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G. Zucca1, A. Palma2

1National University (UNITED STATES)
2National University Library Liaison to School of Business and Management (UNITED STATES)
Working professionals who return to college now comprise a majority of students in non-traditional universities. They bring them greater professional experiences, and interpersonal skills than traditional-age students. They also bring family obligations, shifting work schedules, and financial issues. All of these characteristics must be considered in course design for this population of students.

This paper is a case study of a four-course undergraduate online program in entrepreneurship aimed at working professionals. The purpose of the study was to assess the goals, skills, and challenges of these students and developing curriculum changes to better meet their needs.

A summary of the student assessment found that entering students:
• Were very goal oriented and wanted to earn their degree to improve their career opportunities.
• Preferred an applied approach over a theoretical approach to entrepreneurship; Theories of management leadership were more appropriate.
• Had good writing and computer skills but were unfamiliar with the research process and how to access modern digital library holdings.
• Returned to school after long absences and sometimes marginally successful previous academic experiences. As a result, they lacked self-confidence.
• Were self-directed and sometimes reluctant to seek help.
• Had difficulty meeting synchronous class activities due to professional and family obligations.

Based on the above student assessment, we reviewed our current delivery strategies and modified some of our practices to better meet student needs.

The university uses a four-week teaching format, and students take one course at a time. We found that this format allowed students to better adjust their class schedule with their family and work commitments. However, the short, four-week course format with traditional assessment methods such as a midterm and final exam and a written assignment due at the end of the course did not provide feedback on student progress promptly enough to identify students who were having problems or to give students feedback so they could either find help or drop the course.

Because students had difficulty attending synchronous class sessions due to family and professional obligations, we made all classes asynchronous.

A major innovation in the program was a collaboration between the Business School and the Univ. library to imbed access to the library in each course and add a research librarian to the class to identify students that needed help and provide prompt assistance.

Since student’s interests included a variety of fields and organization types, we used library research assignments to replace textbooks for the program. In this model the professor directs the general categories of the readings and allows the students to then refine their searches to accommodate their own interests.

Review of informal student feedback and university satisfaction surveys were very positive. Students were most favorable toward clear direction and prompt feedback. While most favored the replacement of texts with online library research; about 4-6 percent of students surveyed preferred to have a text.

The results of the study suggest that working professional student online programs can be improved by considering the capabilities and needs of this population of students.