A technology that’s thriving with rural students

By offering a flexible blend of face-to-face, online, and telepresence instruction, a Georgia school is making its programs available to rural students on their terms.

With an emphasis on flexibility and convenience, an innovative Georgia program is giving rural students—often working adults—new opportunities to pursue the jobs skills needed in today’s economy. The initiative, known as BlendFlex, is the brainchild of Central Georgia Technical College, which received a four-year government grant in 2013 to test blended-learning techniques in its healthcare program across an 11-county swath of rural Georgia.

BlendFlex gives rural students the option to switch at any time among three instructional delivery methods: face-to-face, live telepresence, and online. This approach is especially attractive to adult learners who must often juggle work and family responsibilities, too. “In the past, students had to sign up for face-to-face, hybrid, or online classes—they had to make a choice,” said Carol Lee, educational technology director at CGTC. “We had a lot of students who would sign up for a face-to-face class, but then lifestyle changes, sickness, or family issues would force them to drop out, and we would lose those students.”

Lee can relate countless stories of students whose educational dreams were derailed by unexpected life events. “Maybe their car broke down, or their child lost their daycare and they were forced to stay at home,” she said. “Now, when they come across family issues or personal problems, they can just slide into the online component of their BlendFlex class. When things smooth down, they can move back into the classroom if they want.”

Specific to Rural Students

Adult learners everywhere confront similar life challenges, but rural students face another, equally significant obstacle: The physical geography of where they live. In the case of CGTC, the school serves a sparsely populated area larger than the state of Delaware. While the school operates campuses or satellite centers in all 11 counties it serves, small population numbers make it impossible for CGTC to offer a wide range of on-site courses at the smaller outposts.

“If we offer a class like Anatomy and Physiology at a small campus like the one in Putnam County, only two or three students may sign up,” said Lee. “We can’t make a class unless there are at least 10 students.” Without the necessary 10 students, a course offering is automatically canceled.

(Next page: A “video conferencing on steroids” solution takes hold)

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