October 12, 2007

Distance Ed delivers courses to the student

Tom Kando, sociology, reaches beyond the confines of the classroom, delivering lessons to off-campus students through the computer and television. Tom Kando, sociology, reaches beyond the confines of the classroom, delivering lessons to off-campus students through the computer and television.

Many of Sacramento State’s students don’t have to come to the campus to go to school—they just turn the television on or boot up the computer. The University offers a variety of ways for students to take their classes at home, work or on the run through its Distance Education program.

The program began about 20 years ago by televising classes on dedicated TV and cable stations that reached various parts of Sacramento as well as outlying communities. Today the University offers courses in several formats. Students can still catch them on television, watch them live on the Internet, wait until a more convenient time and access the course’s archives on the web site for the lecture, or check it out from the library.

“A lot of our students find the ability to see the lecture at a time of their choosing as quite an attractive feature,” says Jean-Pierre Bayard. He not only oversees the Distance Education operation as director of Academic Technology and Creative Services, but was also one of the first Distance Ed instructors.

Courses cover a wide variety of subject matter, from “Computer Sciences,” to “Magic, Witchcraft and Religion.” Sociology professor Tom Kando teaches Sociology 156 Juvenile Delinquency out of a small studio/classroom in the library and is a strong supporter of this approach to education.

About 40 students attend his class in person. Another 120 watch it off campus. “It’s convenient for students,” Kando says, noting that many of them work or are raising families.

Philosophy professor Gale Justin is another proponent. “I think the students who take Distance Ed courses are somewhat more serious because they have more of a responsibility for keeping on top of the work, consulting the syllabus and submitting assignments via e-mail,” Justin says.

The program is not embraced by everyone. Some professors prefer the more traditional approach, and Kando believes some of that may be inspired by concerns over job security and fear that if they record their lectures one year, why come back next semester to give the same talk?

Wayne Dias sits in the control room, operating the class. Wayne Dias sits in the control room, operating the class.

Kando acknowledges this format does not work for every situation, particularly graduate classes with a small number of students where intense interpersonal discussions are encouraged.

But for the larger lecture classes, Kando says, distance education is a viable alternative, particularly on a campus where class space is at a premium. “It’s not taking over,” Kando says of the program. “It’s just making a contribution to education.”

Bayard echoes that sentiment. “We want to improve retention and graduations,” he says. “You need to reach students where they’re at, not where you would like them to be.”

And sometimes, that effort has a very long reach. “A few years back we were piping the program to someone in a submarine,” Bayard says.

For more information on Distance Education, call (916) 278-5754 or visit www.csus.edu/atcs/dist_ed.htm. For media assistance, call Sacramento State’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156.