Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Offsite and Online
Wise and worldly readers, what kind of relationships have you seen between online instruction and offsite locations? Can they support each other?
Yes, online classes are convenient...but convenience is only a small part of the educational experience. I may get some negative reactions for saying this, but as a faculty member of the natural sciences, I don't see online education being of equal value to a traditional in-person class. How can you study a hands-on discipline without touching the equipment? While my department offers a few hybrid courses where the lab component is in-person and the lecture component is online, I am still skeptical since good science lectures involve demos, props, and analyzing preconceptions about the world by being forced by make predictions WITHOUT looking up what will happen.
With that said, as students are navigating the plethora of online education options, some institutions are recognizing the appeal and benefit that a physical campus location can have for online learners. It can provide access to support resources (e.g., tutoring, financial aid, student activities) and a tangible tie to the institution that can provide comfort and assurance for the student. As a result, institutions that have offsite locations and who embrace online learning can potentially stand out from the ever growing crowd of online learning purveyors.
My college also has the same fees for anyone living in our state, but we are not the largest CC or the largest city in the state. We have a single campus with small facilities centered in adjoining rural counties in our district. Those centers offer some classes, including adult ed, but also have tutoring and facilities that serve distance learning students. Network access in rural areas is not good, and some classes cannot be taken on your phone.
Our night enrollment is down a lot for classes that students perceive as content delivery without much need for f2f learning. (You can see that in our parking lots, where there is no longer a traffic jam at 5:30.) Much easier to just drive home. It is up or stable for classes that we do not offer on line or only in hybrid form, and not down quite so much for classes where students perceive that they need more personal attention than is possible on line. (I am thinking, in particular, of students who fail college algebra on line.)
We don't even try to do labs on line, but I can see how it could work based on the kinds of exercises we have them do on line for prelab preparation (learning to read a ruler -- seriously -- and a graduated cylinder or analyze sample data). One thing I think they would miss out on is the teamwork needed in most of our labs and the real-time presentation of their results to other groups in the lab.
In our case, we see two big groups of "online" students. One group is taking a program structured with online theory classes, and on-site practicums. Those tend to be working students seeking a formal or higher credential, and it's been a huge success for those students. The other group is taking face-to-face and online together, often in a 2/3 to 1/3 mix, in a variety of programs.
The satellite campus students are a different audience entirely: often place bound, or basic skills students, first-gen students, often lower SES... much like the audience you describe above.
To your question: the satellite-center-for-online model is one I've seen being built out by schools in developing countries. Often it's infrastructure-driven: connectivity and stable power are limited to certain places, and students simply don't have computers and connections at home. Security is also a factor, both for the facility and for students, so one well-equipped/secure lab beats out a laptop program. I haven't seen a tremendous amount of research on effectiveness, or even sustainability of the model.
I would readily suggest that the type of staff/faculty on the site would be critical. Are they an instructor in the program, or perhaps in a basic skill like writing or math? Or are they a security guard/front desk person primarily tasked with keeping the lights on. Another factor may be the eventual connection to the main campus, and to a pathway to a full degree. That may particular to our context, but I know it's something we struggle with.
It seems like a model that, properly structured, could be quite successful at both creating and maintaining that personal relationship and providing access (technical and otherwise) to a wider audience. But I think the discussion starts (as maybe all should) on what students in a particular area need in terms of instruction and support services.