Distance Learning: A Step toward Transforming a Community College

Article excerpt

Dolence and Norris in their book, Transforming Higher Education: a Vision for Learning in the 21st Century, point out the importance of moving rapidly from an industrial age to the informational age in which learning will be active, self-paced, and perpetual. Additionally, accessibility and responsiveness is emphasized to include the transformation of teacher centered institutions to learner centered institutions. This article will present our methodology and the process undertaken to bring more accessible courses and programs to our sister community colleges and our own off campus sites. To provide continued access and schedule flexibility for our students, Florence-Darlington Technical College created a distance learning approach that included two distinctive delivery modes, interactive television through compressed video or teleclasses and web based or Internet courses. Our success and the need for these courses far exceeded our expectations. Accessibility, flexibility, and just in time education will continue to be part of our vision at Florence-Darlington Technical College.

As community colleges move further into the information age, the need to transform from a teaching centered environment to a learning centered environment has never been more critical. As the academic vice president at FlorenceDarlington Technical College, I have had the opportunity to lead a "team" of "learners" whose goal has been to transition from traditional classroom instruction at on campus and off campus locations to the creation of a distance learning delivery system that provides increased access and just in time learning.

Dolence and Noms in their book, Transforming Higher Education: A Vision for Learning in the 21st Century, point out the importance of moving rapidly from an industrial age to the informational age in which learning will be active, self-paced, and perpetual. Additionally, accessibility and responsiveness is emphasized to include the transformation of teacher centered institutions to learner centered institutions (Dolence and Noms, 199S). Dr. Malcolm S. Knowles fully developed this concept twenty years earlier in his book, SelfDirected Learning, which was a forerunner to this new emphasis on the learner center institution (Knowles, 1975).

This article will present our methodology and the process undertaken to bring more accessible courses and programs to our sister community colleges and our own off campus sites. We will share with the reader a brief history of the South Carolina "Tech Net" system, which is the South Carolina Technical College's interactive television system; the design and implementation of our new learning Resource Division; administrative issues we faced; faculty recruitment and training; and accreditation issues.

Additionally, we will present an instructor's perspective which addresses pedagogical, personal, and professional issues. We will conclude will a summary and implications for other community colleges.

The College

Florence-Darlington Technical College (FDTC) is a comprehensive community college that serves three counties in the rural Pee Dee region of South Carolina. We have two off campus sites and three other smaller community colleges in our region. The College has been growing steadily for the past five years and reached record enrollment in the Fall of 1998 with a head count of 3,427 students. A little more than 50% of these students are full-time, 35% are minority, which is an increase of 10% in the past three years, and FDTC's median age is 25. Continuing Education enrollment has been growing at a rate of 30% for the past four years reaching a record of over 17,000 for the 1998 academic year. For a number of years, the smaller community colleges in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina have depended upon FDTC to provide the second year of various 1+1 associate degree programs, general education courses that the smaller colleges are unable to offer, and seamless articulation agreements for the smooth transfer of students. …