More Maine students taking online courses

Posted Sept. 28, 2008, at 9:46 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:18 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — More Maine college and high school students are taking classes online and through campus interconnections this fall, and education leaders say the numbers will increase dramatically in the future.

“The number of courses and enrollment in online education is up 15 percent this fall over last fall,” said University of Maine System Chancellor Richard Pattenaude. “It is part of our response to the energy crisis; we have been adding [class] sections.”

He said the university system has been offering courses over the Internet between campuses, as well as over its Instructional Television, or ITV, system for years. He said that allows for many “brokered” degrees, in which students take courses from faculty throughout the system in order to get a degree that may not be offered at the students’ home campus.

“This is a further expansion and increases the number of courses a student can take online from home,” Pattenaude said.

He expects this use of technology to increase, and said the courses being offered today are more than introductory level courses.

“For example, the master’s degree in Educational Leadership that is being offered at the University of Maine at Presque Isle and at the University of Maine at Fort Kent are being provided online from [University of Southern Maine],” he said. “And that is just one example.”

John Fitzsimmons, president of the Maine Community College System, said the campuses are expanding the use of classes on the Internet and through ITV. He said colocating local education centers with those of University of Maine System campuses has helped expand capabilities.

“I don’t think we have an aspirations problem in Maine,” he said, “we have an availability problem. We have a backlog of applications at our system.”

He said greater use of technology will help expand the ability of the colleges to provide courses throughout the state. He said more students are comfortable using computers and the Internet.

“That’s going to grow,” said Education Commissioner Susan Gendron. “We are seeing a growing number of high schools using online classes and students love it.”

She said a recent national conference on educational technology predicted that by 2019, half of all high school courses will be offered online, and an even greater number at the post-secondary level.

“What we have to do is come up with the best mix of online and classes in person,” she said. “Schools are about more than learning.”

Gendron said the important social growth that occurs in high schools and colleges should not be eliminated in the move to technology-based education. She said the challenges facing teachers at all levels are very significant and need to be addressed.

“Students are learning differently and teachers need to learn to teach differently,” she said. “Much of what we are doing now will need to change.”

The change happening in education is part of a broader societal change, says John Zogby, head of the international polling firm that bears his name. He has written a book, “The Way We’ll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream,” which predicts a fundamental change in education. He writes that the new generation he calls “First Globals” is more socially tolerant and internationally aware, and is shaping what he said is nothing short of a “fundamental reorientation of the American character” that is away from current priorities in an age of limited resources.

In addition to expanded on-line classes at the college level, high schools are using federal grants to expand course offerings using broadband in some very rural areas. For example, School Administration District 19, which is based in Lubec, received a $385,165 grant earlier this month to install high-definition interactive IP-based video conferencing for classrooms that will serve York, Sagadahoc, Somerset, Washington, Aroostook, Piscataquis and Penobscot counties.

The SAD 19 grant was part of nearly $2 million awarded earlier this month for expanded broadband access in rural Maine.

Gendron said that for more than a decade Maine has been using federal funds to operate the Maine School and Library network, which has brought broadband access to schools and libraries across the state.

“What we need to be thinking about now is how to expand that access to students when they are at home,” she said. “Yes, we are looking at some fundamental changes in learning.”

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