Interview

Ready When You Are: Flexible, Online Programs

A conversation about flexible, online programs with William E. Carter, Vice Chancellor, Information Technology, Houston Community College

Campus Technology: I’d like to begin by asking you about a program at Houston Community College that offers students a very flexible online program. Can you describe how HCC’s Ready When You Are program works?

Bill Carter: The Ready When You Are program provides core curriculum courses--such as English, History, Government--online in eight-week durations, beginning the first Monday of each month during the Fall and Spring semesters. The classes are intended for students who have good computer proficiencies and are also very highly motivated and self-disciplined. These courses are taught by Houston Community College certified business education instructors with the goal of getting students the courses that are required in Texas--and accepted at every state institution, whether two-year or four-year. Students can get them in their own timeframe, from their own home, at their convenience.

CT: So the program gives students the option to take core courses online if that’s more convenient for them and they are able to handle an online course. Is there a means of testing students’ readiness for online courses ahead of time?

Carter: Yes, there is a READI Assessment Tool--READI stands for Readiness for Education at a Distance Indicator. It doesn’t block you from a course, but it is an indicator of potential success.

CT: This is a relatively new program at HCC--established in the fall of 2008--do you see it as having a lot of potential for growth?

Carter: So far this spring, we have 2,000 students registered in these courses. The initiative, I think, will grow dramatically because more students are having a difficult time getting to campus. We have a lot of students who are working full time or who have children to care for. This program gives them the ability to work on their degree plan at their convenience.

CT: How does this impact enrollments at the four-year colleges? Is part of the Ready When You Are strategy to take some of the pressure off the universities in the state?

Carter: Four-year colleges and universities in Texas are flooded right now. For example, enrollments at the University of Houston and the University of Texas at Austin are getting very large, and getting to the point of saturation. So, community colleges are the best avenue for people needing to get their core curriculum, or their first two years of college. And the Ready When You Are program supports this.

CT: What is the typical timeline for a student taking advantage of Ready When You Are?

Carter: The courses are set up so that you can complete your entire core curriculum in the normal time of a year and a half to two years for the average student. These courses have flexibility but do have set start and end times: They are eight-week courses, which is not unusual for community colleges.

CT: Are there other advantages?

Carter: The nice thing about these courses in a lot of ways is the cost. The cost of the Ready When You Are courses, and in fact, all the courses at our community colleges is far below what you would pay at a university. This allows people who would not normally be able to afford an education to move forward in their lives.

CT: I also noted that HCC has a separate iPhone pilot. Are you getting interest from faculty in teaching on a mobile platform?

Carter: Yes, and I think the most intriguing thing about the pilot is that you are getting a number of faculty together who are starting to think about mobile learning: starting to discuss how to present information and how to provide it.

CT: Are students bringing their mobile devices into the picture--and maybe furthering the adoption of a mobile learning framework at HCC?

Carter: Yes, and the idea, too, is that whenever faculty put their syllabi online--or on our “Learning Web” that allows faculty to post syllabi or information about their classes--students are accessing all this information with their iPhones, their Google phones, or whatever type of devices. You can almost say therefore that many courses, if not all courses, have some kind of online or mobile component. We don’t have a choice in this; they are accessing the information with all different kinds of mobile devices.

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