PCC, state universities expand online classes
The digital era is helping remove the need for college students to show up on campus.
It’s become more common for students to log on to the Web to apply for college, register, pay tuition, get tutorials and chat with faculty and advisers.
And more students complete entire programs online.
“There is a lot more interaction going on online,” said Pima Community College Chancellor Roy Flores.
Just think: No more long lines, scheduling around family and work, prowling for on-campus parking or sweat-breaking attempts to get to class on time.
PCC, as is the University of Arizona, is not only adding online classes, but is also increasing the number of programs entirely on the Web.
“People communicate online now as comfortably as we used to communicate face to face,” Flores said. “We’re obviously gearing up for online, but we’re not making superhuman efforts to increase those enrollments. People just want them.”
During fall 2001, PCC had 589 students taking online courses. That number hit 3,739 last fall, PCC reported. Online-only enrollment jumped from 132 to 1,481 during that same period.
José Snook is one of those who rarely step on campus.
The Flowing Wells Junior High choir director, theater director and drama teacher usually gets to work by 6:45 a.m. and typically leaves for home at 4:30 p.m.
By the time Snook gets home, his wife, Jodi Darling, often needs help with the children: Julia, 3, and Gabriel, who was born July 4.
“He takes his classes very seriously,” said Darling, 33, who teaches part time in the Tanque Verde School District and at Dancin Savvy. “When he has a free moment, he’s always on the computer.”
But it helps that Snook isn’t tied up in a class, she said.
Snook, 32, is pursuing his teaching certificate almost entirely online, so he can avoid sacrificing much of his family life.
“It’s priceless,” Darling said. “A lot of times, it’s just about having an extra pair of hands – having him here, physically, to hold the baby or turn on the movie for the kids so we can cook dinner. If he had to leave for school, I don’t think we would ever see him.”
Instead, Snook is able to spend about an hour each night reading and writing in his home office and devote extra time during the weekend. Plus, Darling is able to help with his studies.
“It would be a nightmare to have to go to night school and teach, or even go to school during the week,” Snook said.
The ‘borderless’ campus
The virtual or “borderless” campus is not new. Early online course delivery evolved from video-based teaching and has taken off over the past two decades.
But in recent years, campus capacity concerns, shifting funding structures in higher education, increased workforce demands and an emphasis on the nontraditional student have pushed administrators to offer more courses on the Web.
These issues are especially pressing in Arizona, which is working to increase the number of degree-carrying residents while boosting its work force, education and industry officials have said.
“There are so many adults in society today who need to upgrade their skills or move into a new career,” said Fred Hurst, Northern Arizona University’s vice president of extended programs. “The number of students out there is really incredible.”
NAU had nearly 2,300 students – including those in Tucson – in online programs during the past school year. That’s up from 772 in 2004, he said. “The growth in online has been phenomenal.”
The same happened at UA, which had 3,477 enrollments during the 2002-03 school year and 5,384 during the 2006-07 year, said Robin Allen, UA’s interim associate executive director for continuing education and academic outreach.
And programs are expanding.
This fall, PCC added three endorsements to its online programs for teachers of English as a second language, special education and special education/learning disabled.
Also, PCC campuses get a perk for offering online courses, Flores said.
Instead of crediting online enrollments to the Community Campus, enrollments stay with their respective campuses. This proves to be an “incentive” for faculty because “they get more money,” he said.
Similar things are happening in the state university system.
NAU years ago decided to become the distance-learning arm of the public university system.
UA recently introduced a Web-based digital information management certificate and a certificate in gerontology. Its College of Public Health is working to introduce a new certificate next semester.
And in recent years, UA has put programs such as the doctorate in nursing, its nursing practice degree and a master’s in optical science online.
“It’s kind of a constant growth,” UA’s Allen said.
The Web trend has even reached K-12, with schools such as Arizona Virtual Academy going online and others loaning students Internet-ready laptops.
And PCC, as other institutions, is increasing students support services online, such as tutoring and advising.
“It’s made the transition to teaching really easy,” Snook said. “Of course, we’re learning all this stuff in class, and the next day – sometimes the day before – I will have experienced it already. It’s trial by fire, but it’s interesting to see it all at once.”
Online vs. other methods
Some instructors teaching online favor papers over exams, while others offer on-site exams to prevent cheating.
Also, certain lab requirements can be offered online with interactive tools.
Those enhancements helped Gretchen Thomas avoid feeling detached from PCC, where she completed her teaching certification with an endorsement primarily online.
Her teachers also kept the class busy with online discussions, and students coordinated face-to-face meetings.
“Those got to be quite lively,” said Thomas, 56, a fourth-grade Sunnyside Unified School District teacher.
She also said that “once you get used to how many times you have to post, what things mean and who you can get help from, it goes smoothly.”
But some are skeptical of online-only. Online doesn’t always equate to more capacity, less work for faculty or more effective learning, some said. Sometimes it costs more.
Course fees can cost the state’s university students up to $402 per credit, UA’s Allen said. That amounts to more than $1,200 – on top of tuition – for the typical three-credit course.
“Sometimes it takes longer to develop a course online. Sometimes you need to get graphics done, a studio or cameras,” Allen said. “It’s the investment in technology. ”
Then there’s the perspective of some faculty.
PCC biology instructor Mike Tveten has taught the gamut: in class, via video, online courses and a hybrid mixture of in-class and technology-enhanced formats.
It turns out he found hybrid courses to be more effective.
“It gives the best possibilities of everything, and you’ve still got the traditional class meeting,” he said.
And online-only can’t always offer an extensive lab experience or manual training certain programs – such as those in science – need, he said.
“But there are so many different types of learning styles out there (so) that offering the widest range will lead to the greatest success,” Tveten said. “But the tricky part is linking students with what works best for them.”
Another benefit to online exists, said Hurst, also NAU’s distance-learning dean.
“We always think of the classroom as the gold standard, that it’s the best way to learn, but for a lot of students, the ability to work at their own speed is really important,” Hurst said.
“Part of the expectation of Arizona’s public institutions is to address the needs of employers and students. One of the most effective ways of serving them is by offering online programs.”
ONLINE ENROLLMENT GROWS
Statistics on Pima Community College and the state universities’ course and program offerings online
• From the fall 2005 to fall 2006, PCC’s headcount enrollment in online classes jumped from 3,011 to 3,739.
• During fall 2005, PCC enrolled about 1,130 students in online courses only. The following fall, the college enrolled about 1,480.
• PCC offered 36 online courses with 40 classes during fall 2001. By last fall, the college had 173 online courses with 351 classes.
• In 2006, Arizona’s three public universities had 49,523 enrolled for Web-based programs. That number is expected to reach nearly 65,000 by 2009.
• About 8,910 enrollments were counted at the state’s universities in 2006. That number is expected to reach more than 9,900 by 2009.
• Arizona university online course offerings reached 1,860 in 2006, up from 1,170 in 2005.
• About 60 UA, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University undergraduate, graduate, certificate and endorsement programs are offered via the Arizona Universities Network.
• The university system’s Web-based offerings led to 11 new teachers and 73 new nurses in 2005 compared to 293 teachers and 50 nurses in 2006.
Sources: Pima Community College, Arizona Universities Network
ON THE WEB
Instruction and education help online
• University of Arizona: www.eu.arizona.edu/dist/- UA’s Continuing Education & Academic Outreach office
• Pima Community College: www.pima.edu/announcements/200708/OnlineClasses.shtml – Up-to-date information about PCC’s online course and program offerings.
• Arizona Universities Network: www.azun.net/ – Information about the tri-university network, which allows students to take courses from each of Arizona’s three public universities via the Web.
• University of Phoenix Online: www.uopxonline.com/ – Information about the for-profit university’s program offerings online, which are in areas that include education, business, technology, health care and social and behavioral science.
• Northcentral University: www.ncu.edu – The private university in Prescott boasts “100 percent online bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.”
Are you Internet-ready?
Pima Community College offers a free “online readiness quiz” to help people determine whether they are fit for online coursework.
Visit www.pima.edu/cgi-bin/onlineReadiness/quiz.pl to take the 41-question quiz. Registration is not required.
A word of caution
The Higher Learning Commission warns potential students to be careful when choosing an institution for online coursework.
When looking, remember that certain institutions may not be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Make sure the institution you would like to attend does not fall in this category by verifying the accreditation status of the institutions you are evaluating or plan to choose.
For help, view these Web sites:
• U.S Department of Education: www.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/index.html – Detailed information about the history and purpose of accreditation.
• United States Distance Learning Association: www.usdla.org/ – A nonprofit association that promotes for distance education.
• The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools: www.ncahigherlearningcommission.org – The accrediting body of institutions in a 20-state region of the United States.
• Peterson’s: www.petersons.com/distancelearning/ – Contains information for consumers on information related to online learning, college and universities, career colleges and other higher education-related topics.
• eLearners.com: http://www.elearners.com/guide-to-online-education/ – Offers a “Guide to Online Education” with information and resources.
• About.com: http://gradschool.about.com/od/distanceeducation/Graduate_Study_via_Distance_Education.htm – Advice for graduate students considering online learning.
• U.S. News & World Report: www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/elearning/elhome.htm – E-Learning Guide with database search of schools offering online education options.