Nevada college to combine online, face-to-face learning through flexible classes

Expanding online options could prevent some courses from being cancelled, officials said.

For students taking courses at the various campuses that make up Western Nevada College, commuting to and from class can be a two and a half hour ordeal. The mountainous drive can be a particular burden on those students already struggling to balance their school schedule with family and work obligations.

Western Nevada College is experimenting this fall with a new way for its students to learn: if a student’s schedule is not flexible enough, then maybe the class itself can be.

Called “flex classes,” the format consists of 15 courses that are both face to face and online. The courses, ranging from bookkeeping to introduction to criminal justice, will be taught at three of the college’s campuses, while also broadcast live online and archived for later viewing.

“It’s about being more responsive, and better serving the rural student,” said Clarence Maise, the college’s distance education coordinator.

While not an entirely new concept, a flexible classroom has not been tried at Western Nevada before. The college had used an interactive video system to broadcast lectures from its main campuses to its rural centers, Maise said, but the method still created issues for rural students with busy schedules as they were required to be at a specific site at a specific time.

See Page 2 for just how flexible the new format can be. 

When it came time to update the system, administrators decided they didn’t want to spend more money on what was quickly becoming an outdated technology. The idea was further punctuated with budget cuts that forced the closure of several of the college’s rural centers.

Instead, the college spent the money on building four classrooms equipped with smart podiums, microphones, and high definition cameras to record instructor’s lectures as they happen. The lecture classes are then combined with already existing, fully online courses.

Students can now watch the same lecture in a physical classroom, on the road through a mobile device, from the comfort of their home, or at a community computer center with which the college has partnered. The courses will also be used for AP credit in computer labs at area high schools.

As an added bonus, Maise said, the flex classes will grant better staying power to courses with smaller enrollment. For example, a class that originally would have been cancelled due to only six students enrolling may now get a boost of an additional 20 students online.

Maise said he hopes the college will expand the initiative to more courses over the next couple of years. For now, though, the flex classes will likely consist of first year, 100-level courses.

“Sometimes those earliest classes are the toughest,” Maise said. “Maybe they haven’t figured out college yet or that balance. This wiggle room allows them to not drop class and work through it. Having that flex allows them to go to their job, take care of their kids, whatever they need to do.”

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