After introducing distance learning to its students in 2006 with a total of six online courses, Rider now offers its students 122 different class sections, with more to come in the fall. In fact, even traditional, “face-to-face” classes are increasingly incorporating components of online learning, so while this developing mode has become a key asset to the University community, it has also highlighted a need to eliminate redundancy and establish a uniform, cohesive strategy for the future.
To that end, the College of Continuing Studies, the Teaching and Learning Center, and the Office of Information Technology have pooled their collective resources to establish the Center for Distance Learning and Teaching, which promises an efficient and coordinated streamlining of Rider’s online educational efforts for both faculty and students. Both faculty and online learners are welcome to attend the Center’s Open House on Tuesday, April 19, from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Bristol Myers Squibb Center for Science Teaching & Learning, on the third floor of the Science and Technology Center.
The Open House will provide an opportunity in an informal setting for faculty and students to learn about the Center’s mission, and familiarize themselves with the physical space, which can be used as a workspace or support center.
“We spent the last year-and-a-half investigating support services offered by units across the University to meet the needs of our online learners and instructors,” said Dr. Kathleen Browne, academic director of The Learning Center (TLC), a resource and networking center that promotes and enhances the teaching mission of the University. “We found that because each of our units was already providing some support, it made sense to collaborate, eliminate any replicated services, full support gaps and ultimately improve the efficiency and coherency of our combined support.”
The result was what Carol Kondrach, associate vice president for Information Technology, calls an “easy access, high-value, comprehensive, centralized support infrastructure for distance-learning programs, integrated with existing technology- and teaching-support resources.”
Overseeing the new Center for Distance Learning and Teaching is Dr. Heeyoung Kim, who began work at Rider last summer as the coordinator of distance learning. She said that the support of the Center will be of help to all students, but, in particular, to many College of Continuing Studies (CCS) students who are just reentering higher education.
“CCS has a lot of returning students who have had difficulty using some of the related technology, but our goal is to create a place that provides student support, onsite,” said Kim, who mentioned that the Center will also offer an online orientation and open hours. “We want to create options for students, not obstacles.”
Boris Vilic, dean of the CCS, said the purpose behind the Center for Distance Learning and Teaching is ultimately student-centered, but that the improved clarity and efficiency it brings to online education will provide additional support for faculty, as well.
“Our plan was guided by the deans and priorities for their colleges,” Vilic said. “But through this collaborative approach, we found that there were already services in place that some faculty were unaware of. The University is committed to providing support to its faculty, regardless of their teaching modality (online or face-to-face). Over the past five years, distance learning has evolved into an integral part of Rider, and this new Center will play a key role in ensuring that the excellent academic and student service continue to be the hallmarks of a Rider education, regardless of class format.”
Kondrach agreed. “Combing the pedagogical, technological and academic business needs, as well as support resources for students and faculty in one place, enables them to have all their needs addressed at once,” she said, adding that this collaborative approach provides a forward-looking, holistic, and agile approach to innovate and expand distance learning programs at Rider.