• Tue. May 28th, 2024

The Triumphs and Challenges of E-Learning at Sinclair

According to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics for the 2016-17 school year, 17.1 percent of students enrolled at Sinclair College participated in some (or only) distance education. This information is available to the public on the consumer information webpage. 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote learning has become more common. The NCES also found that 41 percent of students enrolled at public, 2-year, postsecondary institutions in fall 2021 participated only in courses formatted for distance learning.

The ability to learn outside of a campus makes higher education much more accessible for different types of students. For example, full-time employees may be unable to adjust their schedules to attend in-person classes. 

Sinclair has provided distance learning since 1979, according to the eLearning division webpage. Assignments were first solely text-based until technology developed to allow other types of content. 

Instructors are waiting for that moment, looking to make a connection with their online students.

Dr. Christina Amato

Since then, the offerings have continued to expand. As of now, there are 85 degrees and certificates, and over 300 courses, that can be completed online

Dr. Christina Amato, dean of Sinclair’s eLearning division, has been with Sinclair since 2007, but took on her current role in 2019. 

“I have a general passion for flexible options for students,” Amato said, having experienced the struggle of trying to attend school while moving around with a military family.

Amato is supported by a team of 38 staff, who make up the only centralized eLearning division in the state of Ohio and the largest online community college operation. 

When the pandemic quarantine began, the Sinclair eLearning division had just ten days to convert 3,000 courses to an online format. It was their “well-resourced expertise” that Dr. Amato said got them through that time. 

“Students and faculty also willingly learned along with the rest of us,” Amato said. 

Amato and her colleagues place an emphasis on directly involving the people they are serving – students – in the design of online learning. That is why students see end of course surveys that include questions specific to eLearn. They also host focus groups where they can have conversations with students about their experiences in online courses. 

The division wants there to be consistency in the user experience so that students “never have to waste time” looking for what they need, Amato said. Part of this process is considering what may be engaging for students to encourage them  to remain motivated and invested in their coursework.  While online learning is flexible, it is also an environment in which Amato said “students can get very quiet.”

Online learning comes with it’s rewards and difficulties. Photo Credit: Pixabay

Another component of designing the eLearning experience is ensuring the ease of interaction between faculty and students – especially because students need to be able to advocate for themselves, and their professors are there for when they need to ask for help. 

“Instructors are waiting for that moment, looking to make a connection with their online students” Amato said.

Amato also said that, along with the structure of online learning, the Sinclair curriculum is constantly evolving. A two-year cycle has been established for revisiting courses and determining their relevancy to the college and its constituents. 

Related Article: Sinclair Ranks on Newsweek’s “America’s Best Online Learning Schools 2022”

Despite the curveballs thrown by the pandemic, the eLearning division has their eyes on 2024 and beyond. They are moving to a new location on the Dayton campus, something that Amato said will allow for “collaborative, open spaces for faculty, staff, and students.”

The division will also be developing what Dr. Amato calls the “media and innovation labs,” places designed for technological experimentation. 

Ultimately, Dr. Amato hopes that Sinclair’s online offerings will continue to grow and help more people pursue postsecondary education. 

“Our goal is to have a flexible pathway for every single program,” Amato said. 

Carly Webster, Reporter and Business Manager

(Featured Image from Canva)