In 2021, the English Department launched a revamped, nationally competitive online M.A. program. Dr. Lynn Voskuil spearheaded the effort to fully redesign our Master’s in English to be relevant to the social, political, and environmental challenges of the 21st century and to accommodate professionals who work full- or part-time. Interactive, asynchronous courses are offered online, and face-to-face courses are offered during evening hours with the goal of eventually providing the option of a fully online M.A.
The new M.A., while remaining academically rigorous, requires only 30 credit hours (10 classes) to degree completion. Dr. Voskuil has teamed up with former UH CWP student and Ph.D. Rhianna Brandt to create an exemplary fully online degree aimed at empowering working professionals. New courses in Latinx Young Adult Literature, Literature and the Environment, Energy Humanities, and the 19th Century American Literature of Crisis will be offered asynchronously online for the 2022-2023 academic year.
FORWARD sat down with Drs. Voskuil and Brandt to learn more.
FORWARD: How did you apprehend the need to redesign the M.A. program?
Dr. Voskuil: In the past we treated the M.A. like a baby Ph.D. program, which meant Ph.D. students got first dibs for seminar courses. Many of our M.A. students had full-time jobs. Privileging the Ph.D. students for scheduling often meant working students couldn’t take those courses. So, we began to think about how to retool the M.A. for students who are also working professionals seeking additional credentials, personal enrichment, and educational momentum.
FORWARD: Did you have other specific target audiences in mind?
Dr. Brandt: One of our major target audiences is secondary-level English language arts (ELA) teachers. We already had several ELA teachers in our M.A. program, and we understand the demands of their labor market. The new M.A. is not exclusively a teaching or education M.A.—it is a literature M.A. that provides students with rich credentials and professional momentum. An M.A. in English provides the necessary credentials for ELA teachers to teach dual-credit classes—high school-level classes for which students receive college credit. This empowers ELA teachers to receive higher pay while allowing high schools students to get college credit at a significantly lower cost.
FORWARD: Dr. Voskuil, I’ve heard you say you’ve come to think of teaching online as a feminist issue. Could you elaborate?
Dr. Voskuil: With online courses, I have been able to accommodate women students who are caring for infants or young children—and even, in a few cases, women who gave birth during the term. I have come to think of online teaching as a service to many students but especially the so-called “non-traditional” students, which often means women who are returning to school or trying to finish degrees while they’re attending to family needs. The life experience of those students prompted me to reimagine online education and reach beyond Blackboard and massive open online courses (MOOCs). I started using VoiceThread, an interactive and collaborative platform that allows students to participate in discussions when it’s convenient for them in the form of video, voiceovers, images, or texts. Very recently, one of my online students was a new mother who would type rather than speak her discussion responses so as not to wake her sleeping infant. The multimodal nature of VoiceThread is a great equalizer.
FORWARD: What kind of funding is available for prospective students?
Dr. Voskuil: We’re currently seeking scholarship funds for new students because right now they’re laying down the entire tuition and fee charges from their own pockets. Nevertheless, our M.A. program is very financially competitive when compared with other M.A. programs in Texas. We’ve worked hard to make it as accessible as possible; financial contributions toward scholarship funding will go a long way toward making us even more inclusive.
Dr. Brandt: We are already one of the most competitively priced M.A. degrees in the region—and it’s not just financial competitiveness. I’ve seen online M.A.s that are well-oiled cash cows, but our program is also competitive in terms of quality of education. It’s a rich, rigorous educational experience designed for working professionals.