Dr. Daniel P. Larson is President of Cayuga Community College, with campuses in Auburn and Fulton, N.Y.
Only a month after summer registration started this year, more than 300 students were registered in our online courses, Anatomy and Physiology I and II, and Microbiology, at Cayuga Community College. We are distinguished among our State University of New York and national peers as a leader with these online, intensive, laboratory-based science courses.
Using computer simulations and online laboratory exercises, A&P students explore the structure, function, and relationship of body parts. Online microbiology students order laboratory kits, including microscopes, conduct experiments, and report their findings in the online learning environment. Because our innovative science faculty has translated these courses successfully into the online environment, academic advisors at colleges and universities across the country send their students to us to pick up these courses over the summer. The sections fill up quickly – we now offer 20 sections of 20 students each in A&P I and II, required in many nursing and healthcare programs. The growth of these web-based science courses parallels the growth we see with online courses across the curriculum.
Since Cayuga first began delivering online courses in 1998, we have seen exponential growth in the number of students and courses. Today, we offer more than 60 sections of 100 different courses and six degrees fully online, and more than 50 percent of the required courses online for six other degree programs. Nearly all faculty members use the online learning management system to “web enhance” their courses. So, even as they meet in on-campus classrooms, students access the online environment to turn in assignments, check the syllabus, communicate with faculty, and post their comments to discussion boards.
According to the 2011 Sloan Consortium report “Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States,” 6.1 million students enrolled during 2010 in at least one online course, and online enrollment represented one-third of total enrollment. In the 2010-11 academic year, our online enrollment was 28 percent of our total student full-time equivalent. The Sloan report indicates that educators and students both have about the same level or higher satisfaction with online education learning outcomes as compared with face-to-face learning. Our online courses and degree programs meet the same rigor and assessment standards as our campus-based courses, all under accreditation requirements through the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Like the majority of higher education institutions in America, we see online education as a critical component to our long-term strategy.
Every semester, our talented faculty builds new courses for online learning. For example, Professor Sheila Myers offered Ecology online for the first time this Summer. She found creative ways to present material and to conduct laboratories that taught students how to interpret ecological data from rain forests and significant natural spaces. This Fall, Art Professor Melissa Johnson is offering a new Art History course online. As this is her first online teaching experience, Professor Johnson attended a three-day training seminar to learn how to build an engaging course and to teach effectively in this new kind of classroom.
As a member of the SUNY Learning Network, a partnership of more than 30 SUNY campuses, our faculty members receive training and support in developing new courses and staying current with new technologies and online pedagogy techniques. The Learning Network provides technological support for the Angel Learning Management Software, the system we use to deliver online courses. In the near future, the Learning Network expects to roll out a mobile version of Angel so Cayuga students can access their coursework from their cell phones, iPads, and mobile devices. We know that students want this capability, and being part of this larger network enables us to roll out these technological upgrades to them sooner that we could on our own. The Learning Network provides support for students seven days a week, a level of service that we could not provide alone.
Online education provides flexibility and convenience that many students – especially those with work and family responsibilities – need to advance their education and training. While there always will be programs, such as our distinguished Nursing program, with strong on-campus components, we expect to see continued interest and growth in our online courses. While I do not foresee online education replacing bricks-and-mortar campuses, this College community recognizes its important role in delivering quality education now and for the future. Our students, like students across America, are looking for flexibility in their college schedules and courses. Online education is an important way to provide that flexibility.