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White Earth college to test online instruction this summer

MAHNOMEN, Minn. -- The White Earth Tribal and Community College in Mahnomen is, for the first time, dipping its toes into the world of online classes.

The school is launching this summer what it says is a pilot program to hold hybrid classes, in which students will put in a small amount of time in class and the rest online.

This is to gauge how online classes will work for students whom officials say aren't always set up for online college classes.

School officials say that while the move was brought on by demand from students and a desire to grow, they plan to jump slowly into online instruction.

"Traditionally many of our students have been tactile learners, which means they do best in the classroom setting," said Sheila Michaels, the school's interim academic dean and an English faculty member who will teach one of the classes.

Michaels also said the demographic of students attending the relatively new college, which is only 15 years old, is one that may not have the means at home to go online.

"Many of them don't have access to computers off campus or have Internet. They need to be on campus anyway, so this is looking beyond our community to see what we can do to grow," Michaels said. "We know that relatively speaking, we're behind the game, but we're also moving forward, recognizing that some of our learners are asking for that."

The two online classes students can register for this summer, which start May 19, are Creative Writing and Intro to Humanities -- both liberal arts classes that a variety of students can use for their degrees or professional development.

The two hybrid summer classes, which hold 22 seats each, also will be offered in the fall, and if all goes well, the school plans to slowly expand its online vision into other programs.

Michaels said the idea is not just to give existing WETCC students an online opportunity, but also to capture those in outlying areas who either wouldn't otherwise go to college or are looking for online classes elsewhere.

Although the institution is a tribal college, it is also a community college that is open to anybody.

"So if somebody is going to another college but could use these particular classes, they can take them from us," said Michaels, who added that the school is affordable, accredited and its courses are transferable.


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