I keep mentioning distance learning and the different ways I’ve taken classes to piece together my degree. I thought a little terminology would be in order, just so you know what I’m referring to. So herewith, a rather biased glossary of the many different kinds of coursework delivery methods available through University of Maine at Augusta:
CLEP (College Level Examination Program) allows students to earn college credit for what they already know. You take an exam in a particular study area and if you do well enough, you receive credit. There is a fee involved, but compared to the costs of a typical course (plus text books), the savings is significant. Plus you can save time by not having to take the course. UMA allows up to 45 credit hours via CLEP, which works out to a year and a half of study, if you choose to do it that way. I only took one CLEP exam, for ENG 101 College Writing.
With ITV classes, students receive classes at a site in their community by viewing the class on a television screen. The class takes place in real time, but it is often recorded at the same time at the site so a student can view it later, if necessary. I find ITV classes work great for lectures since so many instructors use PowerPoint presentations (which are screen-based anyway). They’re also perfect for classes with lots of video content, like a Cultural Anthropology class I took. Where they are less perfect is in actual discussions. You can phone in to talk to the instructor and to the rest of the class, but you’re in a queue with other remote students who are also phoning in. By the time it’s your turn, your comment might not be pertinent anymore. This kind of communication is workable, but not ideal. The biggest benefit, to my mind, is being able to take college classes without having to leave the island.
Video Conference (or V/C) is like ITV version 2.0. Classes are still a real-time experience, students are still in a remote location from their instructor, and there is still a television screen involved. In fact, there are two large screens, and that makes the difference. In the receiving classroom at URock, we see our instructor and some of our classmates on one screen, and our own small classroom on the other. Students can push a button to make their site “live” on screen, meaning all sites can see and hear them. The communication is much more fluid without the phone as a barrier. You’re also more apt to have actual classmates to sit next to and get to know, as well as the ones you see on the screen. I’m taking a V/C class this semester, so you’ll be hearing more soon. Here’s a sneak peek…
Live classes are just as you think of them. This is the traditional classroom experience with an instructor teaching in the same room as all his or her students. Even here, though, my live class experience has been untraditional, because I don’t travel to campus in Augusta to take courses. Instead, instructors come to us at URock, and our credits apply to our UMA degree program. So far, I’ve only taken a few live classes, mostly Spanish and watercolor classes, which would be hard to do any other way. I don’t feel the content is any different from other formats, but it’s nice to have a true face-to-face connection with the instructor and classmates.
Online classes are completely web-based. All aspects – syllabus, assignments, lectures, discussion, tests, and grades – are delivered via an online platform called Blackboard. They are asynchronous, meaning it’s not a real-time experience. You “go to class” when it is convenient to you. This is a huge advantage for busy people with jobs and families. Instead of a weekly class at a certain time on a designated day, and instead of a long commute and a missed day of work, I can do a couple hours of online class work before heading off to earn my day’s pay. I get a kick out of seeing my work posted in the early morning, only a few hours after my night owl classmates have posted theirs. I love online classes and I can guarantee you’ll be hearing more from me about their awesomeness.
Another option for coursework is Independent Study or Cooperative Education. For either option a student works one-on-one with an instructor and comes up with a written proposal about the intended line of study. The proposal outlines the course description, objectives, methodology, course materials, etc. It’s a process, and the proposal needs to be accepted by the instructor, advisor and dean. But it seems like a very interesting way to create a course that isn’t in the catalog, or to do a comprehensive project related to your field of study. In fact, this blog will likely become part of an independent study proposal next semester.
So there you have it. I love that I’ve been able to take advantage of all these different learning formats while I work toward completing my degree. But what about you? Are there other distance learners out there? Do you love these different delivery systems, or are they just a means to an end? Please comment…I’d love to hear from you.