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New on-line classes prove popular

By Jeanne Brunson

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 33 - June 18, 1998

For hundreds of Virginia Tech students and others who are interested in taking college-level courses, the Internet is providing a new way to make the most of the summer months.
More than 500 students are enrolled in 17 on-line courses--in subjects ranging from art history to entomology, mathematics to social sciences--during the university's first-summer session, which ends June 27. Three additional on-line courses--media, technology, and diversity (a course for educators, trainers, and business representatives that focuses on the design of instructional materials); technical writing; and Appalachian literature--will be added the second session, which begins June 29.
These courses are open to part-time visiting students as well as to those who are already enrolled in degree programs at Virginia Tech.
On-line learning allows students to take courses from anywhere in the world at their own convenience and at their own pace as long as they have reliable access to a computer, e-mail, and a World Wide Web browser.
"Many students who enroll in on-line courses say they value the academic reputation and quality of teaching available at Virginia Tech and appreciate the opportunity to pursue their course work away from the Blacksburg campus," said Tom Wilkinson, the university's director of distributed and distance learning.
Depending on the course, participation may require professors and students to use a variety of Internet or World Wide Web-based technologies and tools, including e-mail, bulletin boards, chat rooms, and netforums.
Course work can be completed after working hours, in the middle of the night, while on vacation, or anytime the student has the time and access to a computer. An on-line writing lab provides private tutoring sessions, self-help exercises, and a grammar hotline to all enrolled students.
"This is an attractive arrangement for students who are juggling work schedules, family responsibilities, vacation travel, and other activities, yet want to take a class too," Wilkinson said.
"Professionals such as teachers who are required to complete college-level course work to remain current in their fields are among those who find the format ideal," Wilkinson said.
For example, students enrolled in media, technology, and diversity complete both on-line and off-line activities and assignments, "but the ubiquitous nature of the content allows them to keep up with assignments at a comfortable pace and review the material as often as necessary," said Glen Holmes, associate professor of instructional technology.
On-line activities involve interactive multimedia presentations, tutorials, simulations, website visits, the completion of forms and surveys, and more. Off-line activities include such things as data collection, reading, and viewing audiovisuals (videos, television), and writing papers.
"I encourage interaction among class members through the use of on-line chats and discussions," Holmes said. "Substantial one-to-one interaction with the instructor is also built into the course. These features frequently exceed what is generally available to students enrolled in more traditionally delivered classes," he said.
Due to the popularity of the on-line summer courses, university officials have decided to continue the program for both Virginia Tech and visiting students in the fall and spring semesters, according to Timothy Luke, professor of political science, who serves as the faculty coordinator of the university's efforts in this area. Plans are under way to offer 10 to 12 classes on line this fall and possibly more in the spring, Luke said. Course offerings in summer 1999 likely will be expanded as well, he said. Luke was instrumental in developing Virginia Tech's on-line master-of-arts degree program in political science, which was launched last year.
Enrollment forms and access to course web sites can be found at http://www.vto.edu, or by contacting the Online Enrollment Office, Virginia Tech, 104 Burruss Hall, Blacksburg, VA; by phone at 1-6609 or by e-mail at vtwebreg@vt.edu.