Bridging California's Education Gap
Technology is proving to be a great equalizer when it comes to access to higher education at the 107 community colleges throughout California. Suddenly, barriers such as geography and transportation are crumbling. We look to technology, and in particular videoconferencing, to help us bring together the diverse population of faculty and administrators, as well as students, across the system, said Jose Michel, coordinator of distance education for the California Community Colleges Chancellors Technology Communications Office in Sacramento.
For the past two years, the community college system has been working to provide every college and district office with the necessary infrastructure for teleconferencing connections. Funding for the project was allocated by the state Legislature in the 1996-97 fiscal year budget. However, many colleges had already taken steps in this direction.
Mendocino College in Ukiah was one of the first institutions to use videoconferencing equipment to present regular curriculum and has been using the technology for about five years. The college has made it possible for students throughout the 4,000 square-mile district to take classes, even though the topography often prohibits commuting.
Videoconferencing units were established on the main campus and at remote centers in Willits and Lakeport. This allowed students to take classes that would not otherwise be offered in those locations. There werent sufficient students to justify the cost, explained Philip Hartley, dean of instruction at Mendocino College.
Coastline Community College in Orange County was established in 1981 as a distance-learning college. Rather than adding new buildings to existing campuses to accommodate additional students, the district decided to use technology to deliver education off campus. One of its first projects was in partnership with California State University, Dominguez Hills. To help county residents obtain a four-year degree without driving 60 miles round trip, Coastline used videoconferencing to provide access to upper-division courses at the university while students were taking the lower-division courses at the community college.
A significant amount of what we do is distance learning. We have about 16,000 students a year that go through our distance learning programs, said Ted Boehler, dean of instruction for distance learning at Coastline. The college also has a large contract with the U.S. Navy providing distance learning annually for about 4,000 sailors around the world.
Not Just Academics
A Good Solution
Videoconferencing solves these problems. We have technology that supports us in a much better fashion than we have ever had in the past. Videoconferencing in conjunction with a web site that provides wrap- around support for students is a wonderful idea. The ability to use e-mail and functions we have never had before provide us with a real solution to educational needs, said Boehler, of Coastline College.
Problems such as ensuring the integrity of a test, are also being solved. Many instructors give open book quizzes and use proctors during exams. Training instructors in the use of the equipment has not been that daunting either. It takes about 15 minutes, according to Hartley.
Stylistic issues, like teaching to a camera to a remote audience, are picked up readily by instructors who are already skilled communicators. If other media sources are added such as computers, auxiliary film sources or VCRs, a student from a television and film production class assists the instructors.
Currently, the Chancellors Office is producing a training module that will be ready in spring 1999. A few remote areas of the state, such as Lassen College in Susanville, dont have ISDN service and are therefore unable to take part in the video-conferencing technology sweeping the community college system. Were at the tail end of them (telecommunications companies) building a highway. Were right on their heels and will be connected as soon as they find solutions for us, said Michel.
Hartley added, The information highway, and the technology to support these kinds of technologies, is very much an urban phenomenon. Some of the sites we would like to serve have no ISDN lines and there are no plans to provide that service.
For more information on videoconferencing resources within the California Community College system, contact Maureen Sullivan, account coordinator, OKeeffe & Company, Two Bala Plaza, Ste. 300, BalaCynwyd, PA 19004, call 610-660-7798 or send e-mail to email@example.com.