Volume 96, Issue 59
Wednesday, January 15, 2003

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Homegrown scholars the new educational trend?

By Kelly Marcella
Gazette Staff

Students across the country are taking a step away from the traditional classroom setting and moving towards online learning.

According to Debbie Sims, Western's co-ordinator for distance studies, the last year has seen the number of students enrolled in distance studies programs increase by 25 per cent, per term.

For the fall/winter academic term, Western is offering 80 courses through distance studies – an increase from the 71 classes offered in the summer term, Sims said. There are currently 5,300 students enrolled in these courses, she explained, adding 75 per cent of these classes were offered specifically online.

"The growth is just booming," said Jo-Anne Willment, an associate professor at the University of Calgary, who has studied the growth of such programs across Canada.

Willment said new technologies are allowing students to acquire the information they could only previously obtain from attending class.

"It opens up a whole new field of inquiry for higher education," she said, adding improvements in the quality of distance studies programs have also accounted for the rise in enrollment.

"We are always in development and updating our programs," said Debra Dawson, director of Western's education development office, noting the quality of programming is steadily increasing, especially with WebCT and the opportunity for online discussions.

Dawson said an increasing number of courses are being offered online.

"I think flexibility is the major reason," Dawson said, noting many students have jobs and extracurricular activities and online courses allow them to fit everything into their schedules.

Sims said, in addition to the regular tuition fees, there is a $75 supplementary fee for distance study courses. This fee covers the charge for any technical support needed, proctors at exam centres, as well as any supplementary course information, she explained.

"It does cost more, but expectations are that people are getting what they paid for," Willment said. "I think that this is going to be increasingly mainstream."

"I didn't like the subject, but I definitely liked the convenience of not having to go to class," said Lori Caves, a special student in psychology at Western. Caves said she works two jobs and taking a distance studies course was the best way to fit school into her schedule.

"It's not a matter of taking over the traditional education method, but, having said that, there is an increased emphasis on broadening horizons," Willment said, adding it is important to offer new educational opportunities. "There will always be a need and desire for face to face interaction in the classroom."

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2002 THE GAZETTE