Optimizing Delivery

Vice Chancellor and Provost Deborah Freund established a committee last year to examine SU’s continuing development of online distance education. Three subcommittees are examining specific academic, administrative, and technical questions that have arisen with the growth of distance education programs.
      Among the issues: ensuring that the University has an adequate system for assisting distance students with technical problems associated with online course delivery. University College, for instance, has a help desk available five days a week, during regular office hours, for students and faculty involved in online courses. Other concerns relate to the challenges of advising students academically at a distance. Bethaida Gonzalez, assistant dean of student administrative services at University College, says that when she started working with distance students, she worried that she would not be able to establish the rapport with them that she shares with students she advises on campus. “But I found that working with students via e-mail and telephone really was no different,” she says. “Giving students a sense that you care about them, that you are sincere about providing them with consistent and correct information, is key. Much of what we do helps students feel comfortable with us and, in the process, makes them feel they are part of the University.” Her office has become adept at giving clear and concise information to students. “It is important that telephone calls and e-mail from distance students be handled efficiently and effectively,” she says. “We try to minimize the number of calls students make to get the information they need.”
      Pimentel says distance learning is a good example of a student-centered program. “We try to accommodate the lives and lifestyles of students who have jobs, who have families, and who also want to pursue higher education,” he says. “Distance learning allows them a unique opportunity, or at least a new opportunity that wasn’t available in the strength and vitality we have now, to pursue graduate education and still live at home, maintain a career, and enjoy all the benefits they’ve come to expect in their daily lives.”

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