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CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES AT AN EXTENSION CENTER

by Ryna May, Assistant Professor, English

Having taught at the main campus of Howard Community College, the main campus of Prince George’s Community College, and the Laurel College Center, I can attest that the subject matter is the only constant. In the extension center, the same basic questions and problems of teaching writing and literature pervade, but to succeed here, the philosophy and pedagogy has to adapt to a different kind of student.

For the most part, the kind of student who registers for a class at an extension center places value on efficiency in their education. Since extension centers are not, as their name implies, part of the body of the college, students do not know what to expect from the initial extension center experience. I can relate: in this, my first semester at the Laurel College Center, I plunged into four sections of English: two each of 101 and 102, day and evening sections. My students who have studied both at a main campus and an extension center indicate that the classes are the same in content, but they find that, in general, students are somewhat different at the extension center. 

They agree being here has challenges and opportunities, and quickly point out the advantages of the extension center. Particularly, they note that parking is easier, making their commute to class more efficient and less stressful than dealing with the mob at the main campuses. Students also like the smaller class size since that means more interaction with the instructor. But, the convenience of the Laurel College Center comes at a price.

None of the students feel that the extension center is a collegial place, and that lack might discourage some of them from enrolling in more courses here. “Jane,” a 51-year old first-time student, takes classes at the Laurel Center and the home campus, but prefers the Howard Community College main campus. Though she likes her classes at the Laurel Center, she notes the lack of a study lounge, library, and bookstore: things that are collegial. She wants the college experience she never had. Her classmates agree: Laurel functions for their needs, but the physical space does not inspire them.

Not all students are looking for that kind of college experience, though. “Vicki” had her “traditional” college experience, but she wants to get serious about her education this time around. She attends classes exclusively at the Laurel College Center because she “can’t tolerate” younger college students. She knows from personal experience that their lack of seriousness in the classroom hurts the rest of the students in the room; she used to be one of those students. For Vicki, the extension center is a place for “serious students to come who are not interested in the social aspects of college.”

Students who attend classes at the Laurel College Center are practical. For many of them, the point of taking college courses is career advancement. They are working professionals with expectations of what a college course might offer to 21st century students. The technology of the extension center is the greatest plus for some students. In my English classes, each section meets in a lab in which students have their own computer. This fosters more in-class writing assignments and different, more efficient peer review sessions. In English 102, students who took 101 without as much access to technology prefer this new approach. Several students indicate that since their tuition has increased, they believe that technology should increase as well; students want more for their money, and that means access to the best services. My pedagogy and philosophy have to meet their expectations. Students at the extension center are starved for many resources but can take advantage of the technology that is available. 

Perhaps the greatest challenge we face at the Laurel College Center is maintaining enrollment. Making the experience more collegial for the serious students we serve here might help. How can we do that?  Instructors should incorporate more technology into their pedagogy and demonstrate to these working professionals how cool learning can be. Working with this media will help build bridges between new styles of learning and the application of it to the same basic questions and problems of teaching writing and literature. To meet the growing expectations of students, we instructors need to adjust our expectations. We must learn to use technology ourselves and not be afraid to use it to reach new learning styles. That means, as the students change, we have to change the way we think about and teach our subjects. At its best, the collegial educational experience is a dialogue, and as teachers, we have to learn to communicate better. 

 

The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 20, No. 1 

Fall 2004