Distance learning benefits regional campuses

Breanne George

Instead of driving an hour to the Kent campus, Rachel Leishman can take upper division courses at the Tuscarawas campus via distance-learning technology.

“It’s definitely more convenient for me,” said Leishman, a sophomore exploratory major. “I can take courses for my writing minor without driving such a far distance.”

Regional campus students are benefiting from this technology because they can take upper division courses, and in some cases receive their bachelor’s degree, without attending the Kent campus.

Associate English professor John Jewell teaches a distance-learning course at the Tuscarawas campus. He has students from four different campuses in his class this semester.

“Distance learning makes higher education accessible to regional campus students who would have to transfer to the Kent campus to take junior- and senior-level courses,” Jewell said.

Professors at regional campuses also benefit from this technology. They have the ability to teach upper division courses because students can enroll from all eight campuses.

“I wouldn’t be able to teach upper division courses at Tuscarawas without distance learning because there is not enough demand for it here,” he said.

Jewell’s class is taught using the computer program LearnLinc, which allows students and professors to have discussions using both audio and video. Students sit at computers at four different regional campus locations.

There are cameras above each computer so the professor can see each of the students.

“The first couple of times the camera made me feel uncomfortable,” Leishman said. “Some people don’t want to be on camera, but I got used to it.”

The professor and students can have interactive discussions on LearnLinc since all students are logged in at the same time. Students can chat with other students and ask questions to the professor.

“The interactive quality of LearnLinc would definitely surprise people,” Jewell said. “I think the camaraderie is better than a traditional classroom.”

Assistant nursing professor Christina Cook teaches distance learning courses from El Paso, Texas, where she currently lives.

Cook uses WebCT to teach students from the Kent campus and regional campuses.

“I feel I get to know students very well because there is face-to-face interaction even though I am miles away from my students,” Cook said.

Cook originally taught at the Kent campus but moved to Texas because of her husband’s career. She decided to keep her job at Kent State because she has tenure.

“This type of education allows me to keep my job,” Cook said. “I will be moving back to Kent soon, but I will be teaching the same type of class.”

Junior nursing major Kristen Rohal is currently taking Cook’s Basic Nursing Informatics class.

“I can do the work at my leisure because all the assignments are posted ahead of time,” Rohal said. “I usually work several weeks ahead.”

Many of the nursing courses involve technology because the nursing field is becoming computer-based, Rohal said.

Even though Cook lives in Texas, Rohal said she is easy to contact via e-mail or phone.

“I don’t have a problem with the professor being so far away because I know a lot of nursing majors who are taking the class,” Rohal said. “I often get together with them and study.”

There are some disadvantages to distance-learning education, including its reliance on technology.

“I have experienced faulty headphones and other minor technical problems,” Leishman said. “Sometimes a particular campus can’t log onto LearnLinc, so there is sometimes a delay.”

School closings are a problem, especially in the winter, Jewell said.

“Some regional campuses are in the snow belt, so it is not uncommon for some campuses to be closed due to weather while the rest are open,” Jewell said. “This definitely causes some logistical problems.”

Distance learning can be time consuming for professors because they must post their lesson plans beforehand.

“It took me hundreds of hours to create 600 interactive screens for LearnLinc,” he said. “The hard work is worth it because I believe this type of education is a better way to learn.”

Students with disabilities also benefit from distance-learning education. Jewell said his class is accessible to students with visual and mobility impairments.

“I had a young woman who was a quadriplegic take my class,” he said. “I found her a mouse with a trackball on the spot so she could use the computer.”

She brought her parents to the campus over break, Jewell said.

“She explained to her parents that this was the first class she could raise her hand in since it involved a click of the mouse,” Jewell said. “This technology gave her the ability to contribute to class discussion.”

Both Jewell and Cook believe the future in education is going toward distance learning.

“Because of this technology, regional campus students have more options in courses they can take,” Cook said. “Professors at the regional campuses also benefit because they have the ability to reach students from all campuses.”

Contact academic technology reporter Breanne George at [email protected].