“One of the things I enjoy about online education is how it expands access to new populations of students.” – UTPB Professor of communication Dr. Bill Harlow 

As both a professor and chair of the Department of Communication at UTPB, Dr. Bill Harlow is ideally positioned to discuss the merits of our online Bachelor of Arts in Communication program. Dr. Harlow graciously offered his time for a conversation during which he outlined benefits exclusive to online learning and UTPB, explained how two U.S. presidents played a role in inspiring his career path, and extended a helpful invitation to prospective students. 

From Debate Team Enthusiast to Devoted Educator 

Dr. Harlow’s early interest in communication is tightly linked to his education. “I was on the debate team in high school, and I was on the debate team in college, and I just became acquainted with a lot of the classes that we offer. That helped make me interested.” This interest led to him earning a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, a Master of Arts in Communication, and then a PhD in speech communication.  

During graduate school, Dr. Harlow’s love for communication deepened, particularly studying presidential speechmaking. “I went to Texas A&M and spent some time in Papa Bush’s library, and I got to hold the documents that the president held. [I was able to] see how he made some of the decisions that he made about some of the speeches he gave. I did the same thing at President Johnson’s library in Austin. That was just a fascinating insight into the speeches which mark key points in our history. And I went from there.”  

Dr. Harlow’s professional journey eventually brought him to UTPB, where he discovered that something outside his college studies gave him an edge as an educator. “I think the fact that I spent several years not being a college professor helps me much more in this role,” he said. “I’ve lived abroad. I speak Spanish. I understand how a lot of things actually function, [which] helps me relay those things to my students, and it also helps me expand their horizons. If we’re talking about something in class, I might give a random example from the couple of weeks I spent in Nicaragua or from the time I lived in Nigeria. I think it’s incredibly valuable to provide that sort of broadening experience to my students.” 

Expanding Access to Education Through the Online Classroom  

Dr. Harlow shared his enthusiasm for some of the unique advantages of online learning, including how it makes broader access possible by removing the constraints of geography and students’ work schedules. “I really enjoy what we do in terms of being able to expand educational access to more people. Because there are some people who can’t physically get to my classroom, right? Even if they’re in this area. I mean, you’ve got to work when I teach, or whatever. And I’m still physically right here if you want to come in and talk to me.” 

“I had a student once who was forward deployed in Afghanistan,” Dr. Harlow continued. “I’ve had students in other time zones in the U.S., usually about one a semester. I’ve got people with different jobs on different shifts. I think the deployment of live video technology makes online classes a lot richer than they would have been 10 or 15 years ago, because you’ve got the option to talk to me face-to-face if you want. A video link is a significantly richer thing than all the conversations being text-based.” 

Taking a Proactive Approach to Student Success 

Dr. Harlow explained how he helps students stay on track throughout the program. “One of the things I try to do is give really clear instructions in the first place, so from day one of the class you know exactly what’s due at every point and that helps you plan. I post a video announcement at the start of every week so, A) you get to have just a little bit of face time, and B) you’ve got a reminder of what we’ve got coming up, here’s why that’s important, etc. Part of the responsiveness is not waiting to need to respond—it’s proactively making sure people get the information they need.”  

“I do other things too,” Dr. Harlow added, “like read the discussion boards every day, so if there’s something I need to step in on, [I can]. I always answer my e-mail. I make myself available for meetings in Teams. I watch the grades and if I notice that somebody hasn’t turned [assignments] in for the previous week or certainly for the previous two weeks, then we try to reach out to them to see if there’s a problem that we can fix.” 

Outperforming Other Distance Learning Programs  

Dr. Harlow was clear on why he believes UTPB’s online BA in communication has something more to offer students than competing programs. “You will take classes from people who are experts in their field [and] who will know who you are. And most of us have a direct expertise that comes from someplace other than our textbooks.” He also extended an invitation to anyone who might be undecided about applying to our program: “Reach out to us. We would be delighted to set up a video meeting or to answer e-mail questions and talk to you about what we’re about.” 

Earn your BA in communication online under the guidance of accomplished educators like Dr. Harlow! Get program details and apply now.