Benefits of Teaching Continuing Education Courses
Wylma C. Skean
Assistant Professor, Business and Office Technology
Rhonda Robinson Scragg
Assistant Professor and Coordinator, Computer Technology Program
The Community and Technical College of Marshall University is a component of the university. It provides credit, continuing education, and transition program courses.
Many college faculty members serve double-duty on today's campuses; they instruct both credit courses as part of their academic responsibilities, and noncredit courses for the continuing education division. As full-time faculty who have simultaneously instructed both types of courses, we are not only providing a service to the continuing education division but also are involved in a symbiotic relationship that provides us, our college, and the university with numerous benefits. While to the casual observer it may appear that time spent in preparing and conducting continuing education courses may be a drain on the ability to handle faculty responsibilities, what actually occurs is a considerable payback to the college. Even though our backgrounds are computer-application oriented, we feel these benefits apply to all fields.
While the instructor will immediately recognize a number of advantages found in teaching continuing education courses, such as no need for testing, changes in classroom atmosphere and physical configuration, smaller classes, and more mature students, these are not necessarily benefits that will result in improving the instruction in the college classroom. There are, however, a number of benefits that the instructor derives that can be directly related to success in completing faculty duties.
The initial motivation for the instructor who accepts the task of teaching continuing education courses is generally the money involved. While it is true that the extra income is often the major factor in the original decision to accept this assignment, the many benefits that accrue to the instructor and to the college become apparent as the course develops and should be considered in evaluating the decision to accept the assignment.
Teaching continuing education courses often provides the motivation to expand one's area of expertise. The technical nature of computer and office technologies constantly necessitates an increase in knowledge of current application packages, operating systems, and hardware that may not be required by the college curricula or even be available in the campus computer labs. This opportunity to expand our knowledge bases through the detailed exposure required in an instructional setting allows the creation of a strong base of comparative knowledge to share with college classes. This broad base of knowledge also enhances the ability to make better decisions in designing college curricula and in deciding on future purchases of hardware and software. Additionally, this knowledge has a direct and positive impact on the ability to contribute timely and informed opinions in determining the directions of individual divisions.
Often business and industry requests that continuing education courses be taught on newly-released versions of software that they provide. Because these courses are not normally constrained by starting and stopping times that regulate college courses, industry can adopt new software as soon as it becomes available. Teaching these classes provides the opportunity to utilize software in a classroom situation before making any decision concerning that software's integration into the college curricula. Frequently the opportunity is provided to "classroom test" software before textbooks on the subject have even been published. This experience clearly gives an advantage in the decision-making process of choosing not only the best software versions for college classes, but also the textbooks that best reflect the way that software will actually be used in local industry.
Exposure to the "Real World"
One of the most valuable advantages of teaching continuing education courses is the opportunity to be exposed to real-world applications of familiar software packages. How are such programs as LOTUS 1-2-3 and WordPerfect actually being used in the businesses and industries that will hire our graduates? In continuing education courses, working students are encouraged to bring to that course the problems they are encountering on the job. These real-life examples can then be taken back to the college classroom and used to supplement textbook exercises. The instructor can be confident that these examples are indicative of what most students will be encountering in the industries where they are most likely to be hired.
When the continuing education course is taught at the industrial work site, the instructor has the opportunity to see and use the actual equipment used in that industry. Often, educational institutions have the advantage of state-of-the-art facilities that are not what the student will encounter in a "real" position in industry. The instructor can add more dimension to lectures by expressing an informed view of skills the student will need for something as simple as the basic operation of a piece of equipment.
Teaching continuing education courses provides college faculty members with the opportunity to interact with a different group of people than they normally encounter in the classroom. These new contacts offer the possibility for valuable networking in the business community. In addition to interaction with students in the actual classes, instructors often interact with management training and development personnel in the initial set-up and follow-up reviews of the courses. From these contacts can be recruited part-time instructors for evening courses, members for advisory committees, and job sites for student intern positions.
The opportunity to have a discourse with business and industry leaders provides an avenue for learning about current job openings. When hiring, industry leaders often will contact the educators whom they know in an effort to find appropriate candidates to interview. Having worked with the instructor through continuing education, they find it easy to ask for names of students who possess the particular skills they need. These contacts also provide valuable feedback concerning the performance abilities of students after they are hired. This feedback is vital in the continuing need to fine-tune the curricula so that students are exposed to the skills and information that will render them most employable.
Continuing education courses provide a way for professors to interact with business and industry leaders in a professional way. With the exposure to the faculty member's knowledge and ability, these leaders become willing to enter into formal and informal coalitions with the educational institution. Professors who do not have this opportunity to interact with business and industry personnel in their subject areas are at a distinct disadvantage when they need easy access to appropriate business contacts.
Additionally, on-campus networking often occurs when continuing education classes are taught. Classes that are specifically designed as faculty or staff development will provide the opportunity to interact with individuals across the campus. When a problem needs to be solved at the division or college level, the active continuing education instructor can usually expedite the work through contacts made via faculty and staff development courses.
Contacts created through continuing education courses also can be used to enhance community awareness and positive impressions of the college and often can be used as a recruiting tool. After attending a class taught to employees of a local chemical company, one employee said, "My daughter is a senior in high school, an honor student. She wants to take a class at Marshall. How about your LOTUS class?" Frequently students who are intimidated by the thought of registering for college classes will take continuing education courses. When these individuals realize they are succeeding in courses taught by college professors who are assuring them they are conquering material similar to what would be encountered in college classes, they develop the self-assurance and confidence needed to begin a college career.
While numerous benefits occur when college faculty teach continuing education courses, all depend on the quality of instruction provided by the faculty member. Without hard work and dedication it is impossible to learn new software and appreciate how it is to be incorporated into the work situations of continuing education students. Without hard work and demonstrated expertise the image of the college will not be enhanced; students, particularly students who also work in industry, will not be tricked by inferior instruction in a classroom. Realizing the benefits that come from providing quality continuing education instruction encourages the instructor to continually strive to do the best work possible in all courses.