SRPD Research Assistant Contributes to Study About Equity in Online Education

Online graduate student Mike Olson, who worked as a WNMU Student Research and Professional Development Research Assistant studying equity in online education in collaboration with WNMU psychology professor Dr. Jenny Coleman

© Western New Mexico University

Online graduate student Mike Olson worked as a WNMU Student Research and Professional Development Research Assistant studying equity in online education. He developed a literature database and designed and distributed a survey in collaboration with WNMU psychology professor Dr. Jenny Coleman.

From his home office in Clarksville, Tennessee, Mike works for a small distance education career school based in Arizona. “I’m pursing my Master of Arts in interdisciplinary studies with focuses on instructional design and technology and psychology,” he says.

His bachelor’s in instructional design taught him that the field is comprised of both theory and technological application. “What I got into was the theory and specifically those theories that are rooted in science. All the titans happened to be psychologists. I saw the relationships between these two disciplines and searched for a program combining them,” he says. “Turns out, that combo doesn’t exist but am able to create one through WNMU.”

The master’s level psychology courses cover the psychology of learning, or educational psychology, and Mike is including those classes in his instructional design graduate degree. “The difficulty was choosing which courses to exclude. I have my pickings because the WNMU graduate catalog happens to cover so many courses that work so well for that cross discipline,” he says.

To add to his experience and deepen his understanding of online education, Mike signed on to help Dr. Coleman examine high impact practices in online education. “My role has been to go out and aggregate existing research: What are experts already saying about high impact practices in online education? The immediate answer was not much. The next piece is: What are experts saying about high impact practices in general? If somebody’s looking at how service learning impacts online students, then I get that research over to her,” he says.

Mike’s experience through SRPD gave him an understanding of how to go about research. “Discovering the amount of time spent trying to find quality data has been eye opening. I’d scour posts for 20 hours over a weekend and, in my folder, I’d have kept three articles,” he says.

Mike has also learned about high-impact education. “As a Research Assistant, that’s not why I went into it, but I couldn’t help learning it. I really got exposed to some powerful, backed by research, instructional methodologies,” he says.

Most of all, he’s fascinated by how people change. “I think most of us have some sense of wanting to feel like we’re contributing and making the world better through our careers. From a young age, I wondered if you teach somebody something, does it change them as a person? Sometimes yes and somethings no. But why. I’m learning it’s about designing a course so at the end of the day, those things you wanted to learn about positive psychology are now part of your toolkit, not just things you tested on and wrote papers about,” he said.

While this was Mike’s first experience working as a research assistant, he plans to circle back to see how he can help add to Dr. Coleman’s conclusion. And before he graduates from WNMU, he wants to propose a robust interdisciplinary research project. “The sky’s the limit on how far that could go. I could start on a project before I graduate then maybe carry on and have it be part of a Ph.D. pursuit,” Mike says.

This is a WNMU Mustang Scholar profile. If you are interested in pursuing research at WNMU, contact Joe Doyle at 575-538-6658 or

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