The Republican -Online College Classes Transforming Education

The Republican -Online College Classes Transforming Education

Online education is transforming the ways that colleges and university teach and students learn. American International College, for example, is setting up programs in Egypt, Britain, Ireland and Italy that utilize online learning to augment instruction in those far-flung satellite campuses.

"It's very exciting and they are absolutely embracing the fact that we are here," said Roland E. Holstead, AIC's vice president for educational enterprise, speaking during a telephone interview from Cairo. UMassOnline, the University of Massachusetts' online component, meanwhile, is growing by leaps and bounds. During fiscal year 2007, enrollment reached 26,627, up 25 percent from the previous fiscal year. Revenue, meanwhile, tallied to about $28 million in fiscal year 2007, up 32.1 percent over 2006. The program was launched in 2001.

Barbara Macaulay UMassOnline Chief Academic Officer, said the concept resonates with those juggling jobs or childcare or even those simply tired of fighting traffic every day. "Convenience has often been listed as the first reason," Macaulay said "Some students work better in the morning, some work better in the evening and some work better at midnight," said Sheila Q. Rucki, interim director of the graduate nursing program at AIC which features online learning.

Westfield State College and a number of other area colleges including Springfield Technical Community College and Springfield College also have a growing online presence. "More and more there is an interest for our students to be able to juggle life and family and so forth," Robert Bristow, associate vice president of enrollment management at Westfield State said. "It certainly is the way a lot of education is going," Western New England College spokesman David M. Stawasz said.  

UMass Online's growth has also been fueled by the growing realization that it offers quality education, Macauley said.
"People are finding they are getting the educational value they are looking for," Macaulay said. "They are finding that online programs are really good ways to get their degrees." Even so, online education isn't always the answer, officials said. Springfield College, for example, constantly evaluates its teaching approaches.


"Online program options are very effective for some students and programs, but less effective or appropriate for others," Springfield College Vice President for Academic Affairs Jean A. Wyld said.  
At Westfield State, faculty make online courses available each semester. Some are 100 percent online and others offer a combination of online and classtime sessions which Bristow refers to as blended or "brick and click." In the works for Westfield State is a finishing baccalaureate degree in business management which will be entirely online and set to start next year. "We are very pleased with that," Bristow said of the pending online program. "The department is working hard to prepare the needed course work to put this in place."

UMass Online also offers a variety of blended programs, offerings boosted last year by a $650,000 grant from the Sloan Foundation. In all it has 71 degree and certificate programs that span the disciplines and are offered by the five UMass campuses in Amherst, Boston, Lowell, Dartmouth and Worcester. The most popular online offerings at UMass include such fields as business, management education, nursing/health sciences, psychology, technology and criminal justice, officials said.


Business degree completion programs are also popular, Macaulay said. Western New England, along with a number of undergraduate course offerings, has a bachelor of business administration completion program that is entirely online.

Western New England's master degree in business administration program follows a blended or what Stawasz described a hybrid format that gives students flexibility in selecting their classroom and online sessions.
Unique to Western New England is master of law degree that offers live on-line sessions. "Legal education is defined by interaction with the professor," Stawasz said. Macaulay, who has taught online, said it was a bit unnerving at first because she prefers a lot of give and take with her students. To her surprise, however, Macaulay, their is plenty of contact with her online students.

"I describe it now as walking through a dark tunnel and 'boom' - the whole thing lights up...You get to know students in a very good way." UMassOnline classes can utilize chat room-style features and discussion boards to delve into issues, Macaulay said. There is also a Web conferencing tool where students and their professor can hold live sessions - share the same images on their computers. "It's a very cool tool," Macaulay said.

The time of such sessions are set by consensus - something that can be a bit of a challenge sometime when international students, living time zones away, are participating. Such sessions are archived, however, so students can catch up to missed sessions on their own time, Macaulay said.

Date: 2/10/08