Top online course: Ohio University’s Professional Master of Sport Administration programme offers an alternate route to a top postgraduate degree
2019 marks the first time that the SportBusiness Postgraduate Course Rankings has separately assessed online courses. While Ohio University slipped to second place in the overall rankings, its Professional Master of Sport Administration course came out on top in the online stakes, as the school continues to innovate in sport education. Adam Nelson speaks with Greg Sullivan, associate professor and programme director of the course, about what makes an online degree from Ohio University so valuable.
How is the online course at Ohio structured and what makes it stand out in the emerging marketplace?
GS: We are aligned in many ways with the on-campus graduate program. We have the same student learning outcomes, the same objectives. What differentiates us is that we operate primarily obviously online, and our audience is a little bit different. We are seeking people who are currently working in the sport industry who have anywhere from a minimum of three to ten years experience. A lot of times they have much more than that, and they see this as an opportunity to gain an Ohio University degree, obviously without having to force them to give up their careers and they don’t have to have that opportunity costs while attaining a graduate degree.
I think that what differentiates us from other online programs is that we do actually a fair amount of face-to-face instruction in the form of seminars and residencies. We do them on campus here in Athens, but we also do them, around the country. When we’re at the National Sports Forum for example, we will have residencies that align with their conferences. So it’s a little bit different in that we do rely on that opportunity for students to actually get together physically, as opposed to just virtually.
What kind of backgrounds do the students come from?
GS: We tend to focus on people who are, who are currently in the sport industry. We think one of the values of being a graduate student in our program is the opportunity to learn from best principles and practices from other sport organisations that you can then apply within your own sport organisation. So we primarily cater to, and our programme is really focused on, people who are currently working in the sport industry. We see some career transitioners but not many.
And we’ve been really fortunate in that area. We have executives from all the major leagues, we have people from Olympic committees, we have students that work in intercollegiate sports, we’re starting to see more students from the sport tourism industry. It really runs the gamut. I don’t know if there’s an area of sport where we’re not seeing some of our students coming from.
What is the geographical spread of your students, is it a diverse range or are they coming largely from the US?
GS: I think that’s extremely important in our offering. Our classes have grown to be more diverse each year. We do have usually in each cohort a number of international students. This year we have a student from Denmark who has actually made every residency. He’s afflilated with the Danish Olympic Committee. That’s always a focus, to make sure that have a well-rounded diverse group, because I think that represents the greatest learning opportunity too, to understand diverse viewpoints and different and perhaps better ways of doing the same things.
What are the skills students learn from the online course at Ohio that they couldn’t pick up from their day jobs?
GS: We provide them with research-based information. We see one of our primary goals as being to kind of bridge that gap between theory and practice. So obviously our students are interested more in practice than they are in theory, but I think that they need to have an understanding of the wonderful research that’s being done that will enhance what they do day-to-day. In terms of the latest research in leadership, and positive leadership, students really enjoy learning about that. The latest research and practical applications of revenue generation and all its different forms.
We are really doing a wonderful job of introducing our students to the benefits of using analytics in the decision making process. Across the board, between leadership, and analytic marketing, and facility management, our students are learning things that they can actually apply in the workplace immediately, not just after they graduate, and I think that they see the benefit of that.
How do you see your alumni using their degrees after they finish?
GS: Primarily students use this as a career enhancer, so that if they are in an organization where graduate learning is really valued, it helps enhance their careers. And I think that our students do a really good job of using the Ohio University network to, to land normally within the same industry but at higher level.
What are some of the new ideas that you’re incorporating into the course?
GS: Certainly in the area of data analytics, there is a huge appetite for that. On the marketing side, there is a strong desire to learn more about the impact of social media and assessing the latest trends and assessing return on investments in marketing and sponsorship and actually having a clear understanding of how that money is being spent and the value in that.
We’ve also done a really good job at introducing our students to things like esports. We’ve had seminars in esports and introduced our students to industry leaders there and the trends associated with that. We had a seminar recently where we introduced our students to all the changes in legislation, in sports gambling and sports betting and how that is going to change the landscape of sports. So what we try and do is really stay on the cutting edge of what’s going on in sports. We do a really good job of using our Ohio University network and bringing specialists into the course that are actually working in those specific areas, such as the sports such as gambling or esports, to make sure that our students have a really solid understanding of how it’s going to impact their specific industry, their specific job and their specific role.
What are some of the challenges associated with online teaching and how have you worked to overcome them?
GS: With our students located across the United States and in some cases across the world, we always have timing differences. So some of our virtual sessions have to be timed so that they are as user-friendly as possible. In the marketplace, there are a number of other programmes out there that are, are kind of selling a quick fix and not really challenging the students as much as we are. We have to kind of find ways to cut through the clutter to make people aware of the uniqueness and the competitive advantages of our programme. We try and stay at the forefront of the technological advances so that our learning environment as rich as it possibly can be.
Certainly it’s not as rich as a traditional classroom setting, but with the advances in technology, we’re getting awfully close. So we use all of that technology so that students really feel like they are being engaged with. It’s important for our students to stay motivated, because they’re often working full time and acquiring a master’s degree at the same time, which is is a daunting task, to be sure. So one of the things that we really try and stay cognizant of not allowing students to feel like they’re working in a silo. Technology enables us to make sure the students are able to feel connected, and I think that’s an important motivator for them.