Online education is dialing up to be a significant factor in the futures of colleges and universities across the country, including Binghamton University.
According to a recent New York Times article, 4 million college students took at least one online class during fall 2007. Recently, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology committed $60 million to offer free online courses from both universities.
Binghamton’s department of Continuing Education & Outreach (CEO) reported that at BU, about 44 percent of total student enrollment of 7,230 during the 2011 summer and winter sessions was associated with distance learning courses. Between 2003 and 2011, summer and winter sessions have served 12,986 students through 666 distance learning courses.
CEO anticipates that both the total number of students participating in distance learning courses and the percentage of total student enrollment associated with distance leaning courses will increase at Binghamton University in 2012.
At TEDx Binghamton University in March, a forum for academics to discuss their fields, University President Harvey Stenger emphasized the importance of hybrid teaching and the integration of technology in the classroom, calling it “a fundamental priority for higher education.”
“Using technology in a variety of ways to enhance learning, such as video capture of lectures, is and will continue to be an important part of higher education,” Stenger wrote in an email to Pipe Dream. “I have found that many faculty at Binghamton University are using various aspects of electronic course delivery to effectively enhance our students’ learning and improve access to course material.”
At TEDx BU, Stenger said that students must be “technologically proficient,” and that “higher education needs to evolve to meet these needs.”
“Students can learn anywhere — in their dorm room, their parents’ basement, even in a military base or research station on the other side of the world,” Stenger said at TEDx BU, referring to online courses.
Murnal Abate, assistant director for summer and winter sessions, said BU has been using distance learning since 2003.
“Continuing Education and Outreach — the parent organization of summer and winter session — is a strong supporter of online education and we have been strongly championing that cause on campus since we first conducted a pilot project of five distance education courses during the 2003 summer session,” Abate wrote in an email.
Abate said online education has potential to positively impact the way that university students obtain an education.
“Not only does it tap into a method of information transmission that modern students are skilled at, but in many cases, online learning provides a flexibility in one’s educational plan that allows individuals to become more productive through multi-tasking,” Abate said.
Abate, like Stenger, said that a university education can be enhanced by adding an effective educational technique like distance learning.
“It allows another way for students to learn, it increases the efficiency of the educational process and it is very much in line with the increasing use of technology in our day-to-day lives,” Abate said.
Abate said there are several advantages to online education. Students do not need to be physically present on campus to take classes, and course materials become available everywhere.
He said there are also advantages for both professors and administrators in online education. For professors, online classes allow instructors to set up the course content ahead of time, making it easier for high-speed connections between students and professors. For administrators, online education allows your institution to educate increasing numbers of students in a cost-effective manner.
“Distance education at Binghamton University has improved tremendously since those first few courses were offered in 2003,” Abate said. “Course structure and methods of teaching have become more sophisticated, a change that is being driven both by innovation on the part of course designers and also in response to demand on the part of increasingly skilled and capable students.”
According to Abate, distance learning is offered in all seven of the University’s schools.
“The good news is that Binghamton University students overwhelmingly support multiple methods of education delivery on campus,” Abate said.
In a survey conducted after the 2011 summer session, 96 percent of the survey’s respondents said they would recommend Binghamton University’s summer session to other students. Of the group of respondents, 57 percent had enrolled in distance learning courses.
Abate said that there is a clear indication that distance learning will play a key role in BU’s growth in the coming years.
“We were pleased to read in Binghamton University’s NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant Application that the university plans to ‘… expand classroom space and increase the diversity of teaching methods …’ through online and hybrid lecture courses,” Abate said.
As the University begins to use online education more, questions of possible negative effects on students arise. Stenger stated that although online education will be a part of BU’s future, on-campus learning is beneficial.
“I strongly believe that the benefits of a residential college experience can not be replaced using online education,” Stenger wrote.
Abate said that for students to successfully navigate online classes, they need to be highly motivated and disciplined.
“It is true, however, that not all students are suited for online learning, however,” Abate said. “If you are not comfortable with interacting in a virtual classroom and prefer the more traditional model of face-to-face interactions with professors and fellow students, then a distance learning course might involve a bit of a learning curve. If you tend to procrastinate, you might find yourself playing catch-up with the rest of the class, which is not the optimal way to learn anything.”
Lynne Schneider, an English instructor, said she likes teaching both in person and online even though they are not the “same thing.”
“Using current platforms to replicate a classroom setting online is a poor use of the resource,” Schneider wrote in an email. “We can see this in the success of the mega-classes that do not try to replicate the classroom offered by top schools on the east and west coasts. That said, I am skeptical of the cost-effective ‘benefits’ of the medium, but given the flood-spate rush to digitize education, I look forward (at least) to the swift development of (user-friendlier?) less cumbersome platforms.”
Andrew Bryant, a senior majoring in political science, said he believes online classes are vital for universities such as BU.
“The option to earn credit from any place with an Internet connection is crucial,” Bryant said. “Students today try to earn credit in the intersessions in order to cut down on the time and money spent on higher education.”