Vol. 16 : No. 4< >
A Day at Fielding Graduate Institute
Donald G. Perrin and Elizabeth Perrin
In 2001 the editors of the USDLA Journal attended more than a dozen national and international meetings and made a number of field trips to significant distance learning programs. One name came up repeatedly that captured our attention – the Fielding Graduate Institute. The Institute was set up almost three decades ago as a mid-career program offering graduate courses nationwide. It has a long and successful history in distance learning and commands attention because of its high quality innovative programs.
We were unable to attend the inaugural ceremony for Judith L. Kuipers as Fourth President of the Fielding Graduate Institute on October 6, 2002 and Eve Alintuk of MacKenzie Communications in San Francisco kindly arranged a personal visit for us to meet the new President and members of the faculty.
The Founding of Fielding
In 1974, three distinguished educators - Frederic Hudson, Hallock Hoffman, and Renata Tesch - established the Fielding Institute in Santa Barbara, California. The founders envisioned a radical departure from traditional graduate education. They proposed a distance-learning format designed specifically for mid-career adults - one that would create a prestigious national learning community in the behavioral sciences.
The founders recognized that mid-career adults learn in different ways from adolescents and young adults. The traditional pedagogical model of active teacher-passive learner does not apply. Adults seek active involvement in the learning process, as well as the freedom to make choices appropriate to their learning styles and personal circumstances.
The founders embraced concepts that were advanced notions at the time. They realized the changing demographics of American society would increase the number of adults pursuing advanced degrees and these returning students would possess significant academic and professional skills. Many would desire a career change. And, by the nature of their quest for quality graduate education at midlife, these students would welcome the opportunity to participate in a lifelong learning community.
With these concepts in mind, the founders designed a rigorous, yet supportive learning model that has stood the test of time. From its Santa Barbara headquarters, Fielding Graduate Institute's staff of 95 serves 1,400 students, 1,500 alumni, and more than 120 faculty throughout the United States and the world.
A Visit with the Faculty
Sylvia Williams, Director of Communications and Community Relations, gave us a preview of the Fielding philosophy and worldwide operations. We spent the morning meeting with key faculty and staff, ending with lunch with the President at a historic Santa Barbara outdoor restaurant.
Dr. Kjell Rudestam, Associate Dean for School of Psychology, enlarged upon the Fielding learning model. Three schools: Psychology, Human & Organization Development, and Educational Leadership & Change, offer Master’s and Doctoral Degrees. Their scope is national and international.
Students continue to live and work in their communities as they earn doctoral and masters degrees through the flexibility of independent study, one-to-one faculty-student mentoring, and online seminars and academic dialogue. Fielding also honors the vital aspect of face-to-face dialogue. Thus, an extensive array of academic sessions is offered throughout the year and at various locations. Around most major US cities are clustered students and faculty who meet frequently. Week-long sessions held each year in Santa Barbara and again at an East Coast location support academic program requirements; similar sessions focus on research and professional training needs. Some masters degrees, certificate programs, and custom and corporate programs rely to a greater extent on the online environment. Fielding is by no means a "faceless" impersonal online learning experience. It uses many forums and the best practices of adult learning to build and sustain a true learning community.
Dr. Rudestam explained how the Fielding learning model combines theory and practice with an emphasis on academic understanding, writing skills, research, and applied activities. Students create their own learning roadmap with faculty who act as mentors throughout the learning process. As scholar-practitioners, Fielding students use their academic knowledge to solve real-world problems. They are encouraged to customize curriculum guidelines and choose their own study options: individual or collaborative, online or offline.
Fielding Learning Model
Students are required to demonstrate competence in all components of the curriculum. They are encouraged to build on strengths they already have, and to extend themselves into less familiar areas. Scholarship at Fielding is oriented to positive individual, organizational, and social change.
Dr. Rudestam explained a typical Fielding student has multiple career, family, and community responsibilities that compete with a schedule of graduate study. The Institute recognizes the many commitments of adult students and provides flexible programs that lead to personal and professional advancement. The individual, organization, community, society, and global interrelationships are concerns of Fielding students. They are accomplished professionals and bring a wealth of talent, information, and experience to their graduate studies.
Fielding students join together in an extraordinary lifelong learning community that transcends geographic boundaries and transforms their personal and professional lives. The educational model supports adult learners with responsibilities of work, family, and community. Flexible schedules and study options integrate personal and professional growth and promote diversity. Learning technologies are responsive to demands of subject matter and needs of students. The result is reflective professionals who integrate theory and research with responsible, high-integrity practice in pursuit of positive individual, organizational, and social change.
During our visit, Dr. Rudestam was in the final stages of editing for a book - Handbook of Online Learning: Innovations in Higher Education and Corporate Training edited by Kjell Rhudestam and Judith Schoenholtz-Read. It was published in February 2002 by Sage Publications, Inc. Its 20 chapters distill the best current knowledge of organizational management and distance learning theory and practice into 480 pages of text. This is not a book about distance learning, it has a hands-on orientation focused on andragogy rather than pedagogy. The contibuting authors, drawn from faculty, students, and professional associates of the Fielding program, have impressive credentials and a a treasure chest of valuable information.
Fielding Graduate Institute is also collaborating in preparation of a three volume ENCYCLOPEDIA OF DISTRIBUTED LEARNING that will be published by Sage later this year.
Stefan Kramer, Director of Library Services, showed dynamic awareness of needs of distance learners. He observed there is a revolution of scholarly content in online format and most students desire resources to be available online. Mr. Kramer provides Fielding students with letters of support to access local university libraries. Students who do not have access to a library are supported through the University of Michigan document delivery system which scans documents for students to download from a website. Copyright compliance is mandatory. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 favors copyright holders at the expense of education.Shelley Hughes is Director of the Online Academic Environment. Transition from face-to-face to online environments changes institutional and student priorities. She believes technology is best when it is invisible. Ms. Hughes sees distance learning is moving from distributive to collaborative, tutorial to interactive, and from fixed to flexible curriculum.
Today’s curriculum is learner-centered and outcome-based. The Internet links scholar-practioners to faculty and resources. There is continual contact through email, listservs, chat, and instant messaging. Program participants have the ability to be connected but not physically present.
Ms. Hughes explained how administration of the online environment requires a variety of approaches. SiteScape Forum is used for large group asynchronous seminars integrated with email. Faculty request online space on the forum for threaded discussions and the opportunity for synchronous chat, email alerts, and interactive activities. Chat is used most widely by the psychology faculty for teaching statistics, giving assignments and data sets, and weekly discussions.
Things we see on television shape our expectations for the future, but broadband and video are not available for many Fielding students, particulary those in Europe, Australia and Asia, awaiting enhancement of the global infrastructure. The Fielding Graduate Institute keeps current with developing technologies as an institutional member of EDUCAUSE, through the Coalition of Network Information, and through its own researchers and consultants.
The morning rushed by, and it was time to lunch with the President.
Dr. Judy Kuipers, Fourth President of Fielding Graduate Institute, put us immediately at ease with a friendly smile and an informal ride to the center of the city. We walked through what appeared to be a bookstore and art gallery to an inner mediterannian style courtyard. Dr. Kuipers enthusiasm for the Fielding Graduate Instititue was contagious as we shared our experiences of that morning. She is a visionary educator and fitted well with the Fielding tradition of innovation and quality. We retired our pads and pencils and listened intently. Many prominent Santa Barbara leaders stopped by and we were introduced. We discussed the present and the future. Many of the items we discussed are in Dr. Kuipers Inaugural Address, which is published next.
We were deeply impressed by the quality of the faculty and programs of the Fielding Graduate Institute. We look to them as a source of inspiration and leadership.
About the Fielding Graduate Institute
Fielding Graduate Institute is an accredited, nonprofit graduate institute composed of schools of Psychology, Human & Organization Development, and Educational Leadership & Change. Founded in 1974, Fielding is world renowned for its leadership and innovation in networked distance learning for adult learners, its commitment to transformational life-long learning, and its dedication to social justice and change.
Fielding Graduate Institute has its headquarters