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Flood of Online Students in Reno Illustrates Shifts in Education

Like virtually every metropolitan area Reno, Nevada is seeing an increase in adults returning to school and to the use of online education programs in general. The Reno Gazette Journal has an excellent article about the experiences of both students and faculty with the advent of distance learning.

The University of Nevada/Reno began experimenting with online education ten years ago, and now has one hundred course offerings online this semester, with an additional 100 courses offered on the blended model: part online instruction and some classroom hours as well. Online degree options include a criminal justice degree entitled Justice Management and a human relations degree that is a bachelor's in human relations management. Campus officials see a continuing increase due to the changing demographic of college students today.

Among the community colleges, Western Nevada College saw a 27% increase in online enrollment. Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) reports that a17% of its student population are online-only students.

Nearly half of all enrolled college students today are over the age of 24. Remaking careers has become a goal for people who need job skills that match today's businesses, as well as for women who wish to return to the work force as their children have grown to an independent age. One woman working on a business degree at TMCC is enrolled in two online classes and one campus class, giving her some contact with the University as well as the flexibility needed for dealing with children.

She is involved in classroom discussions online every week with fellow students. Like most online students, she is finding that the time dedicated to successfully completing an online course is equal to or greater than the time required for a classroom course.

Faculty members are learning the same lesson. TMCC political science professor Fred Lokken is Associate Dean of the school's WebCollege, and has this to say about teaching online; "I think it's a very dramatic transformation as faculty��One of the things you need to understand is the way you teach is not the way you will teach online��Students react differently in a virtual world. Students require more contact. In a class that meets Monday-Wednesday, I only see those students on Monday-Wednesday. In the online class, I'm interacting with some of them every day. Younger students expect an immediate response."

Commenting on the value of the online environment Professor Lokken commented, "It offers one of the greatest professional development opportunities possible,"��With all this wonderful technology possible, I can post videos, podcasts, PowerPoints, that can adapt more effectively to different styles of learning��In some ways, the online class is superior because it requires students to participate in discussions while affording them time to research a thoughtful response. In an online class, I get everybody to participate, there is more student-directed learning occurring online."

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