Since discussions began between Union College, Southern Adventist University and Southwestern Adventist University about forming the Adventist Educational Alliance two years ago, the three schools have sought ways to collaborate to not only save money, but provide the best possible educational experience for students on all three campuses.
One of the early fruits of the Alliance began this past school year in the form of shared courses between the three schools.
These offerings have included parasitology, taught by Union graduate and Southwestern biology professor Amy Shepherd McHenry ’04. Likewise, a high level math course taught by a Union adjunct professor was offered to students at Southern.
Using innovative technology, distance learning allows a professor at one campus to teach an interactive course with a live classroom on their own campus and an online classroom at the other two. Students in the online classrooms still sit in a classroom, watch the live lecture on a video monitor and interact with the instructor and students in the other classrooms.
Malcolm Russell, vice president for Academic Administration, has taught many classes at Union, including in his area of expertise, Middle East history and politics. This semester he is sharing that knowledge with the other two campuses in a course marking the centennial of World War I.
Russell believes distance learning has many advantages, but also recognizes some marked differences from teaching a strictly local class. For one, the video and audio transmission over the Internet can cause a delay, sometimes making class participation difficult. “Discussion has to be more formal, slower and more controlled,” he said.
McHenry from Southwestern agrees this is likely the biggest challenge. “It’s much more difficult for me to ask students to discuss a question in small groups of two or three and circulate around the room to help them understand the concept.”
While students appreciate the opportunity to take additional courses, they see the limitations, too. “I think you need to be a self-motivated student to do well in these classes,” said Sarah Dawson, senior history major taking the WWI course partially taught by Russell.
“We have an advantage because one of the teachers is here on our campus,” explained Lexi Dossenko, junior history education major also taking the WWI course. “If we have questions, we can just talk to Dr. Russell. It’s not as easy for some of the other classes.”
Because Southern Adventist University had already developed some online courses, their staff helped train professors at the other two schools to teach multiple classrooms at the same time.
Both Russell and McHenry see the ultimate advantage to students on all three campuses. “I think it’s a great opportunity for our departments to share faculty expertise,” McHenry said.
“Offering our students access to courses we can’t teach on our own enables us to enrich student learning,” Russell agreed.
In the long run, Russell believes the program will provide a cost savings, too. “Suppose Southwestern and Union together hired a sociologist or anthropologist?” he asked. “One could be located in Lincoln, the other in Texas. It will also give us more faculty in broader areas.”
Distance learning does require technological dexterity, and for now, the learning curve is steep. However, as technology continues to improve, professors and students may soon participate in distance learning without a second thought.
By Natalie Bruzon ’16