- Joe Huston, Director, Academic Success Center, Seminole State College
- Brian Crose, Director of E-Learning, Seminole State College
- Diana Marquez, Instructional Coach and Distance Education Instructor, Atlantic Technical College
- Kim DiGeronimo, Student Ambassador, UF Online
Opening remarks: Evangeline Cummings, Assistant Provost and Director, UF Online
FCAN host: Kathy McDonald, Assistant Director for Network Partnerships
Growth in online college programs has been a bright spot in the challenging higher education space long before the pandemic hit.
On April 6, FCAN welcomed a panel of experts from career/technical, 2-year, and 4-year institutions to discuss how online learning will remain a part of the mix of options for students to continue their post-high school education, even after the pandemic.
“Modern universities are embracing online learning. They were doing it before the pandemic, and they’re certainly going to be doing it now, so you’re going to have a lot of options,” said Evangeline Cummings, Assistant Provost & Director of UF Online. Currently, UF Online supports more than 4,000 students. “The best online programs are engaging, flexible, taught by experts, and always evolving.”
Online learning — Pre- and Post-COVID-19
Aslanian Research, in partnership with Wiley Education, conducted a survey of online college students before the pandemic shut down campuses last March.
Among students who selected an online program before COVID-19:
- 78% believe their program was worth the overall cost.
- 74% want to use their mobile devices to learn on-the-go. Online students see this flexibility as an asset that helps them stay up on their studies.
- 58% used employer tuition reimbursement benefits, indicating these students are juggling their education with work and other responsibilities
The results offer a sense of how important online learning will continue to be in higher education post-COVID. Once the pandemic hit and all programs went online, there was a difference in how students experienced online learning:
- Access to technology/internet impacted accessibility, with 1 in 5 people who stopped taking classes or chose not to enroll at a community college this fall saying they lacked the technology or internet access to take classes online.
- A July 2020 survey of over 22,500 undergraduates found that 76% struggled with motivation for online learning, and 56% lacked access to an appropriate study space/distracted at home
- A July 2020 survey of nearly 5000 college instructors found that 60% of them said keeping students engaged was their biggest challenge in the transition to remote learning.
The difference in online college experiences pre- and post-pandemic reveal how important it is for colleges to design and build courses that are intended for a virtual platform and provide faculty with the support needed to engage students in ways that take advantage of the technology.
Embracing online learning
Brian Crose, Director of E-Learning at Seminole State College, discussed the importance of having complete buy-in at all levels in order to successfully implement online learning at a school, starting at the administrative/institutional level and followed by faculty, staff, and students.
Still, that level of commitment doesn’t guarantee success. Crose also spoke of some of the technological barriers that can impede online learning.
“The pandemic has really highlighted that there is a digital divide that exists out there,” Crose said. “It’s not just the access to the technology, it’s also the quality and reliability of that technology. It’s knowing how to use that technology.”
Joe Huston, Director of Seminole State College’s Academic Success Center, offered some suggestions for students considering an online learning program.
“For a student to thrive in an online environment, they need to have a willingness to ask questions and ask for help,” Huston said. “The key thing is to be informed about the program before you enroll: What are the courses going to look like, and what are your responsibilities? What are the limitations of your schedule?”
Why students choose online learning
Students who intentionally selected an online program prior to the pandemic listed three key decision factors:
- Affordability: More than half of students mentioned affordability as a key factor.
- Reputation and accessibility: Students wanted to be proud of the institution they were attending, with 75% choosing a campus within 50 miles of their home (up from 44% in 2012 and 67% in 2019). While students want the convenience of online, they still wanted to be part of a campus community.
- Quickest path to completion: Online college students want the ability to apply transfer credits towards their degree program.
Kim DiGeronimo, a UF Online student, said she was able to apply the transfer credits she earned at Seminole State to her current business administration degree program.
She’s enrolled in a fully-online program, which allows her to incorporate her educational pursuits into other parts of her life.
“It was going to be a difficult thing to balance work, school, and family, but pursuing an education online gives me the flexibility to do just that,” DiGeronimo said. “Basically, it provides an education on my terms.”
Adapting to online learning at a CTE institution
Due to the hands-on nature of many career and technical education programs, the perception might be that adapting to virtual learning is incredibly difficult — if not impossible — for CTE institutions.
Diana Marquez, Instructional Coach and Distance Education Coordinator at Atlantic Technical College, shared some of the ways her school adapted its supports for faculty, staff, and students during COVID-19, including leveraging its own instructional technology talent.
Among the training and supports solutions offered by Atlantic Technical College:
- 24/7 tech support for faculty and staff provided by ATC’s technology department
- Coordinated laptop distribution for secondary and adult learners
- Flexible appointment scheduling process allowing students to schedule virtual sessions with advisors and counselors
- Financial assistance opportunities for students, via funding from the CARES Act
- Weekly training sessions for faculty to help them transition to teaching virtually
“Through the support of our district, and even our administration here on campus, we were able to implement several training and support solutions,” Marquez said. “Without a doubt, it is truly a team effort.”
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