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Anywhere, Anytime.Class Is in Session Online

Bryant Callahan was under pressure. Stationed at McConnell Air Force Base, this Atlanta native (pictured on the cover of this issue) had decided he wanted to apply for officer training status, but he didn't have a college degree. A colleague who had earned a degree through Southwestern College's professional studies program was urging him to enroll in the degree completion program there, but Callahan wasn't sure.

"You ought to try it, you really should," Callahan's friend told him.

So one day, as Callahan drove past the center on south Rock Road in Wichita, the young serviceman made up his mind. Thinking of his wife and baby daughter, he stepped through the door and became a Moundbuilder.

But then September 11 intervened. Callahan learned he would be deployed to Germany at the end of November. His chances of finishing a degree by August 2002, the deadline if he hoped to be accepted to officer training, were impossible with a traditional program.

What happened next, Callahan says, simply was a blessing.

Because Southwestern had been accredited to offer majors online last June, Callahan was able to continue his education while deployed in Germany for 91 days. He began his first Southwestern class in January, half a world away from the traditional class locations. Twelve- to 16-hour workdays were followed by classwork (sometimes at 2 a.m.) that was completed on his computer, and on his schedule.

And on May 11, he walked across a stage in Stewart Field House to accept his Southwestern College diploma with a major in business quality management. He had beaten the deadline.

Today Callahan is one of about 150 adult learners who make up the fastest-growing populations ever to enroll at Southwestern, the online learners. These students enroll in classes and map their majors just like traditional students, but when it comes time for class, they sit down at their computers at any hour, log on and learn. Eight weeks later they have earned Southwestern College credit anywhere in the world.

In fact, a map in professional studies director Candyce Duggan's office spells out the exploding success of the program visually: Red stars mark the home locations of learners, and are scattered throughout eight states and three countries. Silver stars, denoting faculty members, are in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Iowa.

In the academic year since accreditation, the program has grown from 32 enrollments last January to 156 in May, a figure Duggan expects to pass 200 quickly.

These learners choose from six majors completely online (business administration, business quality management, computer programming technology, criminal justice, human resource development, and pastoral studies). Selected courses from the remaining four professional studies majors also are online (in computer operations technology, manufacturing technology, nursing, and production management).

Duggan says the same kinds of advantages that have drawn adult learners to the professional studies programs now are attracting online learners: Shortened, intensive classes that can be completed while the student continues to work full-time; scheduling that allows for sitting out a session if necessary; and high-touch student service have the added assets of flexibility and convenience online.

The online learners agree.

Traci Owen shares homework space in her Ponca City, Okla., living room with her daughter. Traci is working on her business administration degree; Caitlin is winding up seventh grade.

"Although there are set deadlines every week, I can work at my own pace as long as I make the deadlines," Owens explains. "As a wife and mother I also feel it is an advantage for me to be home while working on school - Caitlin is as hard on me getting my homework done as I am on her!"

It takes a certain type of personality for online to be practical. Self-discipline, ability to focus, motivation, and personal responsibility are factors mentioned by current learners. Almost anyone, they say, has the technical savvy to complete the course; the other qualities are far more important.

"Course work is due on a specific date, and failure to submit it results in a non-passing grade, just like any other class, so a student must want to get it done," says Beverly Hodge, a business administration student from Perry, Kan. "There is no common meeting place, where reminders are issued. We have to be responsible."

LaChalle Shay lives close enough (in Wichita) to take traditional on-ground classes but has chosen online to fit her schedule. The student who will succeed online, she says, needs to be a good planner. "The person best suited for this program is the one who can discipline themselves to set aside a designated day of the week or at least time during the week to complete the homework, review the lectures, post to the discussion board and submit the work," she emphasizes.

Tom Howard, pastoral studies, Ponca City, agrees.

"Not having an instructor or fellow student right there to ask a question is sometimes burdensome (of course, they are both as close as a phone call or e-mail)," he says. "However, being able to enter into an online discussion at 2 a.m. when you can't sleep; not having set class periods that you have to attend; no travel time; interacting with fellow students from across the country; these are very positive aspects of the online classroom for me. "Without them I would not be completing my degree anytime soon-if at all." Terry Allison, another pastoral studies student whose home in Bogue, Kan., is too far to commute to traditional classes, seconds Howard's assessment. He can be studying during the hours he normally would be using to drive to a class location, he points out.

As she advises prospective students Candyce Duggan suggests they "test drive" an online course before committing to complete it (see sidebar for instructions). She promises most who try the class will find the Blackboard® class management software remarkably user-friendly. The college has worked to increase the size of the bandwidth dedicated to online learners, and has made other technical changes that lessen the chance for technical malfunctions.

Along with the technical improvements, Duggan works to keep Southwestern's noted personal touch. Learners in Southwestern's professional studies sites are greeted with cookies and soft drinks during the first sessions of each class. Online students, soon after they enroll, receive a package through the mail containing microwave popcorn and hot chocolate mix.

Even though an occasional student decides online isn't a good option (usually, Duggan says, these students are motivated by direct personal contact) Duggan foresees the day when online learning will no longer be the exception to the rule. Certainly this outcome is not what she expected when she began her career in professional studies, she admits.

"It would never have occurred to me," she says. "I thought you had to be a tech-ie, but you don't. You can sit at home in Wichita, Kansas, and communicate with the world, and to me that will never cease to be just fascinating. I think it's one of the best things that's happened in education."


To Test Drive Online

. Go to the Southwestern College Web site, www.sckans.edu
. Click on Professional Studies
. Click on CampusNet (button at top of page)
. Log on to SCholarLink (top right side)
. Log in (left of page)
. Enter user name student1, enter password student1
. In the box titled "My Courses," click on Career Building Follow remaining instructions throughout course.


Douglas Takes Over as Coach

Chris Douglas '94, who was an assistant coach at Southwestern before going on to coaching positions in Texas and North Dakota, has been named head football coach for the Moundbuilders.

Douglas began his new duties June 2, accepting a position left vacant when a head coach named in February accepted a position nearer his home.

"Chris is a person of high integrity, an outstanding and well-respected graduate of Southwestern, and a loyal Moundbuilder," said President Dick Merriman in announcing the new coach. "I know his commitment to the college is enduring and I'm confident he'll be very successful in leading our program."


Faculty and Staff Recieve Awards

Students chose dean of students Dawn Pleas-Bailey (left) and chemistry professor Terry Barnett as top staff and faculty when the SGA announced its annual awards this spring.

Others receiving spring awards included Troy Boucher, Fassnacht Outstanding Faculty Award; Candyce Duggan, Fassnacht Outstanding Administrator Award; Evelyn King, Fassnacht Outstanding Staff Award; and Phil Schmidt, United Methodist Exemplary Teacher Award.