--Former University President George Vincent (1911-1916), who oversaw the establishment of the General Extension Division (now the College of Continuing Education) in 1913
From its very beginnings, the College of Continuing Education has been one of the standard bearers for the University's outreach mission--bringing educational and other learning opportunities to people not just on campus, but in the far corners of the state, the country, and even around the globe.
Whether it was through the first fuzzy airwaves of radio, VHS-recorded courses, floppy disks that were actually floppy, live videoconferences, or the rapidly expanding Internet, the College has long sought the "latest and greatest" technology to enhance the education of thousands of individuals both on campus and off.
On the Air
Today, the College's Radio K (KUOM) is best known as an award-winning student-run radio station airing an eclectic mix of independent music, new and old. Its roots, though, stretch back a century. Initially, programming featured agricultural and weather reports, along with lectures, concerts, and football games. Later, in the 1930s, the station began adding distance education to its repertoire--including the historic "Minnesota School of the Air."
When a polio epidemic closed schools (and even the State Fair!) in 1946, KUOM worked with teachers to design the School of the Air, which would go on to serve as a substitute for the closed educational facilities. The School of the Air continued on after the epidemic, offering supplementary programming for in-school listening by elementary students.
Bill Hendrickson was one of the youngsters who tuned in to the program weekly to learn about everything from grammar and music to foreign languages and fairy tales. "I was a fourth-grader (this would have been in 1958) at Holland Elementary School in northeast Minneapolis when my teacher would gather the class around the large, wooden radio (it seemed enormous), and we all listened to programs on Minnesota School of the Air. I particularly remember the fascination we all had about this 'new' technology and how different it was to get information and entertainment in a format so different from our regular classroom learning experiences. I especially remember liking the German language program called 'Gesundheit'."
For the first half of the 20th century, radio was the predominate form of broadcast entertainment for most households, and the University made good use of its airtime not only to deliver the School of the Air for children, but also to provide educational and cultural programming for individuals of all ages. Modern language courses, symphony concerts, famous speakers, and classroom-based special interest lectures educated and informed thousands of Minnesotans each year.
I Want My (U of) M TV
As television became more and more popular in the 1950s, the U began looking at it as the next wave of distance education delivery.
Longtime KUOM manager Burton Paulu took over the helm of the newly formed Department of Radio and Television, with Sheldon Goldstein in charge of TV programming. Airing on KTCA public television, the "University Hour" would feature noncredit as well as credit courses, the first of which was Professor Asher Christensen's popular political science class, "Your Government."
As the demand for programming increased, the U expanded its own production and broadcast facilities, and by the fall of 1964, was producing and airing 19 courses on closed-circuit television, in addition to the programming still on KTCA.
Three years later, the U was among the nationwide leaders in instructional television, with multiple studios and seven channels on its closed-circuit system. Thirty-five classrooms received a feed, and on average 14,000 students were taught via the closed-circuit system, either through live or video-taped programming. By the close of the 1960s, nearly 80 courses were being produced, reaching close to 40,000 people. Paired with that were the "College of the Air" courses still running on KTCA.
Melissa Avery was one of many adult learners who took advantage of the public television courses. "I needed to take a calculus course to fill the requirements for the physiology minor for my Ph.D. At that time, I was working, had a young child, and while I had been as good at math as anyone...it had been 15 years since I had actually had a math class. I needed something that let me work at my own pace--get back into the swing of it, as well as something that fit my schedule.
"I took the course, recording each week's episode on VHS so I could watch it when I had the free time--or watch it again, if I needed to. Despite my initial hesitation about taking calculus that many years later, I actually did quite well! And it was the perfect course for me at the time. It gave me the time and the freedom I needed to accommodate my schedule."
In the 1970s, several departments were merged together, and it was in the College's new combined technology department that ITV (Interactive TeleVision) got its start. Says Lyn Weiler, who was the video scheduler in CCE at the time and is now manager of the U's Office of Information Technology's video services operations, "the late Tom McRoberts was the leader in developing and promoting a distance ed program built around the new technology of interactive videoconferencing in the '90s. [The
College] played an important role in birthing this technology baby. At the time there were no video rooms, no users, and [cross-campus] programmatic coordination and collaboration were non-existent."
Departments across the U used the College's technology resources to facilitate collaborative courses with coordinate campuses and other institutions. And although ITV is now housed elsewhere, the College's role in developing tech-enhanced learning is clear. Says Weiler, "CCE's leadership fostered the growth of the campus video conferencing environment by pursuing collaboration with IT and campus collegiate units and opening the door to program collaboration between the Twin Cities and coordinate campuses and beyond."
From a Distance
From the College's inception, independent study courses have been crucial in the effort to reach, as Vincent said, "not only the students who resort to the chief center, but the other thousands on farms, in factories, in offices, in shops, in schoolrooms, and in homes."
And, as technology changed, so, too, did the shape of courses offered.Correspondence courses had their beginnings even before the College's official start in 1913, with a smattering of offerings in a variety of areas. By the 1990s, when computing technology allowed for significant modifications in the way independent study courses were designed, there were more than 400 for-credit correspondence and self-guided courses administered by the College.
In a 1994 interview, then-dean Hal Miller said, "We recently have [acquired] some new staff who are particularly adept at instructional design using computers. We're on, if not the bleeding edge, at least the cutting edge of some new course developments in independent study using a combination of correspondence, e-mail, and computer-assisted instruction, and group independent study. We're trying all sorts of things there because we think that with the advent and the oncoming growth of distance education that's connected with the Internet, that's a place of real development."
One of those individuals "on the bleeding edge" was Professor Tom Brothen, who was the instructor for the College's first online course offering--Intro to Psychology. "It started as a disc-based course in the mid-90s. The exercises and quizzes were on disc; I programmed it myself for PC, and then got someone in computer science to do the Mac version. Students would get the discs in the mail, and then send them back with all their information stored on them.
"When we got WebCT (a program for information publishing, file transfer, discussion, and test creation), we moved online in the late 1990s. It's been internet-based since then." Brothen is still the instructor for the extended-term course, which features not only quizzes and tests online, but also class discussion and opportunities for feedback. And while the technology may have changed rapidly in the last 15 years or so since the course's inception, its popularity has not.
"In the last few years, I've seen more and more 'in town' students taking online courses. This format opens the door not only for people who live away from campus, but also for people who may be working full-time, or parents who have kids and need to study on their own time, or even traditional-aged students who want to fit a course into their schedule and couldn't do it otherwise, whether that's because of work or extracurricular activities or other commitments."
When the School of Nursing wanted to develop online courses to help some of their graduate students overcome those same hurdles, they turned to the College to help them get started. (Former video calculus course student) Melissa Avery, who is now the chair of the Child and Family Health Co-operative Unit and a professor in the U's School of Nursing, says, "By partnering with CCE, we [the nursing school] were able to find more ways to reach our students through distance education."
She continues, "I came full circle. I had used a technology-enhanced distance ed course in my own graduate work, and then I was involved with using [a later technology] to help increase access for nurses who wanted to continue their education, but lived out-of-state or in Greater Minnesota and couldn't make it in to campus every day."
Dr. Lydia MacKenzie, instructor for an online marketing course, concurs. Online learning affords flexibility, as "students can complete the tasks anytime, anywhere--they can work around family and work responsibilities. It's wonderful there are alternatives for the students who are encumbered by competing demands on their time but are self-disciplined and motivated to complete tasks without the time requirement and face-to-face pressure of a traditional classroom."
MacKenzie should know. Not only did she work on her own graduate degree online while teaching in Ecuador for a year, she has been teaching the marketing course from a distance for several years as well. When she was asked to teach, she jumped at the chance. "I thought it would be a future trend and wholeheartedly accepted the assignment. It's been a wonderful experience...[and now] I primarily teach from my log cabin on a small lake near Richmond, Minnesota."
Balancing Life and Learning
Today, the College's Online and Distance Learning (ODL) unit helps faculty use evolving technologies to reach students on- and off-campus who want or need to take courses outside of the traditional daytime, classroom-based system.
At the close of the 2011 fiscal year, the College had 6,400 enrollments in its nearly 150 individual online courses, allowing many people the chance to take a class that might otherwise not have been an option for them.
The College is opening even more doors with the Applied Business Certificate and the Multidisciplinary Studies Program (MdS), both of which can be taken entirely online, depending on a student's area of emphasis. The MdS degree allows adult learners to return to school and earn their bachelor's degree in a flexible format.
"I served in the U.S. Marine Corps, and am now working as an IT network administrator," says Tom Julkowski. "I felt that a bachelor's degree would open more doors for me in the future, [so] after I was honorably discharged, I decided to use my G.I. Bill benefits to go to school."
Julkowski, who lives in Virginia [state], knew he needed a unique course of study. "For one, I have worked full-time since high school, starting out as an active-duty Marine and continuing as a government contractor. It [was] impractical for me to attend school during the middle of the working day. [Plus], the University of Minnesota is the only place I truly wanted to earn my undergraduate degree from. Thanks to the MdS program and the online courses that were available, it's a dream come true."
Suzanne Kritzberg, who also graduated from the MdS program, agrees. As both the prima ballerina and artistic assistant for the Minnesota Ballet, her schedule was erratic at best, and chaotic, quite frequently.
"[In many cases], a degree might seem pretty useless for a dancer...[but] while I was still dancing at the time I decided to go back to school, I knew I couldn't do it forever -- the physical demands of being a ballerina are such that the career cannot last a lifetime, and at age 41, I am definitely ancient in a field where the average age of retirement is 27. I am retiring this year from performing, and I am headed for a major career change (ballerina to lawyer) which definitely requires me to have a degree," Kritzberg says.
"The MdS program accommodated my hectic and inconsistent schedule--without online and distance options I couldn't have finished my education. I was able to complete the work in my own time. I usually did my studying in the mornings before work and on the weekends. I submitted my assignments via mail or the computer, so that when I was on tour for out-of-town performances, I could continue my course work on my laptop. It required a little pre-planning [sometimes], but for the most part there were no problems. [The schedule challenges] were good practice for real life, in many cases anyway."
Opening Doors for 100 Years
President Vincent didn't have closed-circuit TV broadcasts or radio production in mind when he was "fascinated by picturing the possibilities of this widening sphere of higher education as it makes its way into every corner of the state." And he CERTAINLY didn't envision "asynchronous discussions" and e-mail conferences or Twitter feeds and Facebook updates as a way of keeping students connected.
But, whatever the means, for nearly 100 years, the College of Continuing Education has been working toward achieving Vincent's goal of outreach.
Says Robert Stine, associate dean and head of the College's Degree and Credit Programs, "It's fascinating to think about how far we have come with technology in the past 100 years, and exhilarating to imagine what is coming in the next 10 to 20.
"What is cutting-edge now may become commonplace, or perhaps even obsolete, but I look forward to seeing the new technologies that emerge, and discovering
how we as a College can utilize them to better deliver education to students in the classroom, across campus, and on the other side of the world."