More and more, Yuba College students are finding ways to avoid coming to school. Instead of sitting in traditional classroom settings, they are logging on to the Internet at all hours of the day and night. No, they do not all waste their time chatting online or swapping music files over Napster. Instead, they are taking online classes through Yuba College’s Distributive Education program.
When Yuba first began offering online classes in the fall of 2000, only eight classes were offered. By spring of 2001, the classes numbered 16. By the fall semester of 2002, 37 online classes will be offered to students desiring a more high-tech and schedule-flexible alternative to the traditional classroom.Stephen Cato, the Coordinator of the Distance Education program, says that 825 students are presently enrolled in Yuba College online classes, and he expects the number to increase as more classes are offered online and the technology improves.
He is especially excited about the integration of video and audio streaming capabilities into Yuba courses through the use of Teleweb technology, also known as webcasting. This technology will allow students to view class lectures and videos, either recorded or in real time, conveniently at computers in their own homes or offices.
Of course, the technology works best with a broadband Internet connection. As these become more widespread, more students will become interested in robust Teleweb courses.
Online courses allow students to access class materials and participate in discussions at a time and place of their own discretion. A student can log into his or her class at just about any time– day or night.Online classes are especially attractive to working students, students staying home with children, disabled students, or students who may feel shy or intimidated in a general classroom environment.
Cato explained that these classes “reach out to new students that would never take a class here or through ITV (Interactive Television). They also attract a new breed of student who is computer savvy.”
Reaching out is exactly what these online classes appear to be doing. Several Teleweb students log on from such far-flung locations as South Korea or a bit closer, Los Angeles. None of these students would be Yuba College students without Yuba’s Distributive Education program.
Online courses are not for everyone. Cato admits that “for the person who needs touch-me-see-me group interaction and has no discipline, online classes may not be so good.”
Of course, the online student must also have access to a PC connected to the Internet. A 56K modem is recommended. Moreover, the minimum age for an online Yuba student is 18.
When asked about the level of academic rigor typical of an online class compared to that of a traditional class, Cato stressed that the success of an online class experience depends on the student.”A lot deals with the motivation of the student,” he stated. “Attendance is tougher (in an online class) than in a face-to-face one. Students are required to post to discussion groups and no short answers! Good critical thinking goes on.”
From the instructor’s perspective, online courses can be empowering. The online class management tool, WebCT, allows instructors to turn on and off assignments at will. Therefore, students will not be able to turn in assignments after they are due. Quizzes and examinations are timed.
Additionally, instructors can evaluate students’ participation by monitoring their activities in discussion groups. They can also see when a student accesses a homework assignment or other class materials.Nevertheless, not all classes are easily taught over the Internet. Classes requiring “psycho-motor” skills, such as automotive repair and tennis, are not suited for the online environment. No one has yet to learn the perfect backhand over a computer.
However, classes involving cognitive skills and discussion seem to be the most suited to this new high-tech medium. Business classes seem to have made the easiest transition to the World Wide Web.Several classes are a hybrid of both the online environment and the traditional classroom environment. Classes of this type are called “Web Enhanced” and require both online participation and some class meetings. Such classes are in chemistry, art history, and computer networking.
However, many instructors are resistant to putting classes online. Cato replied by saying “instructors must create the learning environment in another way. The faculty must understand that content can be delivered through different modalities.”
For their part, the Distributive Education program provides support staff and mentors to help train instructors on WebCT. Additionally, the department offers a television orientation for students new to Yuba’s online courses.
Future goals are to offer a half-unit class for developing skills necessary to succeed in an online environment. Cato also expressed his desire to design an associate’s degree attainable through distributive education.
Cato took special care to acknowledge the contribution of both faculty and staff. “I am very proud of the vision of the administrators and support staff such as Terry Brownfield, Sukhbir Grewal, Claudette Michel, Julia Schmunk and Jeanette O’Bryan. And without the mentoring faculty of Leslie Williams, Linda Staffero, Larry Michel and Angela Willson, out pilot online program would have never been the success it is today,” said Cato. “The camaraderie has been outstanding.”