Interview: Andrea Henne, EdD., Dean, San Diego Community College District

Andrea Henne, EdD, Dean, Online and Distributed Learning of the San Diego Community College District joins us to discuss distance education.

Tell us about the distance learning programs offered through San Diego Community Colleges.

The San Diego Community College District's online courses are offered by its three fully accredited colleges: City College, Mesa College, and Miramar College. We also offer online courses through Continuing Education, the non-credit division of the San Diego Community College District. We offer hundreds of courses in a wide array of subjects with flexible options that range from fully online to partially online. The courses are developed and taught by faculty who are experts in their field. The majority of our online students are planning to earn an Associate in Arts or an Associate in Sciences degree.

What is the typical duration of each of your programs?

Our online courses are typically offered during the Fall and Spring semesters for 16 weeks. We also have shorter-term courses that are offered for either 4, 5, 8, or 12 weeks. We have a 4-week Winter Intersession during January and a short summer session for 4-weeks in June for those students who prefer an accelerated pace.

What would you say makes San Diego Community College programs different and better than other comparable online programs?

The San Diego Community College District places a special emphasis on the instructional quality of its online courses. All online courses go through a curricular approval process at the College and District level. The courses are taught by regular contract and adjunct faculty, who are responsible for designing their own courses. Many online institutions hire a course architect to put the online courses together or purchase pre-packaged courses and then hire faculty "facilitators" to teach the sections. Our faculty members invest their own time and energy as the content experts and experienced educators of our online courses. Online faculty members are assisted by instructional design experts to ensure that the courses are well designed and meet accessibility guidelines.

The online courses are quite affordable, and the online application process for admission is easy. Students enrolled at the San Diego Community College District who are California residents pay a fee of $20 per credit unit. Non-residents of California pay an enrollment fee of $163 per unit.

Online students are offered student support services that foster success, such as online library services and 24/7 helpdesk for technical issues.

How important would you say accreditation is when choosing an online college?

Accreditation is critical since it provides a student with assurance that an educational institution follows an approved set of policies and education guidelines. Our colleges are fully accredited and certain programs also hold special additional accreditations. Quality assurance in higher education means that the college has gone through a rigorous process of evaluation and follows standards for good practice. In the online world, students are best served when they earn their college credits from reputable, accredited institutions. Credits, degrees, and certificates from accredited higher education institutions are very much valued in the workplace.

There is some debate as to whether or not online degrees are as worthwhile as traditional degrees. What steps does San Diego Community College District take to ensure that online students are receiving the same education that they'd receive in a classroom?

Our online curriculum development process follows the same stringent process as for oncampus courses. To ensure excellence, our curriculum development policies state that:

a) Guidelines regarding quality standards must be in place to guide course development, design, and delivery.

b) Learning outcomes must be determined to shape the technology being used to deliver course content.

c) Online and web-enhanced courses need to adhere to accreditation agencies' principles of best practices for electronically delivered instruction.

d) Instructional materials must be reviewed and revised periodically to ensure they meet program standards.

e) Courses must be designed to require students to engage in higher-order thinking skills (analysis, synthesis, and evaluation) as part of their course and program requirements.

f) All online materials must clearly and consistently be linked to the San Diego Community College District's academic standards.

g) All courses must meet copyright compliance and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Section 508 accessibility standards to be responsive to the changing nature of a web-based digital media teaching-learning environment guided by industry standards and legislative rules and regulations.

h) Faculty who teach online courses are subject to the same hiring standards and evaluation processes as for oncampus courses.

What would you say are the greatest benefits of earning a degree online rather than in a traditional classroom?

Students who complete online courses, certificates, and degrees have learned skills that go beyond the academic content. Completing online courses requires that students are active learners who take responsibility for their progress. Essentially, online students have "learned how to learn," which is a vitally important skill for success in the 21st Century workplace, where new information and new systems are constantly emerging.

Online learners are part of the global community because they have the opportunity to interact with classmates from around the world. The very dynamic nature of the online learning process enables students and their instructors to tap into the wealth of resources available over the Internet and also learn how to identify quality sources of information, other than the material that is supplied by traditional texts and lectures.

Of course, our students tell us that they are most appreciative of the way online courses permit convenience and flexibility that meets their own individual schedules and learning styles. Some people learn better later in the evening when they are more relaxed; others are early birds who do their best work before sunrise. The "pull" learning style of online learning enables students to view and review the material when and where it is needed rather than the traditional "push" style that demands a learner be in a certain place at a specific time.

If a student enrolled in one of your programs was interested in finding an internship in their field in their area, do you have any means of assisting them in acquiring an internship position?

We are currently exploring more connectivity with workforce partnerships as part of the San Diego Community College's strategic planning process.

Does San Diego Community College District offer any job placement services to your students and graduates?

Our colleges provide career counseling services through their Counseling Departments as well as via their Transfer and Career Centers.

Is financial aid available to students in your programs?

Our colleges' Financial Aid Offices are committed to assisting students who might otherwise be unable to continue their education because of a financial disadvantage.

Do you have any advice for students who have never attended an online school but are considering enrolling in one?

The best advice would be to learn as much as possible about the institution, its reputation, accreditation status, the faculty, transferability of the institution's courses to other institutions, student support services for online students, affordability, and of course, the institution's commitment to provide a quality educational experience for students.

What do you love most about your position at San Diego Community College District?

Every day is exciting! Working with faculty to provide them with training and support in not only the technical skills but also in the pedagogy of online instruction is very rewarding. Building an online program that emphasizes quality and pays close attention to student learning outcomes and student satisfaction is both a privilege and a unique opportunity for which I am grateful.

For more information on distance learning programs offered through the San Diego Community College District, Go Here to visit them online.

Thank you Andrea, for sharing and participating in this piece for Online Degrees 2.0

That concludes our interview!

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