For John Bryant, who received his Bachelor of Arts in Communication Media this past December, North Carolina State University has changed a great deal since he first enrolled nearly 17 years ago. The advancements to the Distance Education (DE) program, however, are the ones to which he credits most of his academic success.
After struggling academically during his first two years as an on-campus student, Bryant first turned to the DE program in the fall of 1997. For him, the program represented an alternative to the traditional classroom experience and a way to continue his education despite an academic suspension. Bryant recalled that at that time the whole DE office operated out of a tiny room on the second floor of the McKimmon Center, where students obtained pre-recorded course lectures on video cassettes.
“I took a few classes and in the ones I was interested, I did well,” Bryant said. “However the ones I wasn’t interested in, I didn’t do so well and that pretty much continued for at least 2 to 3 years until I decided that I, evidently, was not really ready for school. So I chose to leave school for a while and just focus on work.”
Looking back now, Bryant said he doesn’t regret his years away from school working in sports marketing. In fact, he commented, without that experience he couldn’t have developed the discipline he needed later to complete his degree. The self-accountability required of successful DE students was something he preferred.
“I would recommend this program [Distance Education] to everyone, but you definitely have to put in the work. You have to be mature enough to set your own schedule and really be disciplined, but the flexibility it offers, you can’t compare it with anything else offered here at State,” Bryant said.
Faced with an economic downturn in his industry, in the spring of 2010 Bryant decided that the time was right to put his career on hold in order to complete his education. When he first returned to NC State to finish his degree, Bryant said taking DE classes helped him transition more gradually into the mindset of a student. The program allowed him to balance things out and didn’t force him to plunge head-first into an educational mentality after 10 years in the work force. Bryant remarked that he is most impressed with the growth of the program in recent years.
“Much like NC State has improved, I think the distance education program has significantly improved over time,” Bryant said. “The DE program was good before, but obviously the technology has changed and it’s so much easier to take classes now that you don’t need to get a VCR to watch the tapes.”
In Bryant’s view, given current technology restrictions, there are some classes that still necessitate classroom instruction. However, he also insisted that, in some cases, having lessons facilitated remotely and independent of supervision, leads to greater learning and understanding. He noted that for every DE class the professor was easily accessible via email, but often, when he would wait to think through a question on his own, he would end up solving the problem without help.
“It forces you to think through the issue yourself and often you end up answering your own questions,” Bryant said. “I was not just memorizing facts; I’d thought through the material. Those are the critical thinking skills that college is all about developing.”
The online message boards are also a key aspect of the DE experience for Bryant. He explained that through shared information platforms, like the forum tool in Moodle, students have a chance to contribute ideas and work together toward a solution.
“It helps get a discussion going, and sometimes listening to other students describing the material can help you understand it on another level,” Bryant said. “You don’t have that face-to-face interaction, but you still get the information you need.”
Bryant said he’s thankful that he had the chance to experience life as a student once again and he is grateful to the DE program for helping him to make that happen. Named twice to the Dean’s List in his final few semesters at NC State, Bryant said he is extremely pleased with the way his undergraduate career concluded. He anticipates the DE program will continue to improve in the future and, with the expansion of new technologies, will offer even more options for students and faculty.
“I think distance education is the next logical step in education,” Bryant said. “In the same way that my dad or granddad used to tell his kids that he used to ‘walk 3 miles to school,’ I think eventually it’s going to be that ‘I used to go sit in a classroom and there was a teacher in front of us.’”
Overall, Bryant said he thinks every student should take at least one DE course during their time at the university. Whether it’s for increased schedule flexibility, to take in a class that is over-enrolled on campus or simply to try a new educational medium, there are many reasons to give DE a try. As he looks to the future, Bryant is considering returning to school for a Master of Business Administration. Of course, the online M.B.A. program at NCSU is at the top of his list of considerations.