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Thursday, July 29, 2004 03:27 am

Minds online

In this age of computer technology, it's not surprising that university students are demanding that schools make more courses available by way of the Internet. What is surprising, however, are the specific courses they demand. After all, when was the last time you heard a kid say, "When I grow up, I want to be a philosopher"?

But at University of Illinois at Springfield, philosophy courses are in such demand that the school recently added a bachelor's degree in the subject -- the first new undergraduate degree since 1995. The degree can be earned through a mix of on-campus and online classes or strictly online.

Piotr Boltuc, an associate professor of philosophy and administrator of the program, says one reason the university added this online degree was to satisfy requests from students in the military.

"We were very surprised that this was one of the top three degrees they requested," Boltuc says.

Philosophy is a popular undergraduate-degree choice for students interested in pursuing a master's degree in law or law enforcement, Boltuc says. Otherwise, he admits, it's not a favorite among career-minded students.

"I think some people look for a job when they go to college, and very few of those would be good candidates for philosophy. There are a very few good jobs in philosophy. I have one of those few good jobs," Boltuc says.

"But there are many students who do take liberal-education classes because . . . they want to do something to satisfy their intellectual curiosity, and we might be one of the best choices."

Ray Schroeder, director of the office of technology-enhanced learning at UIS, says the university's online offerings, launched in 1998, have proved more successful than anyone envisioned, with 1,500 students from 31 states and seven countries participating last semester.

"Even one in Timbuktu, literally," Schroeder says.

Last spring, one of every three UIS students was taking at least one class online; one of six was taking all courses online.

"What's unique and special about UIS is, we deliver our online degrees with the same faculty members who teach those classes on campus, the same textbooks, same syllabus, same assignments," he says. "Many other colleges run their online courses through their extension offices, where I'm not sure you get the same academic attention to the quality of the courses."

The philosophy courses begin in August. The online section is limited to 20 students.

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