Cosumnes River College has seen an increase in the presence and availability of online and Desire2Learn supported courses, a technologically-based style of teaching known as distance education.
This growing trend of distance education at CRC was addressed in the Substantive Change Proposal, a report presented to the Los Rios Board of Trustees on Sept. 11.
With a body of approximately 15,000 students, 12,364 CRC students enrolled in an online or D2L supported class in fall 2012, an increase of 727 students since fall 2010. Though overall enrollment for the college dropped by 4.2 percent, according to the report.
“You can expect an increase in online offerings as faculty have an increased desire to meet student needs and they have their own interests in teaching online,” said Whitney Yamamura, an author of the Substantive Change Proposal and the vice president of instruction and student learning at CRC. “There’s almost a natural progression, but there is no target we are trying to meet.”
The natural progression Yamamura spoke of appears to be unhindered and its growth encouraged when looking at the history of distance education at CRC.
During the fall term of 2000, CRC began using Blackboard, a learning management system and predecessor to D2L. In fall of 2002, 38 sections of courses were offered online. By fall 2012, 153 online sections were being offered and 681 sections were using D2L as a form of support and management, according to the report.
“The problem was, initially, a resource issue,” said Lance Parks, the interim dean of business and family science at CRC and a professor in the computer information science department for the past 13 years. “Distance education provided us the opportunity to put some things online and some things on ground. So a lot of the courses are designed around a hybrid program.”
CIS was one of the first departments at CRC to use distance education and the Internet as a viable learning medium for its students. Parks has designed and taught several online courses for the department.
“What really taught me to be a good online instructor was taking a online class myself. When you’re a student, you realize pretty quickly what is working and what is not,” he said. “I think that if a distance education course is done correctly, it can be very effective.”
The practicality, logistics and final effectiveness of an online or hybrid course is eventually critiqued by the CRC Curriculum Committee before they can be offered to students.
“There is a lot of work going into setting up an online course the right way,” Parks said. “The assessment is the same, the outcomes are the same; nothing has changed. The material is there in both formats, it’s just presented differently.”
This difference of presentation affects those enrolled on an individual basis, creating success or struggle throughout the term.
“What’s usually happening here, and not always for the best outcome, is students are self-selecting the course they think that they are going to be fine in,” Parks said, making mention of the fact that some students enroll in an online course thinking that it will be easier only to discover the opposite.
“I like it because you can go at your own pace and work when you want to work,” said Heather Dadak, a 40-year-old health information technology major. “I think it’s easier because it’s open book and you can look the answers up when you need to.”
In combination with the lack of time constraints online courses provide, some students say the content is easier as well.
“She [the professor] gave us exactly what was going to be on the test,” said Daniela Calderon, a 25-year-old nutrition major. “Whereas in a class, a teacher will lecture and lecture but not tell you what’s on the test.”
Along with the pace and availability of information, some students said they don’t need guidance for their online courses.
“I won’t always need a teacher to tell me everything,” said Ana Ranton, a 31-year-old nursing major and mother who appreciates the accessibility that online courses provide. “I’m self-sufficient in that way.”
However, not all students agree with the notion that online courses are efficient or easy. Those who prefer a more hands-on learning approach or face-to-face time with their professors generally stick to enrollment in the on-ground courses, a trend which is noticed by both Parks and Yamamura.
“It depends on the person,” said Anthon Caston, a 20-year old welding major who prefers taking courses on campus. “Some learn better in an environment full of people and some work better independently.”
While growth in distance education seems to have nowhere to go but up, professors and administrators alike acknowledge the reality that not all students learn the same way and as a result, the digital classroom will not be for everyone.
“As a dean I’m always sensitive that we are meeting the needs of all of our students,” Parks said. “So it will never be all online or all on ground. There will always be diverse options.”