New Wave of Higher Education Interactive Courses Help to Make Colleges More Accessible
Larson, Kristin, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Kristin Larson Daily Herald Staff Writer
When Hope Kracht earned her first master's degree from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, it meant commuting many miles from her home in Elgin.
So Kracht, a mother of two, spent nearly four years finishing the requirements for an advanced degree in counseling - which she uses today as a full-time counselor at Niles West High School.
And like a growing number of adults, she's also pursuing a second master's degree in educational leadership through Northeastern Illinois University at night.
But this time around, Kracht, now of Lake Bluff, doesn't have to make the long commute to the main campus in Chicago because many of the degree requirements are offered at satellite locations at Lake County's Multi-University Center.
This new approach to learning - involving interactive video and classes online - has jump-started the idea of distance learning making higher education more accessible to a greater number of people.
To bring education closer to adults is exactly why the Multi-University Center started offering courses at several sites throughout the county in the spring of '97.
Funded through the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the center is a partnership of 12 public and private colleges and universities offering baccalaureate-completion and graduate-degree programs, as well as both credit and noncredit continuing education and professional development courses.
During the 1997-98 school year, enrollment totaled just over 1,500 students in 12 schools.
"This has created an option for me to continue learning," Kracht said. "It has allowed me to do more. To take classes and to keep my family life, my educational life and my professional life in balance. And for me, there's a more readiness to learn."
The courses are taught in a variety of formats - from online and other types of distance learning to traditional. The College of Lake County is a key player in the Multi-University, offering most of the classroom space for the courses.
This year, locations include Grayslake, Gurnee, Lake Forest, Lincolnshire, Waukegan and Great Lakes Naval Training Center in North Chicago.
Steven Brown, a professor of educational leadership at Northeastern Illinois University, is spearheading the school's Lake County initiative and has been teaching on the "distance education network" for five years.
This fall, he's leading the interactive video school law course that Kracht is taking - which is televised to three sites each Thursday at 4:15 p.m.
Kracht said she never imagined she'd be operating video monitors and zooming in cameras in her lifetime - something all students master early on in the course.
"It's not always perfect," she says. "There are times we turn on the TV, then Dr. Brown says 'are you there?' or we just hear 'zoom in, I can't see your faces.' But it's great to have options, and it stretches us a little bit, too. …