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[Pacific Lutheran Scene]

Leadership and Service

PLU offers new direction for online learning

By Katherine Hedland '88

[image] Joanne Lisosky and class
Faculty like Joanne Lisosky (right) are working to integrate technology into existing programs and course work, while keeping personal interaction in the classroom a priority.

With the rapid surge in technology making it increasingly easier to disseminate information, many universities are finding ways to educate students who never step on campus.

PLU, while embracing the technological advances that can enrich education, holds fast to its belief that the best learning takes place in person.

“Our fundamental approach is to apply technology, including distance learning, to the improvement and enrichment of existing courses and programs and modes of instruction,” President Loren Anderson said.

So far, no complete courses are offered online, and the university has vowed it won’t offer complete degree programs via the Internet.

“We have said very clearly that we will have no distance learning delivered degree programs period,” Provost Paul Menzel said. Still, administrators and faculty acknowledge there is much to be gained by incorporating technology.

“We are taking a conservative, go-slow approach on this,” said Christine Moon, associate professor of psychology and chair of the Educational Policies Committee. “It’s clear that distance learning is going to grow, and I don’t think we should quickly rule out applications at PLU. It has great potential.”

Still, everyone recognizes the important learning that goes on in a classroom, when bright students and an inspiring professor meet. That is all part of PLU’s mission of educating students for lives of thoughtful inquiry.

“We value the spontaneity that comes from face-to-face interaction and you just can’t mimic that,” Menzel said. What about speaking skills?” Menzel asks. “They’re an important part of our education.”

Distance education and online learning are hot topics across the country. The Chronicle for Higher Education devotes daily coverage to distance learning, and the concept has been profiled in national magazines in recent weeks. While many in higher education applaud efforts for online learning and see it as a way to reach more students, others fear it diminishes the quality of education and could even create an elitist system, in which wealthy students receive degrees from traditional institutions and the less fortunate end up with digital diplomas.

[image] Lisosky’s students
Lisosky’s students.

Taking these concerns into consideration, as well as the potential benefits, the Educational Poli-cies Committee is evaluating how much technology is being integrated and reviewing faculty suggestions.

“We have some faculty that are very enthusiastic about it,” Moon said.

One is Diane Harney, communications professor who earned a second master’s in teaching with Internet technology during her sabbatical. She sponsored a month of faculty discussions entitled “Technology and Teaching: Utilizing Web-based Instruction,” in January. Faculty members met to discuss interactive learning and how to teach with technology.

“The use of technology to enhance teaching and learning without losing the PLU character is what we’re really interested in,” Harney said.

There has been talk of offering some courses to students who live at a distance, such as the master’s courses in education, nursing and business. In addition, some professors have students working on projects simultaneously with students in similar courses at other colleges or even overseas, then trading information and ideas online.

“Our priority is the face-to-face personal con-tact, and we can do that so much better than what you can do in an online environment,” said Layne Nordgren, director of multimedia systems and li-brary systems. “But we can take advantage of what the online environment can do. What we can do is incorporate technology tools into curriculum.”

There has been increasing use of eCourse, a new tool this year that allows students to access syllabi and other course materials online. Nordgren oversees eCourse, which also allows faculty to put some course components online. More than 100 courses use eCourse in some way.

Students can have online discussion groups, bulletin boards and other study opportunities outside of class. Some professors allow students to submit assignments online.

“It provides a wide diversity of options,” Nordgren said.

Some say electronic components can actually improve the quality of classroom time, because professors don’t have to spend as much time going over details of the syllabus or background information— those can be easily accessed via computer. Then, in class, more in-depth conversations can take place because everyone’s prepared.

“I think it’s very exciting,” Moon said.


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