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Winter Session: A campus success story

By : Eric Coker

Five years after starting as a pilot program, Winter Session continues to grow in both enrollment and course offerings.

“There’s a lot of demand out there for the educational opportunities that Winter Session offers,” said Murnal Abate, assistant director of Winter/Summer Session for Continuing Education and Outreach.

The 2010 session saw a 54 percent increase over 2009 in the number of courses run by the University. The session also featured a 29 percent increase in the number of students taking courses. This comes on the heels of a 29 percent increase in 2009 over the 2008 session.

Winter Session has been such a success for the University that it was highlighted at the Jan. 19 University Forum by Mary Ann Swain, provost and vice president for academic affairs, as a program that has demonstrated the power of University collaboration and cooperation.

“It took every single office and division in this University to make it a success,” she said.

Winter Session began in 2005 with the University running 10 courses for 300 students, Abate said.

“That was a strong enough response that we wanted to continue doing it,” he said. “We kept refining; we kept adding courses; we kept marketing more. And we’ve grown every year since then.”

One of the keys to the success of Winter Session has been the growth of distance education, Abate said. In 2010, 76 percent of all courses were distance-learning and 72 percent of all enrolled students took those courses.

Departments and faculty members have stepped forward to develop quality distance-learning courses, Abate said.

“What distance education does is allow students to multi-task,” he said. “The hardest thing we had to do five years back was to convince students that it was in their best interests to attend a session when it meant they had to stay on campus or rent a place or forego spending time at home with family. Distance education allows students to do those things and attend class.”

But don’t equate convenience with ease. The Winter Session turns what is normally a 15-week course into a three-week class. That, Abate said, is “incredibly intense” for students and instructors.

“To be successful on the instruction side, I think you have to make the course requirements very clear to the students,” he said. “You have to coach them through the course so they don’t drop the ball. Once you start the class, it’s really a whirlwind until you finish.”

Abate hopes to continue Winter Session’s growth by getting more departments involved and having those who are participating “broaden and diversify” their course offerings.

“We’ve got a lot of innovative people who are just getting into (distance learning),” he said. “They are exploring the use of multimedia to set up lessons or are running computer-based simulation games for the benefit of their students.”

For Abate and Continuing Education and Outreach, the spotlight that Swain shined was especially satisfying because Winter Session has always been a University effort.

“From the committee that first started working on the concept back in 2003-04 to the departments that stepped forward to the faculty members with their expertise and innovation to groups like the registrar’s office and communications and marketing, everyone pitched in to make this a success,” Abate said. “That was the most rewarding thing for me to hear.”


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Last Updated: 10/14/08