Smc's Distance Education Goes A Long Way

In today’s fast-paced world where technology rules, it is no wonder that online classes, otherwise known as Distance Education, has become a prominent part of Santa Monica College’s educational agenda, as a part of a growing technology-based environment.

Within the past five years, the demand for Distance Education has more than doubled, and during the 2011-12 school year, 30 percent of enrolled students had taken an online course throughout the year, according to the Board of Trustees. “With more than 23,000 course enrollment seats, online education represents close to 12 percent of SMC total credit enrollment for 2011-12.”

But learning is more potent by sitting in a classroom, staring at the professor lecturing while students are scribbling notes in their notebooks, rather than staring at a computer screen without the sound of the professor’s voice and pens meeting paper.

Distance Education is beneficial to students because of the freedom it allots those who have multiple obligations such as work, childcare, and other responsibilities that keep them from attending an on-campus class. Distance Education is also a great option for students who have no means of convenient transportation, and therefore choose to stay home and take their courses.

Students, who become unsuccessful in adding an on-campus class, can always take DE courses as a secondary option. “Online classes also provide the District with a nimble solution to adding additional classes if necessary without having to consider the logistics of classroom availability and room conflict databases,” states the BOT agenda.

“The majority of my time goes to working. I’m very rarely on campus,” said Kaili Gregory. Gregory who has taken online classes at Irvine Valley College finds SMC’s distance education more intuitive.

Gregory is currently taking a Music 32 class online. “I prefer to take this class online since I don’t need the professor constantly,” said Gregory. “There are some subjects such as math and English I would never take online.”

According to the California Community College Chancellor’s office report: “In 2009-10, DE sessions increased by 93 percent to represent 9.6 percent of all educational sessions offered.”

But, SMC’s best and brightest alumni forged their successes by attending on-campus classes, and SMC would not be such a successful transfer college if it didn’t offer a wealth of high quality on-campus classes.

In fall 2011, SMC DE classes had an 81 percent retention rate compared to an 85 percent retention rate from on-campus classes, according to the BOT statistics. Distance Education courses had a 66 percent success rate compared to a 69 percent success rate for on-campus classes.

Melissa Runalfson, a second-year psychology major, is taking her first online class, while attending SMC. “I like the structure and the way my professor has his classes planned. It’s very interactive,” said Runalfson.

“I think it’s more responsibility to take an online class. You really have to discipline yourself,” said Runalfson.

With winter session cancelled, students will be in a fight for more classes in the remaining semesters, giving DE classes more reason of importance for SMC students. Distance Education classes will enable more students to take courses they need for graduation, and take some burden off of their shoulders, should they be unfortunate to not be able to add on-campus classes.

Distance education has come a long way since its inception, but still faces challenges relating to its constantly changing nature: Identifying student cheating, and calculating online professors’ skills and curriculum are the main points.

“The District continues to work with the Distance Education course management system Pearson (eCollege), to support a growing community of student and faculty users of online education,” states the BOT.

While distance education is now a realistic option for students seeking higher education, it should be reserved for those who need it, and not be sought after by those who can’t be bothered to attend on-campus classes.

Distance education is at its highest demand for SMC students, and with the absence of winter session, more students will undoubtedly consider the rapidly growing program, making DE courses even more popular in the future. But SMC would be remiss to ever make distance education their primary focus for educating students.

If faced with the decision between choosing an online or on-campus class, it is always recommended for students to take on-campus classes for the whole educational experience, unless certain circumstances and rational reasoning make online classes a better choice for a student.