Case Study: San Jose State Develops Online Master's Program in Occupational Therapy


In 1998, San Jose State University's (SJSU) Division of International and Extended Studies along with the Department of Occupational Therapy (OT) received a grant from the California State University Commission on Extended Education to develop the first online master's program in OT in the United States. The grant was to be used to adapt the curriculum of 10 courses into online courses.

From the project's inception, instructional design was considered the key component to creating a successful online program. One aspect considered in building the program was that the faculty had never been part of an online teaching experience, and for that matter, had never constructed courseware for the purpose of learning. To accomplish the goals set forth in the master's program, the following four phases were developed to complete the project:

  • Phase I - guide faculty through the pedagogy of online learning. This phase also included learning the technology to deliver the courses successfully.
  • Phase II - develop the actual online instruction.
  • Phase III - deliver the courses.
  • Phase IV - formatively evaluate and revise the courses.

    Prior to beginning Phase I, SJSU investigated online platforms that were intuitive to the faculty in developing instruction and easy for students to navigate. How faculty approached the development process for teaching online was going to be different than what they did in their traditional classes, and finding an easy to use platform was important. eWeb University, an e-learning platform and content provider, was chosen for that reason. The faculty's goal was to create powerful instruction using the technology's many attributes.

    To accomplish Phase I, faculty was asked to take a six-week asynchronous course in the pedagogy of e-learning. It was important for the faculty to be part of an online course and to experience what their students might encounter. This initial entry into e-learning proved to be a very important step. The faculty was very engaged in understanding the attributes of the technology. The course was designed to be a model of online learning, so the different components of learning could be incorporated into their own courses.

    Once the faculty had a foundation for how to develop an online class, they worked with an instructional developer to create the structure of their course. This phase gave the faculty time to revisit their course, objectives and content in a new way. Next, they reflected on how to communicate content using technology, and by fall 1999, they were prepared to teach the first two courses. Two semesters before offering the first courses, the OT Department advertised the new online master's degree in one national journal. The ad received more than 150 inquiries, creating the first cohort of 19 students.

    To kick off the program, the department hosted an on-campus orientation for all students in the cohort. The orientation had several goals in mind. First, the department wanted the new students to understand the scope of the program and the philosophy of the SJSU OT Department. Second, the orientation provided practical experience with the technology. Finally, it was important for the students to have an opportunity to transition their learning from a traditional class to an online class by actually having a meeting. The orientation also gave both students and faculty an opportunity to establish the kind of relationship and community necessary for online learning to be successful.

    Students and faculty started to interact in their new learning community at the beginning of the fall 1999 semester. It took approximately three weeks for the students to begin to understand the nature of learning online and the power of interaction using the new learning platform.

    At the end of the first year, the students returned to campus for a three-day workshop. This gave them and the faculty an opportunity to renew and build their relationships. The OT Department along with SJSU's Division of International and Extended Studies evaluated the program in winter 2000, and decided to proceed and recruit a second cohort. Again, there was considerable response to the program. Also, during this period, faculty continued to develop and revise their courses. In December 2001, the OT Department graduated 13 of the original students.

    The foundation for this program has been instructional design, understanding and using the technology, and building a strong community. The benefits from this program included faculty taking a close look at what and how they teach, transferring this knowledge not only to their online class, but also finding the best practices for their traditional class. Finally, this program has been woven into the fabric of the university, providing a model for other SJSU online programs.

    For more information on the SJSU OT distance program, visit

    Steve Zlotolow, Ph.D.;
    Jeremy W. Kemp, M.Ed., MSJ
    San Jose State University

    Contact Information
    San Jose, CA
    (408) 441-2730

  • This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.