Online courses beneficial to HCC and its students

Online courses at Harford Community College are becoming more available to students and such opportunities encourage self-starters, two employees of the college's e-learning center said.

LeRoy Trusty, director of the college's e-learning center, and Carrie Dorman, instructional design specialist, gave an overview of e-learning at the college to its board of trustees Tuesday, describing the benefits of taking online courses and how it's beneficial to the school.

Trusty said the once non-traditional students, such as adults and people in lower-income demographics, have become students because of online course availability.

HCC offers online programs in general studies, business administration and psychology, but the programs with the majority of online courses are in technology, teacher education and accounting certification, Dorman said.

In a one-year period from fall 2010 to fall 2011, 1,011 course selections were available to students, with 169 online-hybrid courses. Classes in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) field had the most selections.

Board of Trustees Vice Chair James Valdes asked Trusty and Dorman if their center has a goal as far as the balance in the number of students taking traditional classes in-person and online.

"The issue is identifying appropriate technology," Dorman said, not to reach a specific target. She added that the center speaks with other colleges with similar programs on how they use technology to better serve their students and online courses.

During the same one-year time period, 7,182 students were enrolled in online courses.

She explained that the rate was so low because students with schedule conflicts who would normally drop the class are finding it easier to attend online classes.

E-learning "increases access to college courses," Trusty said as one of the benefits to online classes. He added there are also more opportunities for improving the school's online technology.

Learning in an online capacity, Trusty continued, requires students to be more self-directed and encourages better discipline.

"In turn, HCC can increase student retention and completion, which is really what we're looking for," he said.

College President Dennis Golladay asked the two what was the most common reason for a student to choose taking an online course rather than in-person.

From a survey given to all online students at the end of a course, Dorman said, the most common response is that the course was a requirement and the only option available was to take the class online or the student was from another school and was obtaining credits from HCC.

Board chair Bryan Kelly asked if the quality of education in an online classroom and traditional course differed.

Trusty told the chair that the center has found no difference in what the students learn from each type of course and there was no variance in quality.

Kelly then asked what the next step would be for the college as far as online course technology.

Flipping the classroom, a strategy that has students using online technology to learn allowing the teacher to devote more one-on-one time to students who have questions, is one idea the center has, Trusty said. Incorporating online games, he added, is another possibility as the students would be able to participate in real-time activities rather than lectures.

These steps, however, will most likely be further in the future, since availability of the technology and cost are big factors.

In other action at Tuesday's Board of Trustees meeting:

Two contracts were unanimously approved for the purchase of furniture and theater equipment for the college's Susquehanna Center.

The board approved a contract for $220,571 for chairs, shelves and other pieces of furniture for the center, $117,055 of which will be from state funds with the balance coming from local funds.

Because the construction project is state-funded, any pieces of furniture than can be made by Maryland Correctional Enterprises must be purchased from the company. MCE will deliver and assemble all furniture.

A contract for various equipment needed for the arena theater was approved for $583,952.12. The state will fund $327,635.43 of the total with the rest from local funds.

The college put bids out for audio, lighting and rigging equipment, as well as a truss system. All proposals were evaluated by technicians in the theater department to ensure they were receiving the necessary equipment at a good price while maintaining quality, and to guarantee that all equipment, which will be purchased from different companies, will work together.

The lowest proposals for each were category were accepted, with the contract going to Philadelphia Sound, of Philadelphia, Pa., for $124,070 for audio equipment, Barbizon Capital, of Alexandria, Va., for a total of $348,693.22 for lighting equipment and a truss system, and Light Action Productions, of New Castle, Del., for $111,188.90 for rigging equipment.

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