A crop of freshmen at Buena Vista University may one day soon be taking a math class in their own living rooms, at 3 a.m. if they wish. They may study philosophy in the bathtub, if only their extension cord or laptop batteries will allow.
BVU President Fred Moore recently introduced plans for a new On-Line Education initiative that would make the university a leader in the emerging field of distance education.
Pending approval from the BVU trustees, and the likes of accrediting officials and the Iowa Department of Education, Buena Vista plans to launch 40 web-based courses in undergraduate business and education.
Distance learning is nothing new at BV - in fact, it's billings for use of the Iowa Communications Network fiber optics technology show that it has already exceeded massive Iowa State University in that two-way video regard.
Taking BVU classes to the web is part of the strategic plan for BVU. While its centers programs grow in various cities around the state, they still only allow BVU to cover about 1/3 of Iowa with class offerings.
Web classes will allow for BVU to gain students anywhere in the state - and perhaps far beyond, as there is no reason a student living elsewhere in the nation or world could not log in.
Moore feels that BVU's offerings are such that they will not compete with the community college system. He also feels BVU will not be hurting its own chances to recruit students to campus by offering classes that can take in their own homes, any time.
"These may largely be the students that are older than our typical residential student, they may have a full-time job, may be married and have children. It doesn't make sense for someone who is 30 years old to come and live in our residential halls," Moore said.
Research shows that on-line classes done well can be just as effective or better than classes conducted on a residential campus, he said. "Obviously, the teacher is at least as important as the technology. Our touchstone is quality on this. If you are providing a class to a mother who may have done a full day's work and just put the kids to bed and is ready to log on to take her class, there will be no tolerance for failure at all, and we plan to give them a system that will have no failure."
BVU is considering partnering with some private companies to provide services such as an on-line, any-time help desk for students, but those decisions have yet to be made.
The system has great potential for future growth, and down the road, BVU hopes to market it well outside of Iowa's borders, Moore said.