Starting this fall, all students at Northwest State Community College, in Archbold, Ohio, will be required to take at least one online course to graduate.
More than 60 percent of last year's graduates already took one or more online courses, but administrators and college trustees want all students to be well versed in independent research and discovery -- skills that employers demand, they say -- and feel that online education is one way to accomplish that.
"Businesses are moving toward online training, and students have to learn to be self-motivated," said Linda Carr, chief learning officer at the college. "In the workplace, you are responsible for doing what you need to do on your own time."
Students can choose how many credit hours they take online and can fulfill the requirement in any subject. Business, criminal justice and nursing are three of the most popular majors at the college. Many business, engineering and general education courses are already offered online, Carr said.
As part of the college's new strategic planning process, each course will --- over the next several years -- go through a redesign in which a Northwest State instructor and a college distance learning coordinator work with field experts and professors from transfer colleges on developing new curriculum.
"This collaborative approach to curriculum design puts our faculty in full control of the curriculum and provides a process for them to stay engaged with faculty from other colleges and from the business communities in which our graduates work," said Betty Young, the college's president, in an e-mail.
Each course will be designed for both an online and in-person format, in both 8- and 16-week models.
"Ultimately, almost all courses will be available via an online mode," Carr said. "The case has to be made strongly of why it wouldn't work online."
Professors will get trained in how to design an online course and teach in a new format. The redesigned courses will mostly emphasize asynchronous learning.
Carr said the need to save space and resources was not a motivating factor in the college's decision. She added that students who have limited or no online experience have expressed some concerns. "It's a chance for us to teach them important skills," she said. "In this day and age, it's not a luxury to go online."
Carr also said that some faculty members are not happy with the announced changes. "They are concerned that they are losing control over the curriculum," she said. "This is a bigger issue than one person going in and closing the door to teach. We think over time they'll be OK."
Diana G. Oblinger, vice president for Educause, said she is seeing more institutions interested in requiring some form of online learning.
She also said online courses can prepare students to do the type of independent research and tasks most common in the workplace.
Oblinger said it makes sense for a community college to be out in front in this initiative, because some students tend to have less confidence in using technology and could benefit from tutorials in online research and sourcing.
"It's a recognition that people are going to have to take charge of their educations," Oblinger said. “Putting this directly in the path of students means if they are not used to independent learning, they can get help while in a structured environment rather than leaving it to chance at work."