Laurie Brantley, PLS

I had been giving a great deal of thought to returning to school. But also in my mind were plaguing questions like, "How can I work full time and find the time to attend college without sacrificing two or three nights a week?" and "Where will I find the energy to devote to studying, not to mention the time needed for classroom attendance?" The answer was at my local community college.

North Harris Montgomery Community College in north Houston offers distance learning credit courses in several ways that are more convenient than weekly class attendance:

telecourses-lessons are televised on public television stations; test taking is done on campus

video courses-videos can be viewed in the learning resource center on your own schedule, or they may be rented for viewing at home; test taking is done on campus

computer courses by modem or Internet: by modem, the student uses his computer to communicate with the instructor, download assignments and "lectures," and finished work is "uploaded" to the instructor, with exams being taken on campus; by Internet, the student uses online material from the Internet, and assignments and tests are sent by e-mail to the instructor

print-based independent study: the student picks up his assignments and lectures in print format at an orientation session; work is completed at home; exams are taken on campus.

These courses are for the career-minded individual; you can be successful in these type of courses if you are goal-directed, able to study independently, and willing to devote the same amount of time as you would to any college credit course.

This summer I took Survey of Legal Specializations, which was Internet-based. The college set up a Web page for this class where general information on the class was located as well as the course syllabus and reading assignments. The textbook was The Career Legal Secretary-Revised Edition. However, also located on the Web page, which could be downloaded to my computer, were the class "lectures" on each unit (chapter), with Texas-specific information for each area of the law. The instructor had specific instructions for communicating with her, with her preferred method being by e-mail. Also, in an effort to keep in touch with her students and for the students to receive feedback from the instructor and each other, a chat line was set up on the Internet one night each week. Software for this Internet Relay Chat was downloaded from the Internet.

While a schedule was set up on the Web page for reading assignments and test taking, a student could literally complete this class in a minimal amount of time. The tests were sent to each student in advance (by e-mail). I know of one "classmate" who read all study materials and took the tests in a three-week period. I, however, went by the posted schedule and paced myself. As it turned out, I was not required to take the final exam because I maintained an A throughout the summer semester.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed earning college credits by this method. The time I thought I would need to devote to this class was actually very little. I estimate that I spent about two hours each week devoted to the class-downloading assignments, reading the study materials, taking each test, and participating in the chat sessions. I actually went to the campus only three times during the semester, one of which was for orientation. The idea behind this type of distance learning is that a student could literally be on vacation or traveling with business, and as long as there is access to a computer and modem, the "virtual" classroom is at the fingertips.

North Harris College in Houston is not the pioneer in online credit courses. I know of other colleges and universities that offer the same type of distance learning courses.

The Internet is a valuable source of information. While surfing the 'Net one day, I happened upon a virtual campus. The Electronic University Network supports ten colleges and universities online offering associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees online. The online campus provides students with everything needed for success-32 degrees, more than 300 courses, libraries, admissions, academic advising, and even a student union for socializing, buying books, or getting a college t-shirt. Check it out: http://www.wcc-eun.com.


Laurie Brantley is a certified Professional Legal Secretary and a charter member of Legal Secretaries International Inc. She has 17 years' legal experience, all of which is with Rosch & Ross, a Houston law firm specializing in the defense of white collar crimes.