INSIDE BINGHAMTON UNIVERSITY
Binghamton’s first winter session a success
By : Katie Ellis
Binghamton University’s pilot Winter Session was a resounding success according to its coordinators in the Office of Continuing Education and Outreach. The numbers are hard to argue with: an overall enrollment of about 78 percent, with several courses full or turning students away; participation by Harpur College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Education and Human Development, the School of Management and Off-Campus College; a wide variety of activities rep-resented, including 10 courses, three sections of independent study and one section of internship; and total revenue from tuition of more than $230,000.
“It was a huge success,” said Tom Kowalik, director of Continuing Education and Outreach. “It met student needs by offering an opportunity to take classes during a time of year when they have no competing activities; a different type of compressed, intensive educational exper-ience; and more focused learning.”
No major issues with the pilot came up, said Murnal Abate, coordinator. “I don’t see a downside,” he said. “We’re starting to explore different ways of educating people. Winter Session is a way to accom-modate differing student needs.”
As an instructor during the session, Abate said it was gratifying to see the compressed schedule work so well. “People thought that the abbreviated nature of Winter Session would require us to leave course material out or otherwise make it easier, but in fact, faculty and students did as much work, if not more, because of the intensity and the positive response from students.”
Projections for the pilot suggested an enrollment of between 250 and 300 students. The final numbers, Abate said, show that 303 students enrolled - six of them graduate students and the rest undergraduate. “Course instructors were unanimous in their belief that these students were exceptionally bright and highly motivated students,” he said.
Of the courses offered, four were provided through distance education, bringing in almost half of the total revenue. Abate taught his course through distance edu-cation, using the discussion element of Blackboard to foster daily communication with students. “I set it up as a blog and students were guest bloggers who put a discussion topic out there and opened up the floor for others,” he said. “The students enjoyed testing their understanding of the subject material this way.”
Abate summed up his teaching exper-ience by talking about instructor-student relationships. “The difference between Winter Session and a traditional course, or even Summer Session,” he said, “was in a level of intensity that facilitated a tremendous bonding experience and tremendous communication between students and instructor and among the students themselves.”
Winter Session coordinators conducted several focus groups following its completion. Faculty, sponsoring depart-ments and key partners such as the offices of the registrar and student accounts were included, as was computing services. “Overall, there were a few structural weaknesses that we had anticipated,” said Abate, “but we know how to fix them. However, I was surprised and pleased at the strengths we uncovered and how everyone seemed to term it a resounding success.”
“One instructor called Winter Session his ‘best teaching experience ever,’ with no student absences and great energy in the classroom,” Abate added. By regularly offering Winter Session, the University would be running on a 12-month schedule, said Kowalik, changing how Binghamton has traditionally operated. “It’s a change in culture,” he said, “but we gathered great data and found that the students were definitely engaged. Plus, we’re making strides in our ability to handle the administration and registration, course profiles and student records.”
“Two potential deterrents are financial aid and housing, and we’re looking at these issues,” he said.
What the Winter Session pilot demonstrated to Kowalik is that the University has the ability to enable different populations to take courses. “It allowed us to meet several aspects of the new strategic plan,” he said. “It expanded our distance education offerings, expanded options for hybrid courses and gave instructors the opportunity to try new delivery methods, new technology and course designs.”
“It also allowed us to enhance outreach and let depart-ments respond to the educational needs of students,” he added. “Finally, with the demographic of higher education students changing — more are working part time and the compressed delivery mode of Winter Session is attractive to them — we created an adaptive infrastructure that supports the University’s mission.” The University intends to mount another Winter Session in January 2006, according to Mary Ann Swain, provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. “To assure continued success, the number and type of courses must be thoughtfully selected,” she said. “Tom Kowalik and others within the Office of Continuing Education and Outreach will be working closely with deans and department chairs to make these choices.”