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Colleges go to students online

Staff writer

Erin Carr wanted to be a social worker, but finding the time to attend college classes for the degree she needed was challenging.

“Being a single mom, I knew I would need to work full-time,” Carr said. “My only option to go to school with more than one class a semester was online.”

Carr was among six million students enrolled in online college courses in the fall of 2010, according to the 2011 Survey of Online Learning.

Butler Community College-Marion Site Director Amy Kjellin said the enrollment in BCC’s online courses rivals that of its campus-based offerings.

“We have a virtual campus,” Kjellin said. “The virtual campus is as big or bigger than the physical campuses in El Dorado or Andover.”

Colleges have increased course offerings to meet the demand, but while online students benefit, traditional students sometimes suffer.

“We have noticed a decline in our face-to-face enrollment for night classes,” Kjellin said. “We have to cancel a lot of classes we didn’t have to five years ago.”

The Marion site does what it can to accommodate online learners, Kjellin said.

“We try to be supportive of students and help them enroll. Some students don’t have the best Internet at home, so they’ll come use our lab. We have students who come over the lunch hour to work on their online classes,” Kjellin said.

Students often don’t realize how difficult online courses can be, Kjellin said.

“It’s not for everybody. It takes a certain level of maturity,” Kjellin said. “With the online class you have to do it all on your own.”

Carr’s first online class was world geography.

“It was awful,” she said. “Online classes are just so much more work than actually being in a classroom.”

The classes have gotten easier for Carr across the two years she’s been an online student, as more of the courses relate directly to her major. Practical experience also has helped.

“The ones I’ve taken for social work classes, those have had audio, movies, interviews, which I think have made it easier,” Carr said. “Working for Prairie View really helped me, because I got hands-on skills, so I can translate that to what I’m learning in class.”

Former Marion resident Diana Costello moved to Kansas City, Kan. last year for a teaching position in an alternative high school where half of the students speak English as their second language. She enrolled in an online ESL certification program through Kansas State University.

“The lectures were just like sitting in the classroom, except I was sitting in a comfortable chair in front of my computer,” Costello said. “The instructor had a live audience when she recorded the lecture, which helped because they asked the questions we were likely to ask.”

Costello’s class involved small group work. She and her colleagues from California and Kansas City, Mo. never met, but they worked together online using Google Docs.

“Working on Google Docs, we didn’t have to work on it at the same time. If someone wanted to work on it in the middle of the night, that was fine,” Costello said.

Tabor College Vice President of Academic Affairs Frank Johnson said the Wichita campus has been a focal point for expanding online education opportunities.

“We are in a pretty aggressive growth mode,” Johnson said. “Students can take classes including general education through Wichita in the summer.”

A full online program for entrepreneurial ministry is planned for Wichita, Johnson said.

“The program is designed for those who are or aspire to be leaders within a ministry setting. You have to have some significant skills with the web and all that’s related to it,” Johnson said.

Tabor will have two courses online this fall for Hillsboro campus students, Johnson said.

“We’re doing more with online in Hillsboro, to keep our students in our classes,” Johnson said. Additional development of online courses will be balanced against the college’s primary emphasis to engage students in Christian mission.

“You can’t get that online,” Johnson said.

Last modified July 26, 2012

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