Monday, August 9, 2004

Online college credits slow to delete skeptical views

The Associated Press

DAYTON - It's becoming easier to earn college credit in Ohio without attending class.

Forty-six of the more than 130 colleges and universities in the state will offer some classes online this year. Some schools, including Wright State University and the University of Dayton, allow students to complete graduate degrees entirely online.

Ohioans also are using the Internet to earn degrees from institutions in other states.

However, acceptance of these diplomas hasn't yet caught up to their increasing popularity, employers and experts say.

"If a hiring manager were making an apples-to-apples comparison, with all other things equal, the candidate with the traditional degree will likely win out," said Margaret Gerstenkorn, spokeswoman for the Manpower of Dayton staffing firm.

The relative newness of taking classes online contributes to skepticism about them, particularly because not everyone is aware of quality control involved, said Gene Maeroff, author of A Classroom of One: How Online Learning is Changing our Schools and Colleges.

But accreditation boards closely monitor online schools, so standards are likely to be high for schools approved by a reputable organization, Maeroff said.

"Just because something is online doesn't mean it's shoddy, and just because something is in the classroom doesn't mean it's great," he said.

Students at Wright State will be able to take more than 100 classes online, and five graduate-level programs can be completed entirely online, said Terri Klaus, associate director of Wright State's distance learning unit.

Klaus said these courses have the same content as their classroom counterparts.

Among the educational benefits of the Internet: taped lectures can be viewed any time, students can have real-time discussions in chat rooms and message boards facilitate long-term discussions.

Professor Margaret Clark Graham, director of Wright State's nursing program, has experience teaching via the Web and the classroom. She said that students, on average, do about the same amount of work in each medium.

Graham, who has taught nursing students from as far away as Germany and the Virgin Islands, said she set up her course to minimize the risk of cheating and fraud by having tests proctored by a hospital or school where the student lives.

The University of Dayton has taken a more cautious approach than its crosstown counterpart, offering two graduate programs online but largely limiting undergraduate fare to summer classes, said David Wright, director of curriculum innovation.

Ohioans also are logging in for classes taught from other states.

In June, Chris Schlorman of suburban Kettering graduated summa cum laude from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell with a bachelor's degree in information technology.

For the past three years, he studied at night and worked during the day as technology manager at Greene County Combined Health District.

For Schlorman, an online class was indispensable. "If circumstances happen when you're younger, you end up working and can't go back to school easily," he said.

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