Section 3: Programs
The institution's use of technology enhances student learning, is appropriate for meeting the objectives of its programs, and ensures that students have access to and training in the use of technology.
The use of technology in higher education has increased substantially over the past decade. The use of computer and communication technology provides students and teachers with unprecedented opportunities to transform the teaching and learning process. The use of technology can be at any level from the most common and simple uses to the most sophisticated. While educators embrace the challenges of integrating technology into the learning process, many question whether its use positively impacts the learning process. In this document, the question of “How does technology enhance learning?” will be explored in relation to the practices and procedures used at Western Texas College (WTC).
Western Texas College (www.wtc.edu <<http://www.wtc.edu>>) is a community college located in Snyder, Texas. The College serves a 10-county area as assigned by the State of Texas. These counties are sparsely populated. For example, Borden County is about 30 miles by 30 miles (900 square miles) and has one town in the entire county. The population of this county is less than 648. The largest population is in Jones County with 19,736. In the service area of approximately 9,000 square miles, there are 80,755 people. In comparison, the state of New Jersey is 8,722 square miles in area and has over 8.4 million people. While New Jersey has a population density of over 900 people per square mile, WTC’s service area has a population density of less than 9 people per square mile.
The State of Texas has mandated that all high schools in the state offer at least 12 hours of college-level courses. To provide these courses, WTC uses technology in various forms, generally Internet and ITV. In this way, the College is able to enhance the quality of the offerings without increasing the net per-student costs. Using these tools, the College is able to maintain flexibility and convenience for the students as well as continue the quality of the offerings. As a leading regional provider of ITV classes, the College has extended its offerings well beyond the service area. To deliver courses outside of its service area, the College must be invited by the local school and be approved by the college responsible for that service area. In the past years, WTC has delivered courses as far away as Cotton Center (between Lubbock and Amarillo) to Tolar (near Fort Worth) to Comstock (near Lake Amistad on the Texas-Mexico border).
WTC is a leader in Internet (or online) course delivery. Most recently, the College ranked second as a provider of Internet instruction to Virtual College of Texas (VCT) schools. WTC is considered by size to be a ‘small’ school but is a large school in the VCT consortium.
In support of faculty, Western Texas College has two major initiatives underway. Beginning summer 2006, WTC brought all distance learning programs under the umbrella of the newly-formed WTC Worldwide. As part of this initiative, the College plans to offer entire certificate programs and degree programs online. This will attract more students as flexible scheduling accommodates the students’ work and home demands. WTC will provide faculty training in distance learning facilitation including the following: (1) accommodating different learning styles, (2) the different role of an online instructor as more of a facilitator, (3) the various methods of evaluating online student learning and online course effectiveness, and (4) the use of collaborative learning in online environments. Faculty, both on-campus and in distant locations, will be guided in the use of the Moodle course delivery platform. As of the end of the fall 2006 semester, 26 faculty and staff have received Moodle training. The WTC Worldwide initiative enhances learning by providing instructors with not only the technological tools, but the knowledge about the best approaches to online courses.
The College has also launched an aggressive program of faculty instruction in the use of technology in the classroom. In the fall semester 2006, WTC opened the Faculty Innovation Center and Smart Classroom. The innovation center is equipped with high-powered computers that include features not found on standard faculty computers, such as DVD burners and memory-card readers. In addition to Microsoft Office Professional, included are advanced software applications to facilitate web development (Dreamweaver; GoLive), photo editing (Photoshop; Fireworks), video creating (Adobe Video Bundle), graphics creating (Flash, Illustrator), and desktop publishing (InDesign, MS Publisher). The Smart Classroom includes a smart whiteboard with video capture capabilities, remote class sampling with individual voting remotes, a document camera, and the option of recording the class for streaming video. Planned faculty training sessions include Microsoft Office applications, web development, course development for Moodle, and training in the use of all smart classroom equipment. The Faculty Innovation Center and accompanying plans will enhance learning by bringing the faculty up to par with incoming students in terms of technological knowledge and will enable instructors to communicate with students using the technology they demand.
Western Texas College offers a campus-wide network with approximately twelve computer labs housing 150 computers. In addition, there are approximately 15 technology-equipped classrooms and additional portable equipment that can be moved to any classroom on campus. The College uses six interactive television classrooms to transmit and receive instruction. Through the use of the Internet and these ITV classrooms, WTC can provide access to diverse locations in its service area.
One aspect of the use of technology concerns the resources that are available to the students and instructors. For the past four years, WTC has administered a Campus Environment Survey. Responses to the statement of “The quality of the teaching facilities” indicate satisfaction (3.9/5.0) with the teaching facilities from students and employees. [Should we not link to at least a survey results document here? - RB] This does not necessarily indicate that the technology used in the teaching facilities is excellent or great. However, it does indicate that there are not no major issues with the teaching facilities. Efforts are underway to improve the teaching facilities on the campus and to provide for the increased use of technology. [What efforts would those be? Do we need some additional detail, or perhaps strike this last sentence? – RB]
In October 2006, an “On-Line Learning Survey” was administered to 42 students for the purpose of determining their attitudes towards the use of technology to enhance student learning. [Link?? – RB] These students were enrolled in an Elementary Statistics Internet (On-Line) class. This group could compare online versus face-to-face learning because of experience in both environments. Furthermore, Elementary Statistics is a challenging course for most students, even under the best of conditions, so it was felt that this group would be more critical of the on-line/Internet format than students taking an easier course. Students were asked to provide an opinion of Strongly Disagree, Disagree, No Opinion, Agree and Strongly Agree with four statements. For simplicity, the Strongly Disagree and Disagree categories will be combined as well as the Strongly Agree and Agree statements. These will be reported as simply Disagree and Agree, respectively. The four statements and responses are as follow:
I believe that the use of technology can enhance student learning.
With all other factors being equal, I would prefer to take this class in a traditional lecture format.
In my opinion, to meet the needs of future students, more on-line courses will need to be offered.
This course allows students with diverse needs (time constraints, physical handicaps, multicultural backgrounds, etc.) to participate.
Overwhelmingly, students indicated that technology can be used to enhance student learning. In this survey, approximately 6 out of 7 students agreed or strongly agreed with statement #1. About 1 out of 4 students agreed with the next statement of “With all other factors being equal, I would prefer to take this class in a traditional lecture format.” About 1 out of 10 had no opinion and approximately 2 out of 3 students disagreed with the statement. This indicates that approximately two-thirds of the students prefer to take this course in an on-line format.Additionally, to determine the reasons and benefits of online learning, students were given several statements and asked to “check all that apply.” Following is a list of the statements given in the order of highest percentage checked or chosen. Only the major responses (those with 50% or greater percentage) are given.
I need this class for a degree.
The flexibility of this class fits my schedule.
This class saves time because I don’t have to drive to class.
Using electronic-based technology is an effective way to improve teaching.
I prefer on-line classes.
I enjoy learning new things.
This course facilitates learning for students with different learning styles.
This course is a prerequisite for future classes.
Essentially, students agree that the on-line format for this course is useful, saves time, meets specific needs, and helps them to achieve their academic goals. According to this survey, 9 out of 10 students believe that additional on-line courses will need to be offered in the future. Responses to the fourth statement of “This course allows students with diverse needs to participate” are consistent with the previous three statements. That is, if 9 out of 10 students agree that on-line courses are useful and allow students with diverse needs to participate, then they would also agree that on-line courses were useful and that delivering the course through the use of technology is effective.
Using technology to deliver on-line/Internet courses meets student needs, provides an effective way to deliver the content and students are pleased with the results.
Western Texas College has concluded that technology-enhanced learning is a good fit for the institution, faculty and students.
As an institution, it would be difficult to meet the needs of rural West Texas students without technology. The college has developed the technological resources to meet these student needs and has further used these techniques to expand to worldwide teaching opportunities. The skills learned in the worldwide area can be applied to the local campus and service area. For instructors, it is often intimidating to teach ‘tech-savvy’ students using antiquated teaching resources. Through the leading-edge resources provided by the Faculty Innovation Center and training, WTC enables instructors to provide high-quality, relevant, technology-enhanced instruction. For students, it is essential that an educational institution provide appropriate coursework that can meet their needs. For today’s students, that means learning opportunities need to be available at convenient times, be relevant to the workforce or their educational needs and encourage students to become life-long learners. For these reasons, technology-enhanced learning is an important and useful tool for the entire WTC community.
Evidence of Support :
Position Paper on the Use of Technology Enhanced Learning at WTC