Continuing Education Distance Learning

As the competition for jobs and promotions remains fierce, more professionals will further their education to give them the edge they need to succeed. The National Center for Educational Statistics estimates that some 14 to 70 million adult learners are involved in some form of continuing education. As their time decreases and technology increases, many of them will become distance learners.

When recent University of Texas at Arlington graduate Krissy Wiggins was mapping out her senior year course schedule, she faced a dilemma many students tackle during their final semester of college. She had to find a way to squeeze in just one elective in order to graduate on time. Very few class times fit her tight schedule. And. if she did find a class that might work, it was offered at a time when she was doing hospital volunteer work in preparation for medical school or when she needed to study for the MCAT and apply to medical schools. Ironically, she was too busy with school to make it to class.

Not so long ago, Wiggins’ only options would be to take a course by correspondence- if it was available-or possibly postpone graduation by a semester if she couldn’t get those last 16 hours. Thanks to the Internet and her school’s distance education program, she took the class she needed online. And, she took it in her spare time-usually around midnight and in the comfort of her own home. Wiggins completed her required coursework. had the time to prepare for the MCAT, kept volunteering, and is now on her way to medical school.

Distance education is answering the needs of those who want to enhance and continue their education, but just can’t find the time. Most distance education students are older, working professionals who can’t earn a degree during the traditional 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. time slot due to work and personal commitments. Their busy schedules don’t allow them to take courses on campus. But they do have time for class if it can be offered when and where it is convenient for them. Distance education gives them the flexibility they need.

This flexibility came in handy for University of North Texas graduate school student Cynthia Cooper. When she was taking traditional courses to earn her Learning Resources Endorsement certification, the program’s format was changed to a web-based offering. Cooper went along with it and decided to earn her master’s degree online, loo, since the hours went toward it anyway. It was a good decision. By taking courses online from home, she is able to keep her partlime job, earn her library sciences certification, and a master’s degree to boot. She also enjoys “being in class” with other UNT distance education students from across the state.

“This has been far more convenient for me,” Cooper says, “If I have access to a computer, I can take my classes. I don’t have to worry about missing class because I’m not tied down to a campus classroom.”

Distance education, which now exists in various forms, has been around since the late 19th century through correspondence courses. Nearly every university offers some form of distance education-from regular correspondence courses to web-based degree programs. Many schools use teleconferencing or satellite video and audio feed. An example is UTA’s School of Nursing. Courses are fed by videotape to distant outreach locations so that students who don’t live near the main campus take the same courses campus-goers take, but without the commute. Although classes are typically dubbed “online courses” or “video courses,” most distance education courses require a combination of various forms of electronic media such as Internet access, a television, and a VCR.

The newest form of distance education, online courses, has been offered at most major colleges and universities for more than 10 years, but only in recent years has online learning caught on. Students are taking more than just an online course here and there. They are earning full degrees online. Some students never set foot on campus. From registering for classes to taking final exams, everything transpires in cyberspace.

Students attends class by logging on to their computers ai either designated class times or on their own time, depending on how the course set up. By way of stream video, students participate in virtual classroom discussions and live chats with professors. Many universities, such as UNT, provide this technology through a WebCT platform that makes real-time discussions and chat rooms possible.

“What can be accomplished through online edu-cation is phenomenal,” says Dr. Philip Turner, Director of UNT”s Center for Distributed Learning, which has become a role model for other universities who are developing web-based and other distance education programs. “I think students get more out of a chat room discussion than they would in class because they have to think about what they’re going to write. You don’t necessarily do thai in a spoken conversation.”

Not only do distance education students get more out of their courses, universities also receive advantages, like reaching even more students. George Barnes, Director of the Global MBA Online Program at the University of Texas at Dallas, says distance education has allowed colleges and universities to transcend geographic boundaries-something they’ve been trying to do for years. “Location isn’t a factor anymore, which gives students access to the tools they need to succeed in their careers,” Barnes says,

The payoffs of a distance education degree are just as great as a traditional degree. In fact, many employers actually reward employees for furthering their education by allowing them to take online or video classes at work and by offering bonuses or tuition reimbursement as incentives. Not only do employers not mind hiring someone with a dot. com diploma, they welcome it.

“Many major employers understand the impact of the Internet.” says Pete Smith. Director of Distance Education at UTA. “They look at schools with distance education as model for their own corporate training. They know that the Internet is the way of education in the future.”

Dallas-based JCPenney allows employees to take advantage of distance education through the University of North Texas’ School of Merchandising and Hospitality Management. Employees working toward their master’s degrees spend a few hours of their workday taking classes in their office building via the Internet. When class is over, they return to work.

“No difference exists between the quality of the education a student receives in a well-designed web-based course versus a traditional classroom course,” says Patrick Pluscht, Associate Director of Trie Center for Distributed Learning at UNT. “Many students report web-based courses are more rigorous than on-campus courses they’ve had in the past because they are required to interact with instructor, the material, and peers on a regular basis to be successful.”

This interaction with professors typically takes place via e-mail and chat rooms. Distance education courses are mostly self-paced, and students must meet pre-set deadlines for homework, papers, and tests that are turned in via e-mail or regular mail. Some universities require that a designated proctor administer exams. while others have students mail their lests in and work on the honor system.

Mike Kirpatrick, Director of the Distance Education program at Southern Methodist University, says most distance education students are older professionals who need and want the information from distance education courses to help them advance in their careers. They take distance education courses seriously, so instances of cheating and late assignments are rare.

At SMU, distance education students take courses via videotape. A popular program among graduate students at SMU. more than 1 million feet of videotape is distributed each week to School of Engineering and Applied Science students in the U.S. and around the world. Professors tape their lectures and send them by mail to students, so a 10-day lag time exists between distance education and classroom students. Videotaped courses are just as convenient as online courses. Kirkpatriek says, because students can watch the tapes at their own convenience–after work, when the kids go to bed, or while on a business trip.

“The biggest benefit of distance education is flexibility.” Kirkpatriek says. “Today’s workforce easily puts in 50 or 60 hours per week, and they are finding il very difficult to go back to school-even for just one course.”

Portability is another plus for distance education students. Because so many working professionals frequently move or travel for the careers, carving out time lor education is difficult. Distance education has al lowed students to take courses from anywhere in the world as long as they have access to the Internet or a television and VCR.

“Distance education is the perfect solution for the busy, working professional who has a life.” Smith says. “Historically, schools set education boundaries where students had to come not only to the school, but on the university’s time schedule. Now, students can learn on their own time wherever they are.”

Supporters of distance education are quick to point out that it will never replace traditional education. Technical difficulties will always remain a factor, and some people desire-and need-the social interaction of an actual classroom or campus setting as well as face-to-face correspondence with professors. Outside of chat rooms, distance education students are basically on their own, This is why many schools offer a self-test prior to enrolling so that students can decide if they are suited for dis-tance education.

“Distance education has enabled anyone to receive an education that is equal or superior to an education earned in a traditional campus environment.” Turner says. “These courses are by no means less work at all, but the end result-the degree-is the same.”

The following local universities provide distant education opportunities.



Southern Methodist University School of Engineering and Applied Science

SEAS, a pioneer of distance education, has offered graduate level courses for more than 35 years and has more than 1,100 students enrolled in various distance education programs-including satellite transmission, videotape distribution, and a local microwave television system all supplemented by Internet support, SEAS offers distance education through videotapes and a videoteleconferencing classroom that allows for classroom instruction to almost any site in the nation. Graduate education opportunities include telecommunications, electrical engineering, computer engineering, computer science, operations research, software engineering, engineering management. mechanical engineering, manufacturing systems management, hazardous and waste materials management, systems engineering, and applied science. www.seas.stmu.edu.



The University of North Texas The Center for Distributed Learning

A leader in online education. UNT has one of the largest online education programs in the nation. LINT has 13.000 students enrolled in its more than 4W) online courses. Taught by UNT faculty, districted learning courses have the same requitements and uphold the same quality standards as on-campus versions. The LINT System has a growing two-way videoconference network in the Dallas-Fort Worth area consisting of more than 10 locations which can connect to ather sites across the state, nation, and world. These classes meet during the regularly scheduled class time, but allow students to participate from a remote location. UNT also oilers WebCT, the adopted campus platform for web course delivery. Courses use this technology to deliver classroom instruction and course materials online. UNT offers a variety of degrees online including rehabilitation counseling. a library sciences certification, and soon, éliminai justice, www.unt.edu

The University of Texas at Arlington Center for Distance Education

UTA’s award-winning Center for Distance Education offers courses via the Internet. videotape, and on cable television, including those leading to its MBA degree. UTA is also part of the new University of Texas UT TeleCampus, which was recently awarded the UTA program with the UT TeleCampus Commitment to Excellence Award for its efforts to develop online courses and improve teaching and learning quality in an online environment. Enrollment in UTA’s distance education classes has grown in the past year from 146 to 989 students. Available this summer: online graduate education coursework leading to E.S.L. teacher endorsement (lull master’s pro-gram in development). Debuting in Fall 2000: An online degree program for the telecommunications professional seeking a master’s degree. 817-272-5727.



The University of Texas at Dallas

Global MBA Online

In an effort to meet the challenges for a rapidly changing, technology-driven, global society, the University of Texas at Dallas has implemented (lie Global MBA Online program. The program offers the same core courses as UTD’s traditional MBA. and admission requirements and tuition are the same as for the traditional MBA. www.cyclops.utdallas.edu.

Masters in International Management Studies Program

The Global Leadership Executive MBA degree is a 48-hour graduate executive program specially designed to provide mid-career managers and senior professionals with leadership skills required by multi-national corporations to maintain and expand their global competitiveness. Distance learning provides flexibility and convenience for managers pursuing advanced education, while balancing the demands of work, travel, and personal responsibility. The program combines executive level focus, global leadership emphasis on international business, and a distinctive distance learning design. Methods for learning include text, audio, teleconferencing, quarterly weekend retreats, and a 10-day international study tour.

www. utdallas.edu/mims.

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