U of M students can take courses thousands of miles away from campus

by George Fairbanks

With an enrollment of more than 40,000 students, the University is one of the largest in the world. Yet its student body is not limited only to Minnesota.
University students have taken course work from the South Pole, various regions of Russia and every state in the union. All have been made possible through the University’s popular Independent and Distance Learning program.
The program’s director, Deb Hillengraff, said about 5,000 students from all over the world currently are enrolled in distance classes. She noted many of the students are attracted to the program’s “no requirements” admission policy.
The program is geared toward nontraditional students unable to attend class on one of the University’s four campuses.
“Serving regular day students isn’t our mission,” Hillengraff said. She is quick to point out many campus students can and do take advantage of the program.
Students taking classes in the program send finished assignments to the University by mail or e-mail. A predesignated, department-approved instructor then grades the work.
In addition, more students are taking advantage of interactive-television classrooms. Director of Distance Learning and Media Resources Kay Roberts explained both credit and noncredit classes are offered through interactive television.
“Social work and nursing are heavy TV users,” Roberts said. The television courses are offered on what Roberts called long Saturdays or on a Tuesday and Thursday schedule. They can be broadcast between two schools or several schools at the same time.
Hillengraff said television courses are generally taken on college campuses.
Even though some students are thousands of miles away, they are still able to converse and hold discussions with teachers. The dialogue is mainly done via telephone or e-mail.
As the prevalence of the Internet continues to grow, Hillengraff expects class offerings and total enrollment to increase. “It’s safe to conclude that with more online classes, we will have more students,” she said.
Students who take classes in the program have two timetable options to work with. Work can be done in the regular semester system or during an extended term.
The extended term allows students nine months to complete course work. In some cases, extensions are granted, but the decision is left up to the instructor.
Hillengraff explained students seeking extensions or simply not finishing course work are fairly rare. “The completions rates are good,” she said.
Distance-learning work goes on transcripts as a normal University class. Transcripts don’t include any note that the class was taken under special circumstances.
Many students take full advantage of the distance-learning program, taking multiple classes and earning a number of credits. At the same time, some will only take one class through the program.
When the University made the switch from quarters to semesters, the program had to rewrite its catalogs and pare down what is offered. When it’s fully operational, the program offers 150 to 170 classes. Currently, 130 classes are being offered.
Hillengraff explained the conversion was a major undertaking that took a lot of time and effort. Work continues while the semester is in full swing.

George Fairbanks welcomes comments at (612) 627-4070 x3221. He can also be reached at [email protected]