Online coursework is quickly becoming a mainstay of the education industry. The Ithaca Times spoke to representatives from Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College about the rise of online learning and the changes virtual technologies have brought for brick and mortar institutions.
Ithaca Times: What impact, if any, has the rise of online coursework had on your enrollment?
Rob Gearhart, Assistant Provost for Online Learning and Extended Studies, Ithaca College: As a residential comprehensive college we are more likely to attract students seeking that kind of learning environment, so it’s probably not a surprise that we haven’t seen the rise of online coursework having an impact on our enrollment, which may be evidenced by our strong incoming freshman class.
Blixy Taetzch, Dean of Operations and Enrollment Management, TC3: Online programs and courses have enhanced our enrollment for over a decade. More recently, we have begun to offer a winter intersession of online only instruction, which is growing in popularity. In addition, we are now offering over 25 degree and certificate programs that are all or mostly online.
Mary Adie, Director of Special Programs and Professional Studies, Cornell’s School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions: We have seen an increase in enrollment in our online coursework. Everywhere on campus there are signs of online use. Cornell is integrating technology as much as we can because the students like it and it’s easier for faculty to use.
IT: How does a brick and mortar school adapt to virtual technologies?
RG:In general, the Ithaca College response to the impact of virtual technologies is to embrace their use in ways that enhance and complement our excellent residential learning experience. That happens primarily in our on-campus offerings to complement classroom learning, but it also creates targeted fully online course offerings to enhance the learning experience for students in one of our internship/study programs in New York City (ICNYC), Los Angeles, and London or other study away opportunities.
BT: We have been adapting to these new technologies for over a decade. It is critical for any institution to offer state of the art technology services, including online study, for all students.
MA: There’s not a student on campus who isn’t connected somehow, students very much like to learn online, it’s how they bring information into their intellectual sphere and social sphere.
IT: You offer online courses, are they geared towards a specific audience or population?
RG: Somewhat. For example, Ithaca College has increased online course offerings during our Winter Session and Summer Session terms when many of our students are not able to be in Ithaca. These courses are also open to other students, and we’ve seen a significant increase in online summer and winter session enrollments over the past five years.
BT: Many traditional aged students take online courses along with classroom courses in order to craft a schedule that works best with their work and personal lives. More obviously, the nontraditional student with many external commitments, trying to juggle school, work, and family, benefits greatly from the flexibility of online study. But the courses themselves are for everyone.
MA: We find students across all disciplines are interested in online learning. Students who are restricted in free electives due to rigorous coursework love that they can go and take an art or anthropology class online during the summer or winter because it is the only time they have to experiment in courses that are not in their major.
IT: Do you find your online courses are being utilized more by specific departments, i.e. there are more folks taking courses in one subject rather than another?
RG: That isn’t noticeable at IC.
BT: I would say our online enrollment is really driven by what degree programs we offer online. Not all programs are available in online format. Other courses that tend to be popular are your general education requirements that students will need for any degree program, whether they are seeking a degree at TC3 or elsewhere.
MA: Not really, it’s crossing departments quite easily.
IT: Do you see online coursework increasing to the point where it could start having an effect on your physical enrollment numbers?
RG:As a residential institution, we expect to continue to attract students interested in that experience. However, all residential campuses will certainly feel the pressures to compete for those students, and Ithaca College believes that it will continue to be attractive to students seeking a quality residential education. We also believe that our careful attention to the ways in which technology-enhanced learning will complement that experience is important in our success.
BT: No, not really. I believe there will always be a demand for the classroom experience, even if it is enhanced by online resources and technology
MA: There’s very little substitute for matriculating on campus and making friends and enjoying the college experience. While it’s a growing interest for students to take extra credits online, we don’t see it having an effect on our matriculation numbers.
IT: What differences do you see between your institution offering online coursework in addition to classroom settings, and degree granting institutions that are entirely virtual?
RG: Learning at Ithaca College extends beyond the classroom to encompass a broad range of residential, professional, and extracurricular opportunities. Some of the outcomes from these activities are more difficult to replicate and achieve in entirely virtual or online only schools.
BT: I think the biggest difference is that we are offering a full array of services both in person and online. This adds to the experience for a student who might be taking online courses due to work and family commitments, but are still within commutable distance to take advantage of the physical resources of the college, such as counseling, academic advisement, tutoring, events, and co-curricular activities. That’s not to say that library services and other academic support, such as tutoring and advisement, aren’t also available online, but the student may choose their preferred method of interaction.
MA: The difference between us and online degree-granting institutions is the Cornell experience. The students that come to us either have a family tradition or have visited and say they love it here and that’s not going to change.