Colleges take learning outside the classroom

pensacola news journal logoOctober 4, 2005 – Internet classes offer convenience

Carol Horigan used to teach out of a Pensacola Junior College classroom, but she doesn’t anymore. The visual arts professor’s job at the college hasn’t changed. The way she teaches has.

Horigan is among a growing number of online teachers who have traded their lecterns for mouse pads.

“I love it,” Horigan said. “Everything is at your disposal online.”

PJC offers 44 course titles online, and students can earn an associate of arts in general studies or business without having to enter a classroom. Online courses have become so popular that PJC eCoast Campus is marketed as a separate entity.

This semester, 1,700 PJC students enrolled in online courses.

At the University of West Florida, about 11,000 students are taking online courses. Many also are enrolled in traditional classes, but 2,500 are seeking certificates or undergraduate or master’s degrees solely online, said Karen Barth, UWF online coordinator.

Future trends likely include more blending of online and traditional instruction.

“Students really, really like it,” Barth said.

For Pensacola residents Kellie and Anthony Stiner, online courses offer educational opportunities they might not otherwise have. Both are pursuing degrees in criminal justice online.

Anthony Stiner, 32, the chief administrator at the Navy Orientation Recruiter Unit at Pensacola Naval Air Station, is taking classes through Grantham University. Kellie Stiner, 28, manager at Blimpie’s on Blue Angel Parkway, is an honors student enrolled online through Kaplan University, which is headquartered out of Davenport, Iowa.

Time is precious for the Stiners and their three children.

“We like the flexibility,” Kellie Stiner said. “We don’t have to sit in a classroom for two or three hours, and we can do our schoolwork after our children have gone to bed.”

The portability of online classes is attractive to Michael Negovan, a former Navy air traffic controller who began his studies through Kaplan three years ago in Pittsburgh. He didn’t miss a beat when he moved to Chattanooga, Tenn., and is wrapping up his course work at his new home in Gulf Breeze.

Not everyone is sold on online courses. University of West Florida microbiology student Luis Espinoza, 22, took his first and last online class last summer.

“It’s not like a classroom where you can express your ideas,” Espinoza said. “You just try to fulfill the task and get your grade.”

Although there is not the face-to-face interaction the classroom offers, many teachers add chat rooms and bulletin boards where students can discuss assignments or form online study groups.

While in Jordan last month as a member of a touring orchestra, PJC adjunct math instructor Kathy Schultz kept in touch with her students and their assignments and answered their questions by e-mail.

“The feedback is immediate, and the students love that,” Schultz said.