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Laughing Out Loud:

Schwans and M State Maximize Online Technology

Employees worldwide benefit from online coursework provided by a partnership between The Schwan Food Company and Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Now, with the latest in interactive software, the online learning experience connects students and instructors like never before.

Real time interaction among fellow students and the instructor is not new to online learning, at least not by today's standards, when technology improvements seem to take forward leaps every day. Typically, online courses have used scheduled chat sessions and postings on message boards. What is new in the Schwan Fast Track Degree Program is the instructional software that allows a student to actually talk among their fellow classmates. Starting next fall, they will see them, too.

"Before this program was created, we had employees going to school in person, through online programs, and in just about any other format imaginable," says Jamie Brink-Thordson, Associate Manager of Learning Solutions/Academic Programs at Schwan. "The feedback we've received since this program began has been wonderful. Our students love the online learning format and especially appreciate the aspects [the technology] adds where they can actually hear the instructor - that's a critical piece missing from most online learning environments."

Deb Johnson, instructor for M State Custom Training Services (CTS), has taught in workplace environments for about 18 years. She taught five courses last year to Schwan employee-students from all areas of the company and dispersed across the country. With a presentation style dependent upon classroom interaction, initially she wasn't sure how it would work when she began teaching online last September. "Everyone has found it easy," she says. "We can get into a much deeper level of conversation than we can in just print communication. We learn people's voices, we laugh, we have a little more humor."

The difference is clear according to Pat Wilber, who oversees CTS at M State. "When we communicate online in our professional lives, we tend to craft our messages carefully before we hit the 'send' button. We've learned to be cautious about how our email and instant messaging is received. That behavior also is typically what we have seen in online classroom discussion in the past."

Wilber continues, "But in using the new technology, we see the students build a camaraderie that wasn't there before. It gives spontaneity to the online experience that more closely matches the traditional classroom experience."

Like instant messaging, the new technology falls under the category sometimes referred to as synchronous conferencing. With instant messaging and email, however, the printed word can sometimes be misinterpreted. Spontaneous joking in a class is limited to the use of the smile face or the LOL abbreviation for "laughing out loud."

Now, Schwan students can actually laugh out loud online, and when they have something to say, everyone in the class can hear them.

The Schwan Food Company is a global leader in the frozen food industry headquartered in Marshall, Minnesota.

Last modified: January 22nd, 2009 at 11:52am