Addressing the Teacher Shortage
It’s also hard to attract teachers to rural areas. “If we wanted to offer Anatomy and Physiology at eight physical campuses, we would have to hire eight teachers,” explained Lee. “Trying to find well-qualified teachers in a rural community is a challenge in and of itself. Now we can have one very qualified teacher at one of our main campuses teaching students across our various sites.”
Even for qualified faculty, teaching with telepresence technology requires some adjustment, so each BlendFlex instructor takes a 15-hour development course before the first class. “One of the biggest challenges for faculty member is how to engage the students,” see Lee. “It is a complete paradigm shift in the way they teach and their roles in the classroom. There may be no students sitting in front of them, but there may be half a dozen attending from home.”
To ensure that faculty can focus on their teaching rather than the technology, CGTC has automated the system as much as possible. “To the teachers, it’s very transparent,” said Long. “They walk into their class just as they would for a plain face-to-face class. The technology comes on automatically through Cisco’s TelePresence Management Suite software.”
The entire lecture and any interaction with students are recorded automatically and loaded into Blackboard, CGTC’s LMS, so absent students can review what happened in class. A six-person technical hotline provides backup for teachers if any glitches do occur.
As part of the initial $2.6 million TAACCCT grant from the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration, the BlendFlex program focused on CGTC’s health program, with the hope that other programs might adopt BlendFlex once proven. That time appears to have arrived: Recent statistics show that BlendFlex classes have only a 12 percent dropout rate compared with a 21 percent rate among CGTC’s other classes.
Student evaluations performed at the end of each class also indicate that BlendFlex is an approach that resonates among rural learners. Ninety-nine percent of students like the ability to switch methods of delivery, 93 percent would recommend BlendFlex classes to other students, and 91 percent would definitely take another BlendFlex class.
Not surprisingly, Lee reports a lot of interest in the BlendFlex approach from other CGTC programs, and the college plans to make it available to all of them in the near future. “We have to change the way we deliver instruction,” she said. “The biggest challenge is getting teachers to [rethink their role] in classrooms that are now student centered. But that’s what it’s going to take to be a successful college these days.”