Parkland proves to be a perfect partner for UI

Parkland proves to be a perfect partner for UI

CHAMPAIGN – When University of Illinois officials searched for a partner to help make the Global Campus Partnership work, they didn't look far.

More than 1,600 UI students were already enrolled in Parkland College courses, many of them online, and officials tracking outcomes at both schools could see they were excellent.

And Parkland already had 10 years of online teaching experience, including work with students in China.

"They asked us to join them based on our experience and reputation in online and distance learning," Parkland President Robert Exley said of the school's new role in the UI-based program, one that could bring new virtual students to the school as early as this year. "We can foresee the day we're graduating students we meet for the first time when they cross the stage."

"We've talked about access to education for years," said Linda Moore, vice president of student services. "It's great to hear that same language coming from the UI."

Parkland Vice President Tom Ramage, whose academic specialty is distance learning, said when the UI planned its program, approved by trustees last month, planners knew students might need preparation before they could work at the required level.

"They can finish their four-year degrees plus earn master's degrees, but what if a student calls and says, 'I have 12 credit hours. How can I get to the credits I need to be accepted to the UI program?'" Ramage said. "Our transfer courses are all accepted by the UI, and our online classes have evolved so they're the same as the traditional classes."

Initial degree completion courses are expected to be in business, nursing and education, and the UI expects to start offering them in 2008. But Ramage said marketing for those courses will start this summer.

Parkland is second among state community colleges in number of courses offered online – more than 200 transfer classes – and in number of students taking them.

"Our enrollment has grown so much it's had an impact on services to students," Moore said. "We have a working group meeting to make sure we provide appropriate support for students we're not going to lay eyes on."

Officials at both the UI and Parkland expect many Global Campus students to be older adults who want to change direction but can't spend time on campus. They also expect, as the name suggests, students based overseas.

In 2004 and '05, Parkland taught 168 Chinese students at Beijing Vocational College of Agriculture landscape design and e-commerce. Parkland faculty members spent two weeks in Beijing, and the students spent 14 weeks online to earn 15 credit hours. Ramage said that's one example of how the global connections can work.

He also expects some students to come to Parkland through the Global Campus program to improve English skills so they can move on to earn their UI degree.

Moore said details about how students would move between the two schools aren't final, but she expects students to apply to the UI program, where their prior work will be evaluated and officials will refer students who need credits to Parkland's online program.

Moore said the transfer will be seamless.

"Students here will see themselves as part of Global Campus," she said.

In debates about the program, UI trustees expressed concerns about the quality of education offered online – concerns Parkland officials share.

"These aren't electronic correspondence courses," Exley said. "All my worries about quality went out the door when a teacher walked me through an online class."

Said Ramage: "We have progressive faculty who want to try new things. They're doing a good job maintaining the same quality in online classes as in on-campus classes, and the same outcomes are expected."

Exley said Parkland's Center for Excellence trains faculty members who want to improve online teaching skills to use the best design and methods. He said the center will likely start a certi-fication program to identify online teaching skills.

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