When courses resume today at the University of Toledo, more than 1,600 students won't have to leave their rooms to attend class.
The students - about 8 percent of the school's population - will be involved in some form of distance learning, mostly online classes.
This national trend toward course offerings that don't include a chalkboard and lecture hall is establishing popular forums for students and quickly being incorporated into academic life.
For the spring semester, UT is offering 125 distance learning courses in subjects ranging from existentialism to introduction to sociology.
At Bowling Green State University, students may take seven courses that are entirely online; 270 courses are “web-enhanced,” meaning they include some online work.
Owens Community College has about 20 courses online.
Elsewhere in the state, Ohio State University offers 19 web-delivered courses, and Ohio University has 46.
Most of the students taking advantage of the offerings are not sitting at computers across the globe. They are using the courses to supplement traditional classes they take at the same institution.
“Nationally, 70 percent of distance education students are residential students taking the courses to make their schedules fit,” said Dr. Stephen Acker, director of technology enhanced learning and research at OSU.
The key is scheduling flexibility, agreed Dr. Linda Dobb, BGSU executive vice president. She said distance education classes appeal to nontraditional students and others who may be trying to balance work with school.
Joan Schehl, a third-year UT student, took an art appreciation course online last semester because she thought it would save her some time. “I really did like it a lot,” she said. “I could go online when I had time ... mostly in the evening when I didn't have to run around or when I didn't have to work.”
Lavelle Eagle took an online course to get more personal attention.
“Online allows you to take the class away from the crowd,” the third-year UT student said. “It's more personalized with professors.”
Participation in UT's online courses is up about 50 percent from last academic year, a trend that school officials expect will continue as students take advantage of the “anytime, anywhere” learning environment, Dr. Karen Rhoda, interim director of the university's division of distance learning, said.
The university has invested more than $100,000 in the last two years in computer servers to keep the programs running smoothly, officials said.
In general, distance-learning courses have been found to be as effective in teaching students as traditional classes, said Judith Watkins, vice president for accreditation services for the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
Still, Dr. Dobb said distance-learning courses never will overtake the traditional classroom at institutions like BGSU.
“Part of the Bowling Green core experience, at least at the undergraduate level, has been the residential experience,” she said.
Once a student is on campus, it makes sense to take advantage of personal interactions available there, said Bill Wagner, a spokesman for the U.S. Distance Learning Association.
“If a student is on campus already, there is not the same incentive to do an entirely web-based or other form of distance-learning program because everyone agrees that there are advantages to meeting face to face from time to time,” he said.