Online Learning Continues to Grow at IPFW

More college students are choosing laptops over lecture halls.

According to the Online Learning Consortium, a continuous growth and enrollment in distance education, in spite of decreased overall enrollment, marks a substantial transition in contemporary learning.

The newest study from Babson Survey Research Group indicates the growing trend, with 5.8 million college students or 28 percent of the college population currently enrolled in online courses.

At IPFW, distance education is experiencing proportionate growth.

“Overall enrollment has gone down a little bit,” said Assistant Director of Continuing Studies James Cashdollar, “while online enrollment has continued to expand.”

According to the Distance Learning website, IPFW provides 220 distance courses per semester, with four bachelor and three graduate degrees offered exclusively online.

Still, the Online Learning Consortium reports despite growth and expanded online programs, overall confidence among faculty members in distance education effectiveness is down.

Cashdollar doesn’t see it that way. Behind his standing desk he admits online learning has been stigmatized in some academic communities as less effective than face-to-face courses, but insists confidence among faculty at IPFW has only progressed.

Professor Adam Dircksen is the online course director for the department of communication. Before teaching online, he devised a thesis surrounding the ineffectiveness of distance courses. His experience teaching shifted that perception.

“If I were to have written my master’s thesis later, it wouldn’t have been an argument based on courses being ineffective due to a lack of interpersonal communication,” said Dircksen, “it would be online courses are more challenging to build connections.”

Dircksen said his present goal is to activate a sense of community in his online courses through strategic design and personal engagement.

“Building community in online courses is a lot of little things,” Dircksen said. “Video updates, smaller discussion groups, and weekly emails allow students to sense that someone is actually there.”

To compliment her busy work schedule, Jenna Fritz, a senior OLS major, said she has taken a third of her classes online.

Based on her experience with distance courses, Fritz considers certain subjects more effective when taught online than others. She said when it comes to online courses, small discussion forums and instructor input are key.

“I took some type of Photoshop class and I had no idea what was going on the whole semester.  I had to email other students for questions,” Fritz said. “She wasn’t there for us.”

Fritz and Dircksen both suggest the importance of engaging students online through contact extending beyond basic correspondence.

“Online learning can encourage an instructor to find more creative ways not only to engage students,” Dircksen said, “but to distribute materials and design assignments.”

Dircksen said it will be the willingness of faculty to embrace and transition into the online format that will define course effectiveness.  IPFW, he feels, is on board.

“We’ve grown tremendously in our online course offerings,” said Dircksen. “Faculty development of online courses is well supported here.”

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