Distance-learning program at BCCC growing

Published 6:20 am Friday, February 27, 2009

By Staff
Students able to work at paces that best suit their scheduling needs
Staff Writer
Through a distance-learning program, students are earning college credits at Beaufort County Community College, even if some students are separated from the college by the Pamlico Sound.
The college’s service area, which covers 2,008 square miles, includes Hyde County’s Ocracoke Island, and Beaufort, Washington, Tyrrell and mainland Hyde counties.
Distance-learning courses — taken over the Internet — are advantageous for students with time constraints, too, she said.
Many students taking distance-learning classes at BCCC have families, full-time jobs and other day-to-day responsibilities, Sermons said.
Mary Jane Nase, an instructor in the division of arts and sciences at the college, teaches online art-appreciation and art-history survey courses.
Hase said she has seen firsthand the benefits of giving busy students the opportunity to work when it best suits them. “It accommodates working students so well,” she said.
Angela Hatfield, a working mother from Pinetown, has taken several online classes at the college.
Distance-learning classes offered at the college include online courses, hybrid/blended courses and Web-enhanced courses.
Online courses are taught by using Blackboard, an online service that lets students and instructors correspond with one another by e-mail. Instructors may post assignments, grades, syllabi and study guides on Blackboard for students to access.
Sermons cautions that only disciplined students should take online courses. She recommends that students speak with their advisors before enrolling.
Students must be computer literate, self-motivated and honest, Sermons said.
Hybrid/blended courses combine classroom and online instruction that includes Blackboard. Instructors conduct some classes online.
Web-enhanced courses use the Internet to enhance learning, but are taught at the BCCC campus.
Hatfield said such courses may be effective for the structured student.
The college offered 174 distance-learning classes in the spring 2009 semester. Of these, 69 were hybrid/blended classes, while 63 were online courses.
Tuition is the same for distance-learning classes as on-campus classes, and each class has an 18-student capacity.
Sermons believes the courses offer a quality of education equal to seated classes.
That is evident in the retention rate for distance-learning classes, she said.
Online and hybrid/blended courses have had a retention rate above 80 percent each semester since the distance-learning program was introduced, said Sermons.
With the continuing success of the classes has come a spike in enrollment. There are 700 students enrolled in distance-learning classes for spring 2009, a growth of 560 percent since the courses were introduced in fall 2002.
Nase attests to the courses’ popularity with students.
This was not always the case.
Sermons said when she was placed in charge of the distance-learning program in 2001, “there were not a lot of people buying in.”
Because of a Distance Learning Initiative Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the program got its feet on the ground, Sermons said.
The state and federal government saw a real need for the program in the community college system, she said.
Sermons was ready for the opportunity presented to her.
Sermons said she knew she couldn’t take on the program by herself.
Tricia Woolard joined the program as its Blackboard administrator, and she continues in that capacity.
Sermons deflected credit for the program’s success to the college’s administration and instructors.
Distance learning at BCCC by the numbers:
700: The number of students enrolled in online classes for the spring 2009 semester, a 560 percent increase in enrollment from the fall 2002 semester, when the distance-learning program started.
123: The number of students enrolled in online classes for the fall 2002 semester.
2,008: The amount of square miles in the college’s service area, which includes Ocracoke Island. The island is some 26 nautical miles off the Hyde County mainland, according to Swan Quarter township’s Web site.
3 1/2: About how long it would take to reach the college by vehicle from Ocracoke Island. The Swan Quarter-Ocracoke Ferry takes about two and a half hours to cross the Pamlico Sound, while it takes an additional hour to drive from Swan Quarter to Washington, according to Mapquest and the North Carolina Ferry Division.
85: Retention-rate percentage for students enrolled in online classes during the fall 2008 semester.
Cutline for corresponding photo: Beaufort County Community College freshman Jake Swinson, 18, is taking the computer course CIS 110 online through the BCCC distance-learning program. Swinson chose to take the class online rather than in an onsite classroom because it better fit his work schedule and would allow him to access the class when convenient, he said Thursday from the BCCC Learning Resource Center. (WDN Photo/Paul Dunn)