By Denise Dick
Youngstown State University plans to increase the number of distance learning opportunities for students.
“That’s the whole reason why I’m here,” said Millie Rodriguez, who was hired this year as director of the university’s Office of Distance Education.
She previously was executive director of the Office of Web-based Programs at California University of Pennsylvania.
Expanding online options for students has been a priority for YSU in recent months. It’s mentioned in the university’s 2020 Strategic Plan as a way to improve student satisfaction with academic and non- academic experiences.
President Cynthia E. Anderson even talked about it in her State of the University address earlier this year.
Ikram Khawaja, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said the expansion of web-based courses is an “institutional priority.”
“The driver here is really our realizing that students today are not the traditional students of a decade or two decades back,” he said. “The Web plays a much more significant role in how they acquire knowledge.”
Web-based offerings need to be ramped up to keep pace with that change.
YSU also will see secondary benefits of that expansion with increased enrollment and more diversity with students, such as professionals able to take classes who otherwise could not, Khawaja said.
Rodriguez believes online offerings may appeal to many different types of students.
“It used to be more geared toward working adults who couldn’t attend class otherwise,” she said. “It still is, but we’re seeing more and more younger students who don’t want to live on campus. There’s been a slight shift in the last few years.”
While some courses may not lend themselves well to an online version, many do.
“There’s a school of thought that you don’t want a surgeon to learn to operate in an online course,” Rodriguez said. “If it’s a really applied situation, perhaps distance education is not suited to it. But there are courses leading up to it that certainly are.”
She listed anatomy and physiology as examples for someone studying medicine.
To offer a particular course online, the faculty has to be involved, indicating a desire to have an online version of a course. Rodriguez then works with the faculty to develop the online course, making sure it follows best practice strategies.
There is no difference in cost whether a student takes a course online or in the traditional classroom form.
But some students may not be cut out for online courses.
Taking an online course requires a higher level of discipline, Rodriguez said. Students have to ensure they do all of the work required outside of class.
“You have to be an active learner if you’re a distance learner,” she said.
Still, it’s appealing to students who can’t get to a class at a scheduled time because of work or other obligations. It also works well for people in the military and people with disabilities, the director said.
The provost said there isn’ta set number of courses YSU plans to offer in the web-based format. Some colleges may have many, some only a few, he said.
Rodriguez is in the process of evaluating and assessing where it makes sense to implement online courses, Khawaja said.
By the end of this academic year, that assessment should be complete with more courses offered beginning next fall.
A marketing effort will then begin.