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Vol. XXV
No. 3

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by Josiah Helms
Distance Learning Receives Makeover

Recent changes to Patrick Henry College’s Distance Learning (DL) courses have amounted to a re-launching of the program, according to Dr. Robert Spinney, head of the DL program. “We’ve upgraded both our course content and the internet platform from which we deliver our courses,” says Spinney, who also teaches history courses at the college’s Purcellville campus.

PHC has upgraded its distance learning program.
Patrick Henry College/Art Cox

On-campus professors now play an integral role in both designing DL course content and overseeing the week-by-week teaching. The new eCollege platform enhances student-professor interaction, preventing online classes from becoming impersonal correspondence courses. “The goal is parity. We want to ensure that the learning experiences in our online courses mirror those on our Purcellville campus,” says Spinney, who sees recent changes as a milestone for both the college and its extended online community. “We’re confident that we deliver a first-class Christian liberal arts education in both our physical, on-campus classrooms and our virtual, DL classrooms.”

Now, more than ever, PHC students who study at home in jeans and t-shirts are doing the same coursework as students on campus. The result is a growing, inclusive, academically engaging experience for Christian students.

Professor Mark Filiatreau, now teaching his fifth consecutive semester of Western Literature online, says that under Dr. Spinney’s oversight, “great quality control” has been achieved for the entire DL program. “He has been excellent at letting students know what to expect during their time in DL. He has motivated them to follow their syllabi, to communicate with their professors, and—above all—not to be shy about it.”

According to students, eCollege has already proven superior to the platform it replaced. The new platform offers a more user-friendly workspace for students and superior tools for online professors, as well as dependable, 24/7 technical support for all students. Some DL courses use videos, audio lectures, interactive learning exercises, and live chat sessions to ensure a first-class learning experience. “Students really seem to like the live chat,” observes Filiatreau, who adds that he has received many thank-you emails from students appreciative of the improved interactivity and in-depth discussions.

Birthed in 2003, the college’s Distance Learning program boasts an impressive collection of experienced professors. Dr. Martin Erdmann has taught PHC’s DL theology classes for five years. “Dr. Erdmann is an exceptional professor,” said one of his DL students. “Praise God for his interest in the course and prompt helpfulness.” Professor Mike Donnelly is a full-time lawyer with Home School Legal Defense Association, but he still finds time to teach the college’s Constitutional Law class both on campus and via the DL program. Dr. Jason Lantzer is in his second year teaching the DL history classes; his peer-reviewed book on a leading Prohibition crusader was published this spring.

Dr. Spinney explains that PHC DL students do not encounter a typical undergraduate class. Rather, they are part of a class comparable in rigor to PHC’s on-campus courses. “Our DL courses are comparable to other colleges’ honors courses,” says Spinney. “I’ve heard many DL students say that our online classes proved to be a great ‘boot camp’ for future college work.”

Stephanie Monk agrees. This former DL student from Gilbert, Arizona, is now taking classes at the Purcellville campus. She reports that her DL courses “were both challenging and engaging. They inspired me to come on campus and were an excellent preparation for the on-campus course load.”

“I really like the new structure,” says Joshua Pidek, a student from Weeki Wachee, Florida, who has taken DL courses part-time since fall 2004. “In addition to enjoying a good education with more of a classroom experience, I am able to work a steady job and maintain some semblance of another life.”

About the author

Josiah Helms is a senior majoring in journalism at PHC. He does technical writing for SkyCreek Corp. and cultivates his creative side by contributing features to PHC's Office of Communications.