PVCC, UVA Lead State in Online Education

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Two very different schools with two different approaches - Charlottesville colleges are leading the state in their online education efforts. 

The University of Virginia, the only school in the state to offer free online classes through Coursera, says its first session was a success. Not too far away, Piedmont Virginia Community College is leading the state's community college system with enrollment in online courses. 

University of Virginia physics professor Lou Bloomfield is sifting through mail from around the world, snapshots of appreciation for teaching one of the school's first "massive open online classes." 

"I view my on-grounds class as like a play I give in front of a live audience and I interact with them. This is sort of the movie version of the same class," Bloomfield said. 

More than 150,000 people participated in five courses at UVA, and about 25,000 stuck it out for a statement of accomplishment. 

"We're looking at more of a hybrid approach for our classes, so it's an opportunity for students to access content offline and then have more active discussion time in class," said Kristin Palmer, UVA online learning director. 

PVCC says engagement is essential to their success with online education. They saw a 23-percent increase of students exclusively enrolling in online courses. 

For PVCC, it's not how many students enroll in a course; it's how many successfully complete the course objectives, learn the material, pass the course and are able to move forward with their education," said Frank Friedman, president of PVCC. 

It's this type of structure that Bloomfield feels will strengthen online education efforts. "You can't just throw it out for free forever and students are going to want credits for it eventually," he said. 

UVA is planning to expand its free online course offerings next semester. PVCC says the demand for online classes is continuing to increase consistently.

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