In response to strong student demand, the San Diego Community College District is increasing the number of online courses by 21 percent from last year when classes begin Aug. 22.
The San Diego Community College District is committed to ensuring our students have access to the resources needed for them succeed,” said Dr. Stephanie Bulger, Vice Chancellor, Instructional Services. “With so many of our students busy working or raising families, it only makes sense to provide them with a larger selection of online courses, which offer greater flexibility in their schedules.”
The approximately 20,000 students taking online courses this year at San Diego City, Mesa, and Miramar colleges is up 13 percent compared to last year, and students say they are more than satisfied with their online experiences. In a recent survey, 91 percent of students said they had a good environment in which to study for their online course, and 86 percent said they were comfortable communicating electronically. Ninety-five percent agreed that taking charge of their own learning was very important for their success in school and future career.
“I found it very convenient,” said Daron Woods, Associated Student Government President at San Diego City College, who took an online history course over the summer while in Costa Rica. “You still have deadlines and you still have to do the assignments, but you have more flexibility in building your schedule.”
Students in the district will have an additional 140 online courses to choose from this year. Among them is an online Personal Financial Management course taught by Assistant Professor David Wilhelm at Miramar College. Forty-three students have already registered for the course and an additional eight students are on a wait list.
“Online offerings are popular because students have the ability to access the material and advance through the course based on their schedule,” Wilhelm said. “And the costs are lower because there is no paper involved and you’re using e-textbooks.”
Online learning is growing rapidly nationwide, and community colleges are taking the lead in the Golden State by offering thousands of online and distance education courses that attract an estimated 650,000 students annually. Nearly 1.9 million students in public 2-year colleges across the country were enrolled in distance education courses in fall 2013, and more than 28 percent were enrolled exclusively in online courses, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
In 2013, the state launched the Online Education Initiative (OEI), a collaborative effort among California Community Colleges to dramatically increase the number of students earning associate degrees and transferring to four-year colleges or universities.
But a 2015 Public Policy Institute study notes that course design, online interaction, and faculty support are paramount. Wilhelm said online courses may not be for everyone, as some students miss the interaction of a classroom and real-time feedback.
Other innovative ideas to reach working professionals who want to complete their degree include the new Pathways for Accelerated College Education, or PACE program, at Mesa College. The PACE format is designed with the working and non-traditional student in mind. Students will take no more than two classes at a time, with courses offered evenings, and in 8-week, fully online or in a hybrid format that combines online and in-class instruction. Launching this fall is the Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) in Business, the first to be offered under the PACE program.
The SDCCD is working with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advancements (DETA), with the goal of fostering student access and success through evidence-based online learning practices and technologies. That partnership is leading to additional professional development opportunities to help keep instructors up to date on current online tools and best pedagogical practices for online learners.
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