When Gloria Anderson wants to talk to her Health Information Technology students, she heads to the Coding Café, virtually.
“Grab a drink and sit down so we can chat,” the Shoreline Community College instructor says each week via her computer to medical coding students that are spread across the U.S. “Meet me at the Coding Café.”
Technology is making it easier to deliver information anywhere and anytime. For schools like Shoreline Community College and instructors like Anderson, that means it is easier for students to access their coursework and complete degrees from wherever they can find an Internet connection.
"Gloria really works hard to engage her students," Ellen Caldwell, Director, Health Informatics and Information Management at Shoreline said. "Building a sense of being in an "actual" classroom is really important to many of our students. We all have different tools by which we learn and the virtual teacher needs to be open to using all the tools they can. Gloria is definitely a trend setter here at SCC."
While the online convenience is helpful, Anderson also uses the technology to make sure students don’t lose out on opportunities for real-time interaction with her and their classmates.
“Virtual is almost becoming non-virtual,” Anderson said. Using the latest computer programs from Blackboard, Elluminate and Skype, Anderson and her faculty deliver the Health Information Technology AAAS degree and the Medical Coding and Reimbursement Specialist programs completely online.
Through technology, Anderson ensures that her students have the flexibility of online education plus the opportunity to communicate with herself and with each other to create the experience of “being in the classroom.”
“It’s important that our students can interact with not only me as their instructor, but with each other. They’re with us two years or five quarters so they form relationships along the way,” Anderson said.
One way instructors and students interact is with a software program called Elluminate. Andserson says it is the ideal venue for the weekly meetings she hosts for her medical-coding students who are scattered from Shoreline to the East Coast and all points in between.
Students Marci Luke and Michelle Zona say they look forward to the Wednesday evening meetings. Both appreciate that they can ask questions and get answers immediately rather than having to wait for e-mail responses.
“It really makes you feel more engaged,” said Zona, who lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. “You have the opportunity to ask your instructor any questions you might have had that week from your readings or her pre-recorded lectures.”
Zona said she also likes that she has the opportunity to learn from comments and questions from other students in the café: “It’s really like being in the classroom – you just don’t see each other.”
Luke, a Renton resident, said she likes the option of not turning on a computer camera or microphone. “Everybody types their questions or comments,” Luke said. Besides being able actually go to class in PJ’s, typing also allow students to go back and re-read earlier statements and comments made by their instructor and students.
“What’s really neat about the café is that is where I often have my ‘a-ha’ moments,” Luke said. “It really puts more of a classroom element into it.”
While visiting the Coding Café is not mandatory, Anderson says a majority of students go to the chat room each week. The sessions are recorded, Anderson says, and posted on Blackboard for those students who could not attend the session or for those who would like to "revisit the information."
Anderson also uses Skype, as do about 50 percent of her students. When she works from home, Anderson uses the video chat service so that she and individual students can have a hands-free conversation.
“I used to encourage them to meet at the library. Now, I encourage them to meet on Skype,” Anderson said. “It’s like it takes the place of office hours.”
Students also like to use Skype to communicate with each other. Luke says she is on Skype every day; so is Zona, who says it has become one of her main tools for interacting with her instructors and other students.
“I love sitting in my living room on the East Coast and going to school with ‘West-coasters,’” Zona said, adding she was thrilled to find the program she wanted completely online. “This is an extremely valuable resource.”