Thursday, February 28, 2013
It could be a nightmare: showing up to class and discovering you’re wearing nothing but underwear. But these days the situation is more conceivable and less terrifying.
With Internet-based learning, the classroom can be the comfort of your own home, and you might complete a whole course in your undies – or at least your PJs.
Technology is changing the way colleges operate, and more students are turning to online programs. Local colleges, in turn, are getting in on the action.
Distance education enrollment at Monterey Peninsula College has more than doubled in the past five years, with about 1,500 students now taking online courses. In that time, Hartnell Community College saw its online enrollment increase from about 500 students to more than 1,600. And CSU Monterey Bay, which has also seen more interest in its online offerings, is rolling out two new online masters programs this year, adding to its two existing online programs.
“It’s a natural fit for us to look at online education to provide access to courses,” says Jon Knolle, associate dean of Instructional Technology and Development at MPC.
Online courses are ideal for busy students like parents and full-time workers, Knolle says. They also allow colleges like MPC to reach out to non-local students who might not have other options for classes.
Right now the three local colleges have relatively few degrees students can complete entirely online, though all the schools use online components like discussion boards to supplement learning.
MPC has no entirely online programs, Hartnell has one (administration of justice), and CSUMB has two (masters of business administration, and a liberal arts completion degree that requires students to first have an associate degree.)
Eric Tao, chair of CSUMB’s School of Information Technology and Communication Design, says the university’s online work could boost the local economy.
Right now the school is rolling out its two new online masters programs: one in instructional science and technology, and the other in management and information technology. If the programs become well known, and as CSUMB bolsters its online presence, Monterey County could become a hub for the online instruction field, Tao says.
“We believe we can cultivate an industry around here which is already growing,” he says. “Online classes give us a lot more freedom in terms of time, space and communication channels.”
What about the traditional university – with the kind of classrooms where it isn’t acceptable to show up half-naked? There will always be a place for that too, Tao says.
He’s an advocate of online masters’ degrees because people taking those courses are likely self-motivated and educationally mature enough to do the work, he says. The traditional university model for bachelors’ degrees, though, is still beneficial for young adults who need more than just instruction and grading, he says.
“People come to universities to become transformed,” he says.
While MPC and CSUMB are pushing for distance ed, for now Hartnell is staying low key. Online education isn’t a big goal for the school, though it could be in the near future, says Stephanie Low, interim vice president of academic affairs.
Nevertheless, a big change is on the horizon, says John Ittelson, an online learning expert at CSUMB. In the same way people don’t think of cars as “horseless carriages” anymore, he predicts a shift in the way people think about traditional and online education.
“There are structural changes that are going to make lots of people not recognize what we’ve had,” Ittelson says.