Odessa College expands reach, accessibility through its online program

Odessa College's online program includes free online textbooks.

As colleges feel the pressure to help more students complete their degrees, a growing number have launched online programs to better meet students’ needs. In just its first year, Texas’ Odessa College is becoming a model for other schools to look at as they consider their own online programs.

Odessa College’s innovative online program, OC Global, aims to capitalize on student resources and reach new heights after its first year.

Corey Davis, executive direction for OC Global, said he has been overall pleased with the program this year but hopes to expand on the ease of technology available to students and improve on the layouts for students.

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“The idea is to promote joy in our classes,” Davis said.

Davis said the entire purpose of the program is to make courses affordable, user friendly, and mobile. The courses are affordable because almost all of the classes come with a free online textbook.

The user-friendly component is constantly being tweaked, Davis said. The program will implement a new a cascading reader text, ReadSpeaker, to increase reading comprehension over the summer. The other component is making everything available with software students have.

“We know our students have cell phones and Facebook, and we want to capitalize on that,” Davis said.

Students in the program can receive alerts and text messages from the courses via text message.

About 50 percent of each course is available through a basic cell phone, and 80 percent is available on a smart phone, Davis said. The goal is to reach 100 percent for both.

“It will take us a while to get there,” Davis said.

Until then, students can use their own hardware and software or the computer labs on campus.

Jeff Villarreal, a 24-year-old pursuing a degree in political science through OC, said he has not yet taken a class through OC Global but he hopes to. After working in the program’s technical services department, he said he much prefers OC Global compared to the older online courses because they are more convenient and easier.

“Global classes are a lot faster, and I like the pace,” Villarreal said.

Over the years, Odessa College has felt the effects of the shifts in student population as Odessa has with the booms and busts of the oil industry, Davis said. OC Global came from the idea of wanting to keep more students in school regardless of the industry and making the courses the most accessible to students as possible.

The classes are self-paced and entirely online.

“We wanted to maximize student’s time at home as much as possible,” Davis said.

The courses through OC Global classes are offered for the core academic subjects.

The program currently has 620 students, up about 300 from the fall, and about 75 instructors. While the program serves students mainly in the Permian Basin, Davis said there is a student taking classes while serving in the military in Afghanistan as well as several students in California, and a few scattered across the county.

“Our program has spread by word of mouth,” Davis said.

Students can earn an associate’s degree entirely online through the program in English, psychology, sociology, social sciences, speech, and general studies. The courses are offered every four weeks, and students can finish them as quickly as they want or finish at the end of the semester.

“Our online courses are very different than other programs offered here,” Davis said.

Not only is the program offered as an application through Facebook; it also has video chat available for students to get one-on-one help from their instructors.

“It feels much more personal for our students than they expect it to be,” Davis said.

In the beginning, Davis said he noticed several students were freaked out because the layout of the courses is different from other online courses they might have taken. Looking back, Davis said he probably should have informed students about the change in this from other online courses.

“Once students got the mission, they realized it was really easy for them,” Davis said. “You go to one place and dump it all. There’s no guessing about where to turn your stuff in.”

And for those students who need extra help, Davis said there are plenty of avenues to get help, including video tutorials and live window chats.

“We want this course to be a full-service environment,” Davis said.

Additionally, as students enroll in a course, they take a multi-question survey to determine how tech-savvy they are, the software they will use in the class, and what struggles they might face in the class. Davis said OC officials will use the surveys to expand and grow in the future.

Brenda Ordaz, a 25-year-old pursuing a degree in sports and exercise science through OC, said she is taking three classes through OC Global. She said she is trying to graduate in May and is able to pace the classes the way she wants.

“I can come in and not be worried about due dates,” Ordaz said.

Liz Salazar, OC Global program coordinator, said she has seen the impact of the courses on students. She said she’s worked with students who need one class to graduate and come to her desperate for a solution.

“There’s a joy that I get, because I like that I’m making a difference in someone else’s life,” Salazar said.

Copyright (c) 2012, the Odessa American (Odessa, Texas). Visit the Odessa American online at www.oaoa.com. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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