College launches online undergrad classroom
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Melissa Grill of Morganton, N.C., was thrilled when she found out she could attend graduate classes at Laurel’s Capitol College for graduate school – from the comfort of her home two states away.
Best of all, the college’s online, real-time classroom software program, called Centra, made her feel like she was in the classroom.
‘‘Sometimes, in distance learning, you can get lost,” said Grill, who graduated with her master’s degree in information and telecommunications systems management on June 25 from Capitol College. ‘‘This way, I was able to get interaction, I listened to the lecturers... I felt like I was sitting in a real class though I was home in my pajamas. If I had a question, I could ask it.”
The college began expanding the use of the Centra software program to some undergraduate courses as well this summer. Officials are hoping to see the same kind of popularity Centra has given their graduate study programs.
When the college first began using Centra, online enrollment increased from 522 to 805 students between the fall of 2002 and the fall of 2004, said Dianne Veenstra, vice president for Information and Outcomes Assessment.
Capitol College began using online classroom software in 1997, but Centra offered a ‘‘Voice over Internet Protocol” that allowed for synchronous class sessions.
Veenstra likened the necessity for such software to a college buildings having only two classrooms.
‘‘We had to get something that was bigger because we had more need,” she said.
Centra Software Inc., a Massachusetts-based software and services provider with a worldwide client base, markets ‘‘eLearning” as a way to manage information and skills in various formats for both corporate and higher education environments.
The program itself is set up as a window in which participants and presenters ‘‘log on,” and presenters can control the window everyone can see on their own monitor while participants can ‘‘raise their hands” (by clicking a button and having a hand icon appear by their name) and have the microphone icon passed to them to ask a question. All the discussion is conducted live with the use of computer speakers and microphones, but sessions can also be recorded so that students who miss class can see it after the fact.
However, the college does require attendance as with traditional classes, Veenstra said.
This summer, it created a ‘‘hybrid” undergraduate class with a traditional class being transmitted through Centra over the Internet, in partnership with the Southern Maryland Higher Education Commission. Every other week, professor Foad Alvandi physically taught classes at either Capitol College or in Southern Maryland, transmitting the class for those who were not present.
‘‘It went really well,” said Danielle Faison, director of Distance Learning Services. ‘‘It’s the best of both worlds.”
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