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Online Education Opportunities and Resources Continue to Grow at Coastal Alabama Community College

Aug 15th, 2022 Featured

Coastal Alabama Community College continues to be a trailblazer for students interested in distance learning, with more than 6,000 students taking advantage of online courses during the last school year. And that number is likely to increase during 2022-2023 as students from at least 16 states have enrolled.

Distance learning has long been a focus for the college, but its Center for Teaching & Learning has made tremendous strides since the coronavirus pandemic disrupted traditional classroom learning in early 2020. The momentum created by those gains continues to pay dividends for all involved.

“We offer a much larger variety of courses than a lot of other community colleges,” said Ann Strickland, Director of the Center for Teaching & Learning.

With so many choices available for students, she said it was important for the college to effectively and efficiently communicate with all of the students — whether they learn in person, online or a hybrid of the two. Coastal Student News was created to be accessible through students’ Canvas dashboard, and it includes everything from important announcements to digital resources and more.

“It has really created a culture of community among the students,” Strickland said. “So even if they're out of state, they still have a way to find out what's going on.”

One of the resources now available to thousands of the college’s transfer students is the Coastal Books+ program, which is a digital book and book rental program through Barnes and Noble Booksellers. The program has launched for the Fall 2022 semester and students will be able to pay only $24 per credit hour for their digital books, eliminating shipping costs for the digital books and wait times. Volumes will be embedded in the student’s Canvas courses so they’re available on the first day of class.

“We're really looking forward to it,” she said. “It will be a huge cost and time saver for students getting their books.”

Going into Fall Semester, the college offers about 210 different online courses, and for the first time the General Studies and Liberal Arts programs are fully available online. New online courses added for 2022-2023 include Art History, Calculus III, Fundamentals of Drafting and Design, Spreadsheet and Software Applications and Ethical Hacking. Eventually, the college will be adding a Theater Appreciation course, as well, Strickland said.

Important strides have also been made in pathways where at least some of the courses are accessible digitally. There are currently seven different career tech programs where at least 50 percent of the course work is available online. And within the Math Department, since last year the Center for Teaching & Learning has been implementing a pilot program for video conferencing.

These courses allow students the flexibility to attend classes in-person or log in virtually to receive live instruction anywhere they have internet access. The program is currently only being offered in math courses and will likely stay within advanced course work in other pathways once it’s fully integrated. The goal is for them to be offered in the distance learning classrooms already installed at each of Coastal Alabama Community College’s campuses.

The video conferencing pilot program goes right in step with opportunities the Center for Teaching & Learning has been developing for years, including the hybrid courses currently available. According to Strickland, what the pandemic revealed in part was just how many other demands there are on every student’s time.

“We've learned that we have students who struggle with being able to travel long distances, students who struggle with childcare, with work commitments, and then other students who really just have no interest in traveling to multiple campuses to take classes,” she said. “And our goal is to give them a lot of flexibility."

“We’re always working on creative ways to do things.”

That includes faculty training and instructor certification, she said. In the last three years, the center has developed and implemented a distance education certification program that at least 260 employees have completed. The program is constantly being increased and improved, and the upcoming semester will include the addition of faculty and employee webinars for training on Microsoft products.

“We want to continually thrive when it comes to internal professional development and technology training for our employees to help them improve their jobs,” Strickland said.