December 2009 Issue
Education on Demand
Ohio colleges and universities use technology to meet the needs of their on- and off-campus students.
Not long ago, virtual classrooms and online degrees were seen as the lesser of two options, a definite second to coursework completed in a traditional classroom setting.
Today, that idea seems as ancient as separate classes for men and women.
Last August, the U.S. Department of Education released the findings of a report on online education conducted by SRI International, an independent research company in California. The
report, which reviewed data comparing online education with traditional classroom teaching from studies published between 1996 and 2008, concluded that “online learning has been modestly more effective, on average,” than traditional face-to-face instruction.
Add to this the ever-expanding needs of an ever-changing demographic of learners, and it’s no surprise that students seeking online education are the fastest-growing segment of the higher-education population. Figures from a 2008 study published by the Sloan Consortium, an association of institutions committed to the quality of online education, reveal a 12.9 percent growth in the rate of online enrollments between the fall of 2007 and 2008, substantially exceeding the 1.2 percent increase in the overall higher-education student population.
As the needs of students continue to evolve, so do options at Ohio’s colleges and universities. One leader in this category is the University of Cincinnati (UC). This fall, the university reported 3,242 students enrolled in distance-learning degree programs, nearly three times the number enrolled just five years ago. Currently, UC offers 23 degree-granting distance-learning programs, the majority of which are in the College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services. That number is expected to grow as new programs are added.
Among UC’s new programs this fall is a track to an online associate
degree for Head Start teachers who serve children under age 3. Part of the distance-learning Early Childhood Learning Community (ECLC) and supported by $1 million awarded by the Office of Head Start, the partnership — Mentor Infant and Toddler Teachers — serves English- and Spanish-speaking teachers of infants and toddlers in early Head Start programs. The university also offers a bilingual version of ECLC, in which courses are produced in Spanish to assist Spanish-speaking teachers in Head Start Centers who work with children of Spanish-speaking families.
Online resources are also hard at work in traditional classroom settings. At the College of Wooster, students of biology professor Dean Fraga use
databases from the National Center for Biotechnology Information to retrieve DNA or protein sequences for additional analysis. Fraga says students employ online software tools to study the origin, function and evolutionary relationships of genes.
“This is an invaluable service for the scientific community as the massive amounts of data we generate with the various genome projects is useless if the identified genes are not described properly,” he says. “By providing this service, students are connected to an international research community and can learn more about the details of gene structure. This type of real-world experience helps solidify the in-class learning.” Fraga also makes use of Woodle, a course-management software program designed for the College of Wooster, to post information about assignments, exams and other course-related materials, and uses the Web to set up online tutorials for students.
Educators agree that whether in a virtual or brick-and-mortar classroom, the future of online teaching lies in providing learning experiences tailored to individual students. Anthony J. Perzigian, senior vice president and provost at UC, says that on the state level, e-learning is a key strategy in meeting enrollment expectations set forth in the University System of Ohio Strategic Plan for Higher Education, which calls for a high-quality, affordable, flexible system of higher education that offers a wide range of educational options.
“Our new distance-learning additions this fall build on UC’s commitment to providing flexibility for student learning,” says Perzigian, a statement that echoes the commitment of higher-education institutions across the state.