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Distance Learning Enrollment at Plattsburgh State Skyrockets

In 1993, Plattsburgh State University of New York first offered a unique educational opportunity for those students not able to come to campus. Distance learning was born. Through the technology of interactive video conferencing, students could take a course from Plattsburgh State while sitting in a classroom at Jefferson Community College in Watertown, N.Y., among other sites. By 1998, 14 courses were being offered to 381 students.

Since then, another form of distance learning was introduced -- Web-based courses. Through the SUNY Learning Network, students can now take courses online. In 2003, Plattsburgh State offered a total of 85 courses through video conferencing and the Web with a total enrollment of more than 1,400 students.
"The SUNY Learning Network is a consortium of 55 campuses," said Anna Liem, interim coordinator for distance learning. "The network provides a centralized service and website along with a helpline for students and faculty."
Students can take an online course from any of the participating campuses. They sign on through the SUNY Learning Network then register at the institution providing the course.
For example, a student at SUNY Potsdam wants to take a course that is not offered on his or her campus but is offered online at Plattsburgh State through the network. The student would sign up on the network and register for one course at Plattsburgh State. He or she would have to get a "permission to attend form" from Potsdam to make sure the course will count toward his or her degree program. Most universities have a cap as to how many of these credits can be transferred.
"Distance Learning also helps those students who live a distance away and are unable to come to campus. It is useful to students who may want to take a course in the summer or winter sessions when they are away from campus," said Kathy McClelland, interim director of lifelong learning.

Faculty interested in teaching a Web-based course must first take three one-day training sessions through the SUNY Learning Network the semester before the course goes on the Web.
"It's a lot of work from the faculty perspective," said McClelland. "The hard part is the training workshops and the work to develop the course for online. Once they get the basic training down, they keep coming back to offer their course online."
Dr. Ray Guydosh, associate professor of management and marketing, said that he enjoys the unique challenges an online course presents to both the faculty and the students.
"I believe that Web-based courses give a professor a closer contact with a greater percentage of the students in a class. Every student needs to be an active participant -- there's no way for a student to hide. I think that an online class requires more of a student. I usually tell students that an online course requires the ability to motivate yourself, to work independently, to be a good reader and to read and follow directions. Any particular student probably gets more out of the online class than he or she would personally get from a traditional setting."
The first department to really take full advantage of distance learning through video conferencing was nursing, food and nutrition.
"The nursing program set the whole tone of using video conferencing," said McClelland. "The department took this opportunity and ran. They were the pioneers on campus for distance learning. Education has also developed quite a lot of courses through video conferencing and the Web."
Dr. David Curry, associate professor of nursing, food and nutrition, said that the R.N. to B.S. program could never have succeeded without the use of distance learning through video conferencing.
"Course work was specifically developed to be part of distance learning. We applied for and received a large grant that helped to pay for the video conferencing equipment," said Curry. "Distance learning has absolutely worked for the Department of Nursing, Food and Nutrition here at Plattsburgh State."
Curry also said that it is important that the students taking distance learning courses be self-starters and highly motivated.
"Distance learning requires a motivated self-starter since it is not in the structure of a traditional classroom. Video conferencing is the middle ground between a traditional classroom experience and a Web-based course. Assuming the students are motivated to succeed, they are receiving a comparable educational experience to that of a traditional class. They must meet the same objectives and outcomes that they would need to in the classroom. These are two routes to the same end," said Curry.

Departments offering Web-based courses include hotel, restaurant and tourism management, marketing and management, anthropology, mathematics and women's studies among others.
The instructor of a web-based course posts assignments, questions for discussion and even administers tests online.
"You're learning and using a different style of teaching. And distance learning is definitely a growing trend," said McClelland.
For more information on the Distance Learning opportunities through Plattsburgh State, contact the Center for Lifelong Learning at 518-564-2050 or 1-800-388-6473.

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