We recently spent time talking with Dr. Dennis Nasco, a passionate educator with over twenty years of experience teaching at the university level. When the pandemic changed the face of education, Dr. Nasco was one of the first to consider Coursera as an option for students to continue their studies. Since then, he’s taught thousands of learners on the platform with the University of North Texas (UNT) in both the Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences and the Bachelor of Science in General Business. We’re thankful that he’s here to share his insights with our community about his teaching experience and his predictions for the future of education. Let’s meet Dr. Nasco!
Dennis, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. Let’s start at the beginning–how did you get into teaching?
I always wanted to teach. I got my MBA and had gone out into industry, and it was always my goal to go back. I had an opportunity to do that in the early 2000’s, and was able to get a PhD from Southern Illinois University while teaching. Since I already had a Master of Science in Human Resources Management (MSHRM) and worked a lot in HR, that was the subject area that I was hired to teach in.
I started teaching professional courses, career courses, human resources and organizational behavior courses. I did that at Southern Illinois University for about 17 years, but after a while, I wanted to do something a little different. We had an undergraduate degree completion program and an MBA program at SIU, so I taught in both of those, and was an adjunct for the University of Illinois’ iMBA program.
I finally joined UNT during the height of COVID in 2020 and I was eager for more flexibility and to teach online. As an R1 research university, UNT has a great reputation and allows me more professional opportunity and growth.
How do you think the pandemic affected education worldwide?
When COVID happened, it solidified in my mind that the future of education was changing, and the expectations of what students want in their education was shifting. How universities are going to deliver education is probably never going to be the same moving forward. And I thought that working with Coursera was an opportunity to be at the forefront of this change.
Could you tell us a bit about your students? What are some of their reasons for getting degrees?
The demographic of my students are people in their 30s and 40s mostly, with families, working full-time, who have a very specific purpose for why they want to go back and get an education. They’re looking to move up in their current organizations or to make career moves, and they need this degree to facilitate that for them.
In traditional education, people are 18 to 25 years old and in the process of finding their purpose. Most of my students don’t fall into that category. They’re very specifically looking for a degree to advance themselves and their family, and they need a flexible, high-quality, affordable solution for that. And this is exactly what we’re able to do in the Coursera platform. That puts us in a very unique place. It is truly innovative, the things that we’re doing here, and the steps that we’re taking with Coursera.
Do the courses that you teach have real-world applicability?
Yes, absolutely. One of the things that we hear consistently from students is they’re actually taking stuff from the courses and applying it to their careers. They see the value immediately in what they’re learning.
What will it take for someone to succeed in today’s business world?
Businesses today are saying that they need highly adaptable employees. What that means is the business world is in flux – things change much more rapidly than they did in the past. People have to be able to deal with that ambiguity. This is where Coursera fits in perfectly. You can’t just earn a degree and you’re done. You’re probably going to need to go back and earn additional certifications or degrees to remain relevant and to advance in the work world.
How do you envision UNT providing value to online students in the future?
With the Coursera platform, we’re going to see a lot more non-traditional students, a lot of people who are working full-time, have families, and don’t have access to education in the traditional sense. What I see is an opportunity for institutions like ours to move in, create structure, and bring a large-scale, high-reputation institution into the online world. Partnering with a platform like Coursera gives those students access to us, so it’s a great partnership from that perspective. I think that’s key to the future of education.
Where do you envision your program will be in five to six years?
I truly see us having rapid growth. The number of students that we’ll be able to impact in this program is going to be dramatic. We’ve created a program with Coursera where people who didn’t have access to education before now have that access. To me, that’s really exciting.
Spoken like a true educator!
Thank you, Dennis, for sharing your insights. We look forward to partnering with you in the future!