OC goes online

"With Wall Street markets and mergers making the computer age more unpredictable, online education might sound like a shaky endeavor. But professors at Olympic College are betting that their investment in the cyberspace classroom will take education and the Internet to a whole new level. This is not a flash in the pan, said Robin Newcomer, who teaches an online technical writing class at OC. It's the big thing in education now.More than 40 online classes are offered for credit at OC for the summer and fall 2000 quarters. Students can now take online classes in everything from beginning composition to child care, and the list keeps growing. Some degrees can be earned entirely through online classes. When online students log onto the site for their class, which they are required to do at least five times a week, they can see the agenda and assignments posted for that week. They can then work and log on whenever they want to and are graded, just as in any other class, on the quality of their work.Newcomer said the biggest misconception about online education is that it is easier than classes in a traditional classroom setting.At the very least it's just as hard, if not harder, Newcomer said. Getting an education outside of the traditional classroom setting is not completely new. Other alternatives, such as telecourses and video instruction courses, have been offered in the past. Distance learning has always been important to educators, Newcomer said. This gives us another door.Jana Wainwright, who teaches online world literature and English courses at OC, said the classes offer what other distance learning classes have failed to in the past - interaction.With the telecourses, you don't interact as much, but online is very intense involvement, Wainwright said. I check in at least once a day, if not three times a day. OC is part of a statewide two-year-old consortium of two-year colleges offering online classes called Washington Online. Wainwright was one of the first professors to bring the online classes to OC and she said that with e-education spreading deep and wide, educators need to be cautious about the kind of direction the programs take. There are some quality-control issues, Wainwright said. We don't want this to become a diploma mill.For the time being, though, Wainwright believes that academic integrity has been maintained and that online courses offer something to education that has not been there before.The principle advantage is time, Wainwright said. Since people can log on whenever you want, there is no time restrictions. I have a student who is on a ship and one who is mother of three.Wainwright said online education has obvious limitations. Some classes require lab time, and subjects such as music and physical education would be impossible to do over a computer.But many students said online courses make college life simpler.Margi Gabe of Belfair said convenience is the biggest draw to online classes. The 22-mile commute from her home to OC's Bremerton campus got tiresome for Gabe, who already commutes to Olympic at night for a children's program. I'm a non-traditional student and it was a non-traditional class, Gabe said. I like the fact that I can get on at midnight. Frank Mandell of Seabeck, who is working toward a degree in computer science, said programming classes for computer degrees couldn't be done without interaction with instructors. There's a few drawbacks to it. It would be hard to do it all online, Mandell said But with how kids are today with computers, it's going to be the future of classes. Wainwright remains optimistic about the possibilities. It offers an exciting alternative to learning and we have just barely begun to explore them, Wainwright said. It's nice to be a part of the primary effort to get it out there."

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