with longtime friends on an extended weekend trip to Vermont. I didn’t worry about my studies once. I knew they were waiting for me when I got back from my trip.

Instructor feedback is FAST – I’m not going to lie: it’s a pet peeve of mine when instructors are slow to provide grades and feedback on submitted homework and exams. So far, I have received feedback from the instructor, Dr. Jamie Monat, within 48 hours of submitting my materials. Dr. Monat’s comments are thorough and thoughtful. If I do not demonstrate mastery of a particular topic, he will reference specific page numbers and module topics to help fill in those knowledge gaps. In addition, he always encourages me and others in the course to reach out directly via phone for further clarification and discourse.

Coursework is flexible – We all have different learning styles. Some of us are detailed note-takers, and if we write something down, we immediately internalize it and are able to apply the same principles to create new examples. Others need to go through the actions of teaching new material to others via slideshow presentations, an essay, or the spoken word to best retain and demonstrate mastery of a topic. Through the POE delivery method, I have the option to choose how I demonstrate mastery of a topic (with prior instructor approval): complete a quiz/exam, teach another student, write a report, develop a model, create a website, and more.

Same WPI, same focus on team-based project work – When I first signed up for the course, I was worried. I thought I might feel as though I was in a vacuum: everyone would be progressing through the course in their own sphere, at their own pace, and I would never have a chance to connect with classmates. Not the case at all! Project work is a core component of POE, just as it is for all other WPI courses. In fact, the course is set up so you work in groups to complete a comprehensive project before the final module. In our course, the purpose of the project is to demonstrate mastery of Systems Thinking concepts, language, and tools while examining a complex, real-world problem. In order to communicate effectively to take on this multi-month project, we have weekly conference calls, communicate via messaging app, and write to one another through the student portal. I appreciate working with others in an academic setting, but I also enjoy getting to know my classmates on a personal level. I just learned that one of my groupmates grew up and lives near Burlington, VT, where my wife went to college. It’s nice to make these connections and learn more about the students “sitting next to you” in this virtual course. 

All in all, POE is a great fit for me and my busy life as a working professional, husband, dad, friend, and student. If you’d like to learn more about online education that works for you, start here.

*Crash the Course is a new blog series where we take a closer look at courses from our many online and corporate programs! Watch this space for more windows into what we do at WPI. 


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