Hands-on Online

by Jessica Garza-Hutmacher

Horizon Reporter

Typical classes such as English, math, and sciences are all expected courses offered by means of Angel. However, much to many students’ surprise, you can also take award-winning, hands-on courses such as Physical Therapy Assistance 112, Massage Therapy 202 and Nursing 151 A and B via hybrid.

Here at Whatcom Community College students use the Angel program, a system created for full online courses, and now used as a tool for classes with both online and in class work; also known as, hybrid courses.

Whatcom provides these programs as a hybrid option offering students, interested in those fields, an opportunity unlike anything else.  It is understood that because of the hybrid’s successful structure, there is a better and higher success rate in real-world applications. Whatcom received the 2008 Governor’s Award for Workforce Best Practice, says E-Learning Coordinator, Michael Shepard. 

With meetings three or four times, quarterly, to train and practice skills and lecture portions on the portal of Angel, enrolled students aim for a high score on the national exams, and achieving their license in their specific trade. In this case: masseuses or masseurs, registered nurses, or physical therapy assistants. 

Starting in 2006 Whatcom began to offer the physical therapy courses as hybrid. Margaret Anderson, the coordinator for the Physical Therapy Assistant Program, says that “nobody on campus was doing it,” as they were the first hands-on program to try the hybrid method. It was “cutting edge,” Anderson added.

It has been a successful program, 91 percent of students finish the program. Of those students, 96 percent successfully pass the national exam, receive their license and get employed, Anderson added. 

Massage Therapy Program Coordinator, Richard Butts describes a similar success. Each year, the program has allowed 18 students to enroll since 2002. Of the past nine years, only one student has not passed the exam on the first try, says Butts. That is 1 out of approximately 162.  

Unlike most instructors, Butts utilizes the hybrid’s online portion but is not a necessity. He says that it is “not essential, just another tool.” Contrasting other hands-on hybrid courses, massage instructors don’t teach to the exam, they want “skillful and knowledgeable massage therapists” and if they learn it right, then they will succeed on the exam says Butts. 

New to hybrid, the Nursing Program has been in effect as of Fall 2010, going on round two come Spring of 2012. Juliet Barnes says, “everything is the same, but the middle.” The admissions are the same, the degree is the same, just how it is taught consist of “hands-on-clinics and exams on campus,” and then the online portion as well, adds Barnes. What separates nursing from the other two is the teacher to student ratio. “For every 10 students there is one instructor,” she remarked.

Anderson, Barnes and Butts all mentioned that these courses are cohort. Meaning that, students will stay in the same group from the start of the program until they graduate. All three of them also agree that this is a unique opportunity for students to pursue. “Students have commitments that interfere, and this program makes the course accessible,” says Anderson.

Butts adds that the hybrid allows for “flexibility, because people are planning out their life.” With the hybrid, the students can have a life outside of school, full of jobs, family and responsibilities respectively.

“These aren’t programs you can come and go easily from” says Barnes “but it is less hours which allow people to have a life.”


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