Record Number of Southeast Students Enrolled this Fall in Distance Learning Courses

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Oct. 1, 2004ᾰIn today’s fast-paced world, many students are taking advantage of the convenience online learning and Interactive Television courses are providing. 

Records show 2,447 seats are taken in 131 sections of online courses at Southeast Missouri State University this fall, marking a record high at Southeast.  Southeast officials say 108 unique online courses are being offered this semester.

Students seeking scheduling flexibility also are enrolling in Interactive Television (ITV) courses.  Records show 1,063 students are enrolled this fall in 43 ITV courses.  Of those, 549 students are taking a course on the Cape Girardeau campus, while 514 students are enrolled in off-campus sites connected to Southeast with interactive television technology. These courses offer students the benefit of enrolling in a class without traveling to Cape Girardeau to attend. 

Southeast officials say the rise in enrollment in distance education programs offered by the University demonstrate the value students and faculty place on the flexibility and convenience online and ITV courses offer.  For students working full-time, who are placebound or who have family responsibilities, distance education at Southeast allows them to achieve their educational goals. 

Although offered to students using a different type of technology, University officials say Web courses provide students with even more flexibility in scheduling than ITV courses. Southeast Online ranks in the top three among Missouri universities in the number of Internet courses offered, according to the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education’s Missouri Learners Network.  Currently 6.6 percent of Southeast credit hours are being earned by students taking online courses.  Southeast is currently offering a bachelor’s degree in general studies (BGS) entirely online, with 44 declared BGS majors finishing their degree with online classes this fall. 

Students find instruction, course work and class discussions like they would in a face-to-face classroom, only with more flexibility in time management and scheduling.

“I have always enjoyed taking online classes,” said Julie McCausland of Cape Girardeau, a Southeast graduate student currently enrolled in an online course.  “It allows me the ability to master time management skills on my own.” 

Angela Hotop, a marketing major from Perryville, Mo., took two Web courses last summer while working full time in an internship.  Taking the summer courses online will allow Hotop to graduate next spring.

“I had to take summer courses in order to graduate in May, and with a full-time internship, there was no way that I could sit in a regular classroom for several hours with an instructor,” she said.

Dr. David Kunz, Southeast professor of finance, currently is teaching the online course, “FI361 Fundamentals of Financial Management.” He says, “Web courses are excellent for students who are organized, disciplined and self-motivated learners.”

He says teaching an online course requires structure and flexibility. “Structure is necessary to organize all course activities prior to the semester, and flexibility is needed to handle the changes that will be required as the course progresses,” he said.

Dr. John Wade, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Sociology, has taught both ITV and online classes for some time.  Wade’s online courses have even reached students at military stations in Iraq.

“Online classrooms allow me to reach students I normally would not have because of location or time schedules,” Wade says.

“In regular classrooms, you have a few students who tend to dominate the discussion.  With online discussion boards, students can benefit because the discussion allows every student to participate and bring in ideas,” he explained.

Dr. Michael Rodgers, Southeast professor of chemistry, teaches online introductory chemistry courses. He also teaches a course at the Perryville Area Higher Education Center that offers students a Web presence.

Rodgers says his involvement in online learning took hold in 1995, when he became the College of Science and Mathematics’ first technology associate in Southeast’s Center for Scholarship in Teaching and Learning (CSTL).

When the CSTL launched its Technology Serving Learning (TSL) Summer Institute in 1997, Rodgers volunteered to facilitate one of the sessions.

“I continued to be involved in the TSL institutes as they focused more and more on preparing faculty to teach online courses,” he said.

He launched his first Web site to support a “face-to-face” course in 1996, and says he has had “an increasingly robust Web presence ever since.

“I think that online courses, as a group, still have a way to go before they are as effective as face-to-face courses,” Rodgers said. “However, the Web seems to be one of the best ways to provide cost-effective access to higher education to many of our students – both those who live too far away to come to campus regularly and those who have work and family responsibilities that limit their ability to continue in coursework.”

Rodgers said he recently had a student in one of his online courses who said she was taking Web classes because she needed to care for her ill mother.

“The student told me that, as her mother’s principal caregiver, she would have had to put her education on hold . . . were it not for her the online option,” he said. “So, I keep teaching online because our students need access.

“But I also believe that we have only begun to tap the potential for teaching effectively in the information-rich, anytime, anyplace online environment,” he said. “There seems to be much that we can do to exploit this new environment – so much so that my interest remains high.”

In addition to online courses, ITV classes are also serving as an outreach mechanism to students who are placebound learners. Like online courses, ITV courses are taught in a setting different than the traditional classroom.

Wade, who also teaches ITV courses, says everyone must get accustomed to the environment when taking these classes.  But he says the effort is well worth the accessibility ITV courses allow for students living long distances from campus who want to further their education.

Students enrolled in ITV courses attend class on the Cape Girardeau campus or at an off-campus site, including at Sikeston Area Higher Education Center, Perryville Area Higher Education Center, Kennett Area Higher Education Center, Harry L. Crisp Bootheel Education Center in Malden, Mo. Three Rivers Community College, St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley and other locations in the Southeast Missouri area.

“ITV allows for a more traditional interaction with real time visuals and voice contact . . . even at a physical distance,” said Joyce Becker, director of Extended and Continuing Education. “Because of the real time instruction, students’ attendance and participation is more structured.”

Wade said the biggest transition with ITV classes is for students at the home base.

“When I lecture to the class, I have to look directly in the camera at all times,” he said.  “Students at the remote sites sometimes have trouble hearing comments made at the home base if the students there forget to speak loud enough.”

Southeast also offers training and technical support for professors to ensure they have the knowledge and expertise to teach in this environment.  Wade says instructors for online and ITV classes have to put a little more effort into class preparation.  This is because instructors have to design the layout of the course in addition to receiving an extra amount of grading material.  ITV courses also require some extra effort on the part of instructors.

“Although ITV courses are more consistent with regular classroom lecture, you just can’t go in and start talking about the material without some preparation,” Wade explains.  “Instructors have to turn in materials beforehand and make sure that all the visual presentations are large enough for students at the remote sites to see.”

ITV classrooms feature a small video camera at the rear of the room, which captures the professor’s lectureᾰboth voice and imageᾰon video.  The camera is controlled by an infra red beam which follows the movement of a microphone being worn by a professor. 

The professor’s video image and voice are transmitted in “real time” to remote locations through a service, which allows the high-speed, simultaneous, two-way transmission of voice, video, data and graphics over a high speed internet connection.  

Inside the ITV classroom, the professor has a student technician who assists in the operation of the classroom technology which allows students at distant sites to see any visuals used and take part in the class discussions and ask questions.  Those students can see and hear their professor and classmates at Southeast via television monitors and speakers.

Andrea Burnett is a junior criminal justice major at Southeast, who lives in Sikeston, Mo.  She has an 8-year-old son, works a full-time job and takes ITV courses.  The ITV courses benefit Burnett because she says she does not have to make the trip to Cape Girardeau every day to attend class.  Rather, she attends classes originating from the Cape Girardeau campus while being physically located at the Sikeston Area Higher Education Center (SAHEC). 

“Although night classes are offered on campus, it would still be difficult for me to work until 5 p.m. and then make it to class in Cape by 6 p.m.   Having ITV classes is just more convenient for me,” she said.