GCC to increase Online Learning for Greater Student Access and Success
Posted on Monday October 1st 2012
Greenfield Community College has received a $179,310 grant from the state to expand the College’s online learning options and to increase online and face-to-face services for students taking online courses and degrees. The GCC project – Increasing Online Learning for Greater Student Access and Success – is one of 15 grants for Massachusetts community colleges funded by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education Performance Incentive Fund. When added to GCC’s current array of online courses, the College will be able to offer a menu of over 60 online courses – making it possible to obtain a Liberal Arts Degree wholly online and expanding online and hybrid access to GCC’s STEM and health occupations programs.
The Performance Incentive Fund grants were awarded on a competitive basis and are part of $5 million set aside in the fiscal year 2013 budget to make the community colleges more efficient, promote quality in academics and campus management, increase the number of students who graduate, and enhance career training. The Performance Incentive Fund is a cornerstone of the Vision Project, the state’s master plan to establish the Commonwealth’s system of public higher education as a national leader in educating students to be productive workers and engaged citizens. The “vision” at the heart of the Vision Project is that Massachusetts needs the best educated citizenry and workforce in the nation and that it is the job of public higher education to achieve the result.
The project at GCC will fund the creation of up to 30 new online courses within the associate degree and certificate programming of GCC’s three academic divisions (Professional Studies, Humanities, and Social & Natural Sciences, Math, Business & Technology). These include courses in the high-demand health occupations and STEM areas: 8 Fire Science, 8 STEM, 2-3 health occupations courses, as well as 7 new humanities courses. The project will also create several online supplemental instructional modules in selected health occupations courses to increase student success in courses they often struggle to complete, and will create a menu of online workforce modules to support the continuing education requirements of regional EMTs, paramedics, and other public health and safety workers. Technology enhancements to facilitate expanded online instruction include 1) upgrades to video streaming capabilities, 2) implementation of a dedicated on-campus Learning Lab to support the development of essential writing skills for online course success and facilitate faculty planning regarding online delivery, 3) a technology-enhanced Math classroom, and 4) availability of an online advisor.
Thom Simmons has taught Economics and Business courses for 14 years at the College and is one of GCC’s pioneers in online course delivery. “This is coming at the perfect time for Greenfield Community College,” Simmons said. “Having established a strong reputation for faculty-student interaction, we are now applying that student-friendly approach to new technologies and course delivery methods. Students can be assured that taking an online course will not be a nameless, faceless experience; rather, they will continue to experience the personal attention they deserve and expect. This grant will enable us to continue to expand our offerings and capabilities as the nature of education itself changes.”
GCC President Bob Pura commented on the grant saying, “This was a highly competitive grant process and we are pleased to be recognized at such a high level. Our focus on increasing online education offerings comes from our commitment to providing increased access to affordable quality education to our students. Replicating the high quality of our on-campus classroom experience in our online courses will be at the core of our commitment. Providing online education is not enough, providing excellent online education is our goal.”
Sheryl Hruska, GCC’s Chief Academic and Student Affairs Officer, said, “This new funding will help our students have more options for achieving their educational and career goals while continuing to benefit from small classes, faculty attention, and dedicated academic support resources. Online GCC has the same commitment to student-centered relationship-based learning community education that is the hallmark of a GCC education.”
GCC currently provides fully online courses as well as hybrid courses that blend face-to-face instruction with applications of technology to deepen student learning and course-completion scheduling. With this grant, the College’s online course offerings will make it possible for students to complete the Liberal Studies – General Degree completely online. GCC recently received accreditation approval for the delivery of fully online degrees and this grant is a key support to expanding online certificate and degree offerings over upcoming semesters.
The grant includes funding for a Humanities and Writing Learning Lab/Studio which will be an on-campus location for online students and faculty to work on course materials and success. As at other colleges, the majority of GCC’s online students are also taking at least one other course on campus. GCC Dean of Humanities Leo Hwang-Carlos explains the benefits of programs supported by this new funding, saying, “Providing a consistently rich online learning experience will help differentiate the quality of our offerings from more generic classes, and increased access to our courses will strengthen our students’ ability to graduate within a shorter time frame. In addition to low student-faculty ratios, the College will support access to online tutors; the Peer Tutoring Center; the Math, Science, and Social Science Studios; and develop a new Online Learning Resource Laboratory as part of the new Humanities Studio. GCC wants to combine the benefits of our online curriculum with additional online and on-campus support from faculty staffing the new Online Learning Resource Laboratory. One of our first foci will be on supporting writing across the curriculum in online courses. By increasing access to online courses and combining that with a wide array of support systems, we can help students transition between online and face-to-face environments with equal success and better prepare them for continued studies in higher education or their chosen profession.”
GCC English department chair Stephen Poulin, adds, “For a student, the beauty of taking an online GCC English course is the knowledge that not only will you get twenty-first century curriculum delivered through a twenty-first century medium, you’ll also get an instructor who understands and operates within the unique student-focused culture of GCC. It’s the best of both worlds—academic rigor that prepares students for work and school beyond GCC, and that recognizes the many-faceted life challenges our student population faces.”
Hruska concludes, “Overall, the College is very pleased to have this funding from the State of Massachusetts to advance the education and goal completion of our students through expanded high-quality online course availability. Through these increased online course options and the related new student learning support online and on campus, GCC students will be better able to complete classes on a schedule that fits their work, travel, and family demands.”
By Mary McClintock, ’82