Goshen College is venturing into online education, with the first classes expected to be offered in the summer of 2012.

This fall, Anita Stalter, the academic dean, invited faculty members to propose online courses. Within weeks the dean is expected to announce which courses will be in the first round of offerings.

The online courses will be available for traditional and non-traditional Goshen College students and likely for students from other institutions. All of the courses offered will be drawn from the existing college catalog and will be taught by full-time professors.

Randy Gunden, who most recently served as the dean of the School of Adult Studies and as executive director of the Office of Nontraditional Studies at Bethel College in Mishawaka, was hired by Goshen College this summer as executive director of adult and online programs.

“This is all about better serving students, with flexible course scheduling,” said Gunden, a former business professor at Goshen College. “The development of alternative delivery and online programming is a synergistic process that provides wonderful growth opportunities for faculty and students alike.”

Details on tuition charges for the online courses will be announced before the start of the spring semester. The average class size is expected to be 12 to 15 students, with courses most likely extending over two months.

“The intent is to develop a program that best fits Goshen College’s long history of quality educational programming,” Gunden said. “By using full-time faculty and providing support, we will ensure that courses delivered in the new format are identical in goals, outcomes and assessments to courses that are offered in the traditional format.”

Many students reacted positively to the new program.

Mohamed Meissara, who is from Mauritania and is majoring in TESOL, sees it as an opportunity to graduate early and save time.

Meissara plans to enroll in the online program because, as a Fulbright scholar, he is required to take classes even during summer. Goshen College's venture into distance education will allow him to be able to take classes in the summer while spending his vacations with his friends in Athens, Ohio.

Grace Ispas, a sophomore biology and psychology double major, would like to take advantage of the online courses during the summer when she is in Chicago with her family. Ispas also thinks that the program will help students with families be able to take classes and look after their children at the same time.

Ispas believes Goshen College has a foundation in place for distance education. “The introduction for online courses will be easy for Goshen College because so much of our material is already shared through Moodle,” she said.

In addition to attracting students from all over the world, the Goshen online program can help promote the quality of education offered at Goshen College, she added.

But some students also expressed reservations about the initiative.

Benjamin Basnet, a junior from Nepal, said he had experience with online courses elsewhere. “It’s just reading, not learning,” he said.

Kelly Frey, a senior nursing student, said that distant education cannot be “as valuable as traditional face-to-face interaction” and for Goshen College to venture into online courses could impact its reputation in a negative way.

Kent Palmer, a Goshen professor of informatics, pointed out that the college is well aware of the negative connotations associated with online courses. He said that measures will be taken to ensure that the online program is as consistent and trustworthy as the traditional methods.

Gunden thinks it is high time Goshen College entered the distance education field.

“There are new technologies and pedagogies that can deliver quality educational offerings outside of the traditional face-to-face classroom and/or lecture environment.,” he said.  “Education, if properly done, is transformative. Why shouldn't we embrace methods used successfully by our peers?”