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* Online education study, articles spark response

The director of the Virtual College at Shoreline Community College is diving into the conversation around a recent study and news articles regarding online education.

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   Ann Garnsey-Harter

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“Recent news articles and editorials on the efficacy of online learning at the college level sparked considerable chatter within the higher education community,” Ann Garnsey-Harter posted in her blog. “Shoreline Community College was no exception to the discussion, but let’s take a deeper look at the numbers.”

Garnsey-Harter says that Shoreline is one of the fastest growing providers of online education within the community and technical college system. “SCC’s online enrollments this academic year have increased by 11-15 percent,” she wrote. The increase, she said, is attributable primarily to the 2010 launch of the “Virtual College,” a strategic initiative that included increasing the number and quality of online course offerings, offering significant faculty training opportunities, adding more robust online student services, and implementing targeted marketing efforts.

Garnsey-Harter takes exception to a recent New York Times editorial that cites a study by Columbia University’s Community College Research Center (CCRC).  The study concludes that typical students have some difficulty adapting to online classes while others adapt poorly.

“The New York Times mixes apples and oranges by referring to numbers for the more recent phenomenon of massively open online courses (MOOCs),” Garnsey-Harter writes. “… MOOCs have very low barriers to entrance and exit.”

On her blog, Garnsey-Harter cites Shoreline statistics for 2008-11 that show, “… Our aggregate pass rates for online and face-to-face students are the same at 70 percent.”

Garnsey-Harter notes that The Seattle Times published an article Sunday, March 17, 2013, about the CCRC study.

“That article outlined the CCRC conclusions from the 2004-09 data, but then also included a chart using only a snapshot of fall 2012 numbers,” she writes. “Fall 2012 is just one data point and there is variability from quarter to quarter and year to year.  We should concern ourselves with trends and working to address the factors that affect those trends.

“I’m not surprised that Shoreline online students are performing well. … Our faculty and staff have worked hard to make the virtual experience for students the same or better than the face-to-face experience.”

Garnsey-Harter says agrees with the CCRC study, The New York Times, and The Seattle Times that there is work to be done: “That’s exactly the direction we’ve been moving at SCC with the Virtual College Initiative.

“And, we need to remember that online learning helps bring education and training to people we could not otherwise serve and it improves their lives.  A variety of approaches can meet the needs of a variety of students.  As a college, Shoreline needs to make sure we keep our eye on meeting those needs.”

SCC/Jim Hills

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