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Technology enables students to earn ODU degrees locally
Sylvia Niblett of Bassett takes part in an Old Dominion University distance learning course at Patrick Henry Community College. (Bulletin photo)
Monday, July 9, 2012
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Technology is enabling local students to earn degrees from Old Dominion University (ODU) in Norfolk and participate in classes there without leaving the Henry County-Martinsville area.
In classrooms at Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC), students watch live, satellite-delivered television broadcasts of classes at ODU. Microphones and — sometimes — cameras allow the students to communicate with instructors and their fellow students in the university’s classrooms.
Launched in 1994 as “TeleTechNet,” ODU’s service more recently has been referred to as “distance learning” or “extended campus.” It is essentially the same experience as being in a regular classroom, except that instructors are elsewhere, said Anna Parker, ODU’s site director at PHCC.
The service also is available at other community colleges in Virginia.
Away from classes, students in the distance learning program have access to their instructors via phone as well as email. Parker said that is what sets the program apart from similar services offered by other schools in which communication between students and faculty is done entirely online.
ODU also has staff at PHCC to help its local students.
Students are considered full-fledged ODU students, Parker said. Although they pay the university’s tuition, they save money by not having to pay some of the fees paid by students on the Norfolk campus, she said.
They also receive academic advising from the university and can use its job-finding service, she said.
Through the program, “you don’t have to go to the university” at all, said Parker.
That includes commencement. Students can walk through PHCC graduation lines and be presented their degrees locally instead.
While pursuing bachelor’s or master’s degrees from ODU, they use PHCC’s library for research and studying.
“Most of our students have been Patrick Henry students” previously, Parker said.
In pursuing a university degree, she said, ODU’s distance learning program is “a better, personalized option for students who cannot leave the area” or do not want to leave.
Some students — even younger ones — do not want to go away to college and leave behind their families and friends, she noted.
Students must have a minimum grade point average of 2.5 and a minimum of 24 transfer credits from PHCC or another college to enroll in the program, according to Parker.
Parker did not immediately know how many local students have graduated from ODU through the distance learning program in the past 18 years. She said, however, there were eight graduates in the spring, when 125 students were enrolled. Enrollment usually declines in the summer, she added.
ODU’s distance learning website shows that students in the program have access to 54 of the university’s degree and certificate programs at PHCC.
In comparison, the New College Institute (NCI) in uptown Martinsville has 19 academic degree, certificate and endorsement programs. The institute offers local access to programs provided by universities statewide. Each university has staff at the institute who teach the programs and advise students.
Parker said she thinks the experiences of students at NCI and those in the ODU program at PHCC are “pretty much the same, except the instructor is not there with you” in the ODU classes.
She said she thinks the number of distance learning programs will grow over time because surveys show an increasing interest among students.