We tried for several years to develop a workable plan for establishing a virtual class, offered through the Internet, which students could take from home, work or other locations where a computer, modem, and telephone line are available. To this end, two grant proposals were written to seek funding for the equipment and Internet connections needed to hold a virtual class. No funding was forthcoming to solve our problems.
In the Fall 1995 semester, Jerry Merwin contacted the manager of Hargray Interstar, a division of Hargray Telephone Company on Hilton Head Island and the only existing Internet Service Provider for Beaufort County and surrounding area at that time. He proposed that Hargray provide free of charge a maximum of 20 accounts for faculty and students for the Spring 1996 semester for the purpose of a pilot study. Hargray management agreed to the plan and was very excited about the project. The eventual value of their part of the project was estimated between $7000 and $8000. Additionally, Hargray reduced the price of its access software from $50 to $30. The only costs to students and faculty were for modems, if needed, and software. One student who did not have a computer bought one as soon as the project was approved.
We sought information about other institutions offering courses online. We learned that there were several colleges and universities offering curriculum courses over the Internet. Following is a summary of those educational activities. The Chronicle of Higher Education (December 15, 1995) section on Information Technology included an article "Campuses in Cyberspace" which reports that a "virtual university" is being considered by the Western Governors Association. The governors assert the new concept could lower costs, plus provide more flexibility in meeting changing enrollment needs and improved access to education (http://chronicle.merit.edu/).
The Globewide Network Academy (GNA) operates on the Internet providing links between colleges and universities offering courses online and students wishing to study online. A search of the GNA directory under the topic Personnel/Human Resource Management produced many courses from various institutions: (http://uu-gna.mit.edu:8001/gna-catalog/). A typical Personnel course being offered through the University of Southern Colorado (E-mail: email@example.com) has a course description for a traditional junior-level Personnel Management class for management majors:
"Recruiting, testing, interviewing, training and evaluating workers; planning for personnel needs; establishing personnel functions; employment laws; establishing pay plans. 12 lessons with 12 assignments using a Lotus spreadsheet on a personal computer, 1 term paper, 2 proctored exams."The University of Nebraska Lincoln (www.unl.edu/conted/decisp.html) also offers a Personnel course for curriculum credit, in addition to accounting, statistics, finance, and marketing. Other institutions offering courses through GNA include the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth (www.umassd.edu/cybered/ distlearninghome.html), Indiana University, and University of Wisconsin. GNA also lists other programs around the world.
The primary form of communication was through electronic mail (E-mail) for students to keep in touch with other students on team projects and with the three faculty members involved. Voice messaging and telephone calls were also used as needed. Students could set up, as necessary, private meetings with the teacher. Testing was accomplished through individual appointments and with the use of USCB's Academic Success Center (at the downtown Beaufort campus) and the library and administrative office at the Hilton Head Island College Center. Two group meetings were held for individual and group presentations. Billy Cordray and Rick Boulware, academic dean Lila Meeks and Chris Plyler, Dean of the USCB Campus, attended the group meetings.
Individual and group projects were to locate and report on topics relevant to Human Resource Management using the Internet. Topics included telecommuting, Intranet (use of Internet applications for communication among members of an organization), virtual organizations, career planning and development, and the impact of the Internet on human resource processes.
Future plans include the addition of video conferencing through the Internet. We have requested the purchase of CUSeeMe software to allow students at various locations to view the class while in progress and take part in discussions. Equipment, software, and the Internet connection for this video conferencing method is relatively inexpensive as compared to telephone-based conferencing methods.
We believe virtual classes and other cost-efficient, innovative media are keys to meeting the needs of students on the Regional Campuses of the University of South Carolina. For more information contact Jerry Merwin, Rick Boulware, or Billy Cordray.
(See the web pages developed for the Virtual Class Pilot Project in Spring of 1996. They are part of the Virtual Class Archive.)