At Clemson University students can spend a portion of their class online and another face-to-face using Mediasite. And when faculty know they’ll be out of office, they can pre-record their lectures for students to watch outside of class so they don’t miss out on any instructor-led time.

This week is National Distance Learning Week, sponsored by the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA). Because of the university’s strong commitment to distance learning, Clemson Online, the university’s office that creates blended and online courses, is hosting its second annual National Distance Learning Week Conference. The conference, also sponsored by USDLA, is a nationwide effort to generate greater awareness and appreciation for distance learning.

Witt Salley, Clemson’s chief online education officer, created the conference to bring more awareness across campus and provide opportunities for training and continuing education for faculty and staff.

Read on for his thoughts on the importance of distance education.

Why is it important to offer distance education?
Witt Salley: We offer over 10 online programs to attract students from all over the world. We’re able to tap into new student markets, particularly adult learners. Distance courses increase access to education for people who otherwise would not be able to pursue higher education. 

More importantly, we’re seeing increasingly improved student outcomes in online environments. Students are not only achieving the learning outcomes we’ve identified for our online courses, but we’re also seeing strong placement rates in their related professions.

One of the things we’re doing right now is analyzing the achievements of online students and comparing that to our on-campus students. If you’re concerned about creating quality and innovative learning opportunities, offering online courses is the clear way to do that.

What percentage of students at Clemson take at least one distance learning course?
We have upwards of 2,800 students taking at least one online course each semester. In the summer that jumps to over 4,000. Those numbers continue to rise.

My position was created and Clemson Online was founded to grow those numbers so that we see a greater percentage of student credit hours fully online.

What should instructors who are just starting out with video keep in mind?
It’s an entirely new paradigm of education. They need to try their hardest to keep an open mind and not just replicate their face-to-face classrooms.

Discover new ways of teaching and promoting student learning, because it is so different. Simply moving face-to-face practices online will not be effective. They’ll have to reengineer and re-conceptualize their approach to teaching and how students learn.

It’s most important that faculty have knowledgeable staff who can help them design and facilitate online courses and share best practices. It’s equally important to have colleagues who are willing to show them their online course and let them peek over their shoulders. When it’s their first time out of the gate it’s really helpful to have a sample course that can serve as their roadmap to success.