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Distance Learning Undergoes Makeover

October 1st, 2008

By Sarah Pride

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 338-8727

In the academic world, summertime spells a period of rest and rejuvenation for students and faculty alike. This summer, however, PHC’s Dr. Rob Spinney spent his “down time” updating the distance learning (DL) program. His task was to track down syllabi and learning objectives from every PHC professor in order to ensure that Patrick Henry College’s distance learning education is equal to the school’s on-campus experience. While PHC’s DL program has always provided an education comparable to the one received at the Purcellville campus, now, PHC will be able to prove it.

“We’re re-launching the whole DL program,” Spinney explains with a satisfied but weary smile. “We’re hardwiring into the DL courses things that have happened all along.”

Such accountability becomes ever more important, as thousands of people across the nation turn to distance learning options.

“Across the country, DL is exploding,” says Spinney. “Because of this, there are lots of renegade programs—diploma mills. We anticipate accreditors clamping down.”

Indeed, enrollment in PHC’s Campus & Home (C&H) program has risen significantly this fall. Instead of the 18 new C&Hers in fall of 2007, this year 26 students have enrolled. Explains Dan Burns, PHC’s Admissions Counselor for Distance Learning, two-thirds or more of these are high-school students working on dual enrollment for their senior year of high school. This way, families can avoid a year or two of room-and-board payments.

“Parents like [the C&H program] because it’s rigorous academically, a good way to earn college credit that is much less expensive,” he says.

Dr. Rob Spinney

Spinney expands on the topic. “Now—I’m not recommending that you do this—but basically a distance learning student could work a full-time job and have full-time school too, because DL class time can be so efficient without a commute.”

The “new” Patrick Henry College distance learning program has also switched platforms, from ANGEL to eCollege, a system that provides 24/7 technical support for students. During the semester, on-campus professors will check in regularly with their DL counterparts to ensure ongoing parity in the material taught.

“Right now, the way colleges run DL is usually to script classes and then to hire ‘facilitators’ to manage the technology. We’re doing something unique—hiring actual professors to teach the classes,” Spinney enthuses. “This is something few colleges are doing—combining on-campus input with DL autonomy.”

With such encouraging developments already underway, PHC leadership is excited to see what God does with distance learning at Patrick Henry College over the next few years. Interested students should check out the distance learning section of our website for more details about the program.