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Online course popularity growing at Coastal Bend College
by Bill Clough
Nov 27, 2012 | 1887 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
BEEVILLE — While a degree from Coastal Bend College is not just a mouse click away, taking online courses is getting easier and is showing a success rate that is close to rivaling those achieved face-to-face.

To mark National Distance Learning Week (Nov. 5-9), Learning Management System Coordinator Yolanda Abrigo and CBC Webmaster Amador Ramirez told the CBC board of trustees at their monthly meeting Nov. 15 that, over the last three years, the college’s distance learning program had taught slightly more than 14,000 students.

The program not only has out-of-state implications but international as well, because some of those students were in the military, potentially taking the courses while deployed.

The program, Abrigo said, is enjoying a success rate of 70 percent. Students attending classes at a CBC campus have a 78 percent success rate.

The more popular online classes, the pair said, are economics, English, government, history, philosophy, psychology and speech.

Of those, government is the most popular; the second highest is speech.

“We believe the online speech course is popular among students who are shy, who don’t want to speak before a class,” Ramirez said.

Championing the online system, Ramirez emphasized that the distance learning program is expanding to include video conferencing and even smart-phone messaging.

“There isn’t a platform that we don’t use,” he said. “We have reached an age where students are learning in the palm of their hands,” he told the trustees — all of whom but one sit at their table behind laptops.

Helping to make distance learning easier is CBC’s use of the computer program Blackboard 9.1, which is powerful but user friendly both for the instructor and the student.

The latest revision of the program, Abrigo said, includes features such as a grade book, gradable discussions between a teacher and a student, assignment management, and assignments quickly graded and critiqued.

“It’s much easier than using email,” Ramirez said.

One of the primary features is testing, which requires a student to download a plug-in browser program that locks out access to search engines such as Google.

“If you are a student who wants to cheat, you will cheat,” Ramirez said. “But if you know you have to answer 100 questions in one hour, you are going to study.”

The program, Abrigo said, is compatible for both PCs and Mac devices.

The Blackboard software is a product of a company with the same name, based in Seattle. At CBC, 77 out of more than 100 instructors have been certified to teach online courses, but that is expected to rise after a two-day faculty training session Dec. 17.

Although CBC instructors are not required to teach online, college officials note the need to adapt to new modes of communication when they become popular with students.

When asked to review their online learning experience, a majority of students who responded said they felt the courses met their expectations, although those who agreed or disagreed that there was adequate time for questions and discussion were almost evenly split.

Of the students using the college’s live chat option, most asked questions about admission, followed by seeking advice and testing.

Concurrent with the distance learning program is CBC’s dual credit program which also utilizes Internet courses. Last semester, more than 1,400 students enrolled in online classes — a 167 percent increase in five years.

“The success rate of those students,” said CBC Dual Credit Director Ann Harrell — who addressed the board just prior to Abrigo and Ramirez — “has never been less than 86 percent.”

Harrell’s office is in Kingsville.

The CBC criteria for success in a course is a student who earned an A, B or C.

Most of the CBC dual credit students are from high schools in Beeville, Kingsville and Orange Grove.

“Pilot projects are underway to provide health science courses online for students who have been unable to find teachers certified by the Texas Education Agency,” Harrell said. She also noted that she is in discussion with two school districts who want CBC to establish dual-credit courses in oil and gas technology.

As far as Abrigo is concerned the future of distance learning couldn’t be brighter.

CBC services many rural areas and with that comes economic challenges, Abrigo says.

“There may be students who are unable to travel to a campus to take classes because they do not have the transportation or because the cost of fuel may be too high; there may be others who cannot afford to pay for a baby sitter or day care. With distance learning, students are offered the flexibility to continue to work during the day, tend to their household duties, and still continue to pursue their degree.”

Additionally, the distance learning program has been the deciding factor about whether a class is offered.

“There have been times,” she says, when students were not able to take certain classes because the class wouldn’t make. Students enrolling online minimizes that risk.

Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.
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