- Associated Press - Sunday, April 6, 2014

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - Dagmara Motriuk-Smith wore a microphone pinned to her sweater and a battery pack tucked into the band of her pants.

The assistant lecturer in biology stood behind a waist-high podium at the University of Wyoming-Casper on a recent Thursday afternoon, dabbling at her computer.

With a few mouse clicks and keystrokes, Motriuk-Smith’s electronic presentation appeared on a screen, and she lifted her gaze toward her class.

She was not wearing the microphone to amplify her voice in a crowded lecture hall. The five students blinking back at her could hear her voice just fine.

Motriuk-Smith wore the microphone to reach the rest of her students — the ones in Riverton, Cheyenne, Sheridan and Laramie who would see her as a two-dimensional figure on a screen and would hear her voice transmitted over a video conferencing network.

This is distance learning in the 21st century.

Demand for courses taught online or through video-conference portals like Motriuk-Smith’s has skyrocketed in Wyoming in the past six years. As the technology has developed and colleges caught on, more courses began offering online or video conference options.

At Wyoming’s community colleges, enrollment in courses taught online or by video conferencing increased from 1,985 students in 2008 to 3,016 students in 2012.

Since 2007, the number of students taking online courses through the University of Wyoming’s Outreach School more than doubled. The number of students taking video conferencing courses there increased about 20 percent.

For students looking for options or flexibility in a college degree, these online options are trending.

Online education is essential to the community college mission, Wyoming Community College Commission Executive Director Jim Rose told the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/1i8CfLZ).

“You won’t really be effective in increasing the educated citizenry if you are reliant upon students making their way to your front door,” Rose said.

Classes taught online or via video conferencing bring education to places in the state where a community college may be dozens of miles away.

The increasing trend is due to colleges updating their technology infrastructure - new servers, monitors and cameras - and more students and teachers learning about the online option, Rose said.

“More people, more educators, more faculty are seeing they can do this,” he said. “They can actually teach online.”

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