Learning Online . . . The In-Class Way
Dwayne Loughlean comes to Fanshawe College in the morning, goes into his classroom, sits down beside his classmates at his computer, and begins working on assignments that are due. However, the woman at the front of the room isn't Loughlean's teacher, and nobody else in the classroom is taking the same course as him. All the same, he knows he's in the right spot.
Jenny Meggison, eLearning coach (left), helps My eLab student Pamela Shoener with her online course material.
This is not a normal classroom.
It's a computer lab made available exclusively for Continuing Education students enrolled in specific online courses. The woman at the front of the room is a professional Learning Coach, and the other students are all taking various online courses, as is Loughlean. "Getting the knack for it was challenging at first," he says. "But I would say for the most part it has been a great experience using My eLab."
My eLab is the name of a new initiative offered by Continuing Education, for a small additional registration fee, offering all the benefits of online learning with the support of a traditional in-class environment. Working toward his Public Relations certificate since September 2009, Loughlean, a Second Career funded student, has been driving from his home in Cambridge to use the London Campus lab almost every morning.
"I use it four days a week, Tuesday to Friday, from 7:30 a.m. to noon, and a little bit more sometimes in the afternoons if I need to get caught up on some things," he says, adding that he appreciates the flexibility afforded by having a choice between spending time in-class or online. "If the drive from Cambridge cannot happen I can log in at home and still be doing my school work. I honestly could not see doing it another way."
That's something he shares in common with many students who use My eLab. There's something else Loughlean has in common with some of them: this is his first time in a post-secondary environment.
The same is true for Margaret McGill. A 50-plus mother and grandmother, she married right out of high school and eventually became a Personal Support Worker. After 20 years, McGill realized it was time for a much-needed career change, and so she enlisted the help of London Employment Help Centre downtown to begin the process of applying to Fanshawe College as a Second Career student.
"I think Fanshawe surpasses the private schools," she says. "The College is well-known and it has a very good name behind it."
She enrolled in the Food Services Worker program in September 2009. However, when it came time to begin classes, McGill received some shocking news: all her courses would be held online.
"My mouth must have dropped," she recalls. "I had never done any online courses. I wanted to turn and immediately walk away."
McGill looked into the possibility of other campuses, and even considered withdrawing entirely. Although she knew how to use email, her computer skills didn't extend much further, and she admits to feeling stubborn about the prospect of online learning.
"I'd rather sit in a classroom and have a teacher," she says. "I didn't want to learn by myself."
Then she found out about My eLab, and the opportunity it provided to share in the social dynamic of a classroom, along with a dedicated workstation and access to a highly-qualified eLearning Coach. McGill praises the assistance of the women who coached her.
"The coaches are so gentle and patient," she says. "They were wonderful people and I learned so much from them."
The coaches reciprocate that appreciation.
"As an eLearning Coach, I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to help foster an optimal environment for online learning," says Jenny Meggison, one of three coaches working for the Continuing Education department. "The eLab model truly facilitates the learning process by providing flexible and student-centered support. I took this job with the goal of providing every student with a positive and meaningful experience, and have discovered that being a part of eLab has been incredibly rewarding for me in return!"
As for their futures, both Loughlean and McGill are hopeful. Loughlean, who expects to complete his program in April 2010, is optimistic about his improved prospects for meaningful employment.
"I hope the future is bright for me, because all of a sudden I am again in the position of looking for a job. With my new Communications background, I am told there is plenty of opportunity out there; it is just a matter of finding that door to open. Hopefully that door does open and I can continue on, knowing that Fanshawe made that possible for me."
McGill, who graduated from her fast-track program in November, was employed in her field within two weeks. She attributes her success to Fanshawe, and she is now much more confident than she was just six months ago.
"Honestly, I am so proud of my accomplishments," she says with obvious satisfaction. "Not only did I pass my courses with all As and A pluses, but I now have more computer skills, and I feel so happy! I am proud to say that I went to Fanshawe College in London."
She now has ambitions of someday attending university to complement her training, and encourages others to think about going back to school as well.
"If I can do it, anyone can do it," she says, adding "you're never too old to learn."
For more information about My eLab, visit http://www.fanshawec.ca/myelab.