Distance education program continues to grow


    To some students, waking up and coaxing themselves to go to class seems like a chore. But for students in K-State’s Distance Education program, part of the Division of Continuing Education, it’s just the beginning of a constant balancing act.
    Susan Kidd, senior in dietetics, lives in Overland Park, Kan., but takes distance education courses from K-State while working a part-time job, raising seven children and occasionally volunteering.
    “It is one of the greatest challenges that I have ever undertaken,” Kidd said. “I tell everyone to finish their degree while they were young — it’s a lot easier. I will be forever grateful for finishing it.”
    K-State’s Distance Education program began in the mid-1970s with two bachelor’s degree completion programs, said Dave Stewart, assistant dean for program development and marketing.
    The program features eight bachelor’s degree completion programs, 17 master’s degree completion programs and 16 certificate degree programs. There are students from all 50 states and from 16 countries enrolled in the program, Stewart said.
    Class offerings have become more and more diversified as new technologies have developed.
    LeAnn Brazeal, associate professor for K-State in communication studies, theater and dance, was skeptical when she was first approached about offering Public Speaking I through distance education.
    “I was very reluctant to do it,” she said. “I would prefer that we bring students in to have an audience and to speak to their classmates. It’s not perfect, but we are still working on it.”
    Brazeal said some of her students are working adults whose responsibilities keep them from participating in a real class setting. She said the students record speeches for her and confirm they have audiences in videos.
    Stewart said the available technology helps to simulate the classroom experience for distance education programs.
    “What that means is those distance students can see and interact with instructors and fellow students through chat rooms and message boards,” he said. “They can see much of the same things that go on in a campus classroom through the video screen and through other tools that are available.”
    As the program develops, Brazeal has goals for her Public Speaking I class.
    “I want them to be able to see each other’s speeches,” she said. “It may be a semester or two down the line before that becomes easy to do.”
    Brazeal said she wants to adapt assignments to better fit the course for distance education.
    At the beginning of each semester, a course packet is mailed out, complete with a syllabus, Stewart said. Methods for handling homework vary from regular mail to e-mail and depend on the professor.
    The Facilitation Center for continuing education handles the test-taking process by helping find an acceptable proctor — usually a librarian. 
    Most courses are completed in a semester, Stewart said. The program offers as much flexibility to distance education students as it does for on-campus students. Most students only take two or three credit hours per semester, so the degree process often takes longer.
    While the process can be a long one, many different scholarships and types of financial aid are provided.
    Kidd was awarded the Maurine Allison O’Bannon Scholarship, which is given each semester to a distance education student.
    Pinpointing the reasons behind the success of the program is far from limited.
    “We make every effort we can to see that the students needs are met,” Stewart said. “The price, the quality, the reputation of Kansas State University — absolutely a quality faculty that helps to deliver the courses.”