Distance learning provides alternatives

Rebecca Watts

At a click of the mouse, achieving an education from Missouri Southern is available with the same quality as a normal classroom setting.

Distance Learning is comprised of Internet online courses, DVD, televised and ITV, which is when the students can interact with another class from a distance.

The distance-learning program provides people with conflicting schedules an alternative to traveling to campus. Southern has provided educations across the United States and reached out to parts of the world like Japan and the Netherlands.

“My favorite part about distance learning is bringing a college education to people who might not be able to get one otherwise,” said Dr. Larry Cebula, associate professor of history. “I think in the last eight years, I have had more single mothers, more people who have a spouse fighting overseas, and more disabled students in my classes than anyone I can think of.”

Distance learning has been available through Southern for approximately 25 years, whereas online learning became accessible nine years ago. With 130-140 classes offered online, approximately 2300 students participate.

“I think it’s a very good way to get students to take their courses,” said Dr. Jerry Williams, director of lifelong learning. “I think there are certain advantages in an online course, for people who work, or raise a family, it makes it convenient for them in terms of adjusting the course to fit their schedule.”

Cebula said distance learning is not for everyone. Depending on the student, a quality education can be found in or out of the classroom.

“You need to be very self-motivated or it doesn’t work,” he said. “Lazy people do not survive in my classes, and in most distance learning classes, you really need to be on top of things.”

Williams said the learning environment makes little difference in the effort and knowledge obtained from the student. The personality of the student can affect the success of the class; such as good readers and students with time management skills exceed in online courses.

“The student has to be good self-manager,” said Williams. “Unlike a normal course, where you have to show up three days a week, and you have that type of commitment, you do have to be more self-motivated.”

Cebula said the classroom setting provides no better or worse quality of education than online courses.

“They’re different, there are things you can do in a distance class that you cannot do in a classroom, like have a class discussion where everyone participates,” he said. “Because you can click through blackboard and see who’s contributed to that discussion and who hasn’t. I’m good at classroom discussions, and I’ve never been able to teach a classroom where every student has participates regularly, and in Blackboard I do it every semester.”

Online class discussions have advanced much like an old New Yorker cartoon. A dog sits in front of a computer and says to another dog, “On the Internet no one knows you’re a dog.”

“I think it gives students a lot of courage often,” Cebula said. “I’ve seen, in what I thought were hybrid classes, that students who I knew were doing the reading but were too shy to speak up in class. When I created a class discussion board, they were on there all the time having things to say.”

Cebula also said the discussion boards on Blackboard have potential for students’ personal growth.

“At some point [the students] get enough courage from having done [online discussions] to come out in the classroom, and start talking in a way they haven’t before,” he said.

The assumption of the ease of online courses is a common misconception. Williams said online students score no lower than usual classroom students.

“Where students may think it’s the easy way to take the course, they would probably be surprised that it’s not,” he said. “The time commitment is probably for most of our courses as much as a normal course.”

Teaching an online course is not an easy task. Teachers are more available to the online students because of the necessary continuous flow of email. However, Cebula said the history department is positively active in online courses.

“Online learning has been one of the best things about working here,” he said. “And we’ve gone about it the right way. The difference is the Missouri Southern professors do it because they want to, not because they have to. That has made a huge difference in the quality of our program.

“I think we have one the best distance education programs in the country here at Missouri Southern.”

According to Williams, the demand for distance learning will not die down anytime soon.

“I think that it’s growing because it’s fulfilling some needs, he said. “I think that it will continue to grow, and change. Technology changes, and it’s our job to keep up with the current technology.”