MSU’s online MAED program celebrates 20-year milestone

November 3, 2021

How much did a laptop weigh in 2001? About 10 pounds, as Professor Steve Weiland remembers it. 

At the time, the College of Education was preparing to launch the university’s first fully online master’s program: the Master of Arts in Education (MAED). Twenty years and more than 1,000 graduates later, it is easy to forget that 2001 was a time when very few faculty members had experience with online teaching and access to educational technology was limited (hence the memory of 10-pound laptops).  

But the MAED was ahead of the curve. 

Celebrating 20 years this fall, the program is a proven leader in online education, consistently ranking among the nation’s Best Online Master’s in Education Programs by U.S. News and World Report. Not only has it enhanced the professional practice of graduates both inside and beyond the classroom, but the MAED laid the foundation for a new era of online teaching and learning at MSU.  

As the college began to explore the possibility of developing online programs, former Dean Carole Ames recognized the potential of online education and—in partnership with Associate Professor Susan Melnick—ultimately got the MAED off the ground. Through special training opportunities, financial incentives and the provision of technology, their work helped to foster the development of online instruction at the college. Melnick launched the MAED’s first online courses in fall 2001 as the program’s director. 

The question of how to prepare faculty to transition face-to-face courses to an online model presented a unique challenge at the time. One foundational initiative was a course—developed by Professors Matt Koehler and Punya Mishra—that paired tenured faculty members and graduate students, challenging them to collaboratively design an online course to be taught the following year. 

“What you committed to doing was taking a face-to-face class that you had and converting it to an online class,” said Weiland, MAED instructor and one of the program’s founding faculty members. “[Faculty] would learn how to do that by being a student in this class.” 

Flexible scheduling, future opportunities

The online MAED opened doors to students from across the U.S. and around the world, who access the program from home in a format that can often be balanced with full-time professional obligations. The program is designed to meet the needs of all educators looking to take the next step in their careers, including teachers, administrators, coaches, adult educators and community leaders.

The flexibility of the MAED has become one of its hallmarks. Students can tailor the program to meet their unique professional goals by selecting from six concentration areas that draw on strengths from across the college. Graduate certificates that students can complete concurrently to their degree offer additional opportunity to educators seeking to improve their professional practice. A full-time student-centered academic advisor—John Olle—guides students through these academic decisions.  

“It is really incumbent upon the students to give careful thought to their goals for graduate study in the online program and work with the advisor to create the course work that best reflects those goals,” said Professor John Dirkx, an MAED instructor who served as the program’s director for nearly a decade.  

Following the success of the MAED, the college is now home to seven fully online master’s programs, along with multiple programs that offer hybrid learning models

Stephanie Jennings

As educators face unprecedented circumstances wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the MAED offers a skillset for navigating unpredictable futures, said Stephanie Jennings, current MAED director. 

“Many educators are facing incredible uncertainties because of the pandemic,” said Jennings. “Even so, they’re envisioning what education could become in the future. They’re also aware that their career trajectories could evolve in unexpected ways as they pursue those futures. MAED is uniquely suited to support educators in meeting such challenges, as it provides them with adaptable, forward-looking skillsets and knowledge.” 

Learn more about the program.