ACC opens distance learning center


GRAHAM — Alamance Community College has opened its Distance Learning Center in an effort to make online classes more visible on campus and a bigger part of the college’s plans to increase enrollment.

The lab, in ACC’s main building off the food court, has offices for two staff members, and three computer stations for students and staff taking and teaching online classes, according to an ACC press release.

One of those staff members, Jennifer Jones, joined the college Jan. 2 as director of distance learning to focus on expanding the online programs ACC offers. Elizabeth Irizarry is coordinator for distance learning. Her office used to be in the presidential suite, which is not the most accessible place on campus.

Online and hybrid courses — classes taught partly online — have grown in popularity in the past few years, with enrollment growing by more than 650 since 2010 and by nearly 11 percent since 2013 alone.

Expanding distance-learning enrollment is part of the college’s strategic plan and its aim to increase enrollment by 2.5 percent across the college, as well as state funding tied to enrollment.

There are already many online courses — 131 sections with multiple courses in those sections — and the number has reached a point where the college needs more staff and a more detailed plan to keep expanding.

Online classes have become popular, especially for students who have a hard time getting to campus, but there are often questions about how to navigate them, so the lab will be an easy-to-find place to get advice and solve problems.

Not all online classes are entirely online. Hybrid classes are partly online and partly on campus, and have been useful and popular, especially for night students with jobs in need of a flexible class schedule. Science classes, for example, could have lectures online that a student could access any time, and labs on campus to get hands-on training and direct contact with teachers.

The number of students taking the 79 hybrid courses ACC offers nearly doubled since 2010 to close to 940.

The distance-learning lab could help instructors, too, giving them a place to learn how to add video and audio to their online classes.

Online classes get a lot of scrutiny. Before a teacher can offer one, the proposal has to go through deans and a committee to give the teacher advice and make sure the class will work. After all, not all subjects lend themselves to online teaching — welding, for instance.

Students taking online classes do not have to be local. Community college students from all over the state take online classes from whatever college offers them.

By Isaac Groves