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Celebrating first year of teaching and learning on-line
By Celena E. Kusch
First outlined by President Graham Spanier in his 1996 State-of-the-University address, the Penn State World Campus, from its inception, has had ambitious goals.|
I believe the World Campus will change the shape of the land-grant university in the 21st century, Spanier predicted. We are creating a university without walls that can provide anytime, anywhere access to learning. This will have a powerful impact on the education and training needs of the people of Pennsylvania and learners worldwide.
Walls or not, now that the World Campus virtual doors are open, students from around the world are signing on, showing a growing public momentum to embrace Internet-based alternatives to resident instruction in higher education.
We are just at the beginning of a society-wide push for lifelong learning and knowledge, said Dr. James H. Ryan, vice president for Outreach and Cooperative Extension at Penn State. Attaining a degree and getting a job no longer means the end of education for most people. Growing numbers of professionals who cannot take a hiatus or commute to a campus want education, and educators have a responsibility to provide for their needs. World Campus faculty intend to be those providers.
Beginning with a pilot semester in January 1998, the World Campus launched its first programs in Fundamentals of Engineering, Noise Control Engineering, Chemical Dependency Counseling and Turfgrass Management with $2 million in support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. An initial group of 41 students were admitted to World Campus programs in the pilot semester; a year later, 608 students from around the globe are attending Penn State through the World Campus.
The spring 1999 semester saw the launch of five new programs, including a certificate in Geographic Information Systems, a postbaccalaureate Certificate in Educational Technology Integration for teachers, and associate degrees in Dietary Management and Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management, as well as a new course in Reliability Engineering. By the end of its fifth year, the World Campus plans to offer 25 to 30 programs, comprising more than 300 courses and reaching an estimated 10,000 students.
According to World Campus students, faculty and administrators, the startup phase of the World Campus has been a great success on all fronts.
More than 7,300 people from all 50 states and from more than 60 countries and territories have inquired about the on-line programs. More than 600 students have been enrolled in the first three semesters programs. Eighty percent of the inquiries come from outside Pennsylvania, indicating the World Campus success in creating access for new students. Today, World Campus students from as far away as Argentina, Austria, Barbados, Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rica and Malaysia represent new students to the University, students who would not otherwise enroll at Penn State and may not even further their education at all.
For the Graduate Program in Acoustics and Penn State as a whole, the World Campus opens new opportunities to educate an audience we wouldnt normally be able to reach, Courtney Burroughs, associate professor of acoustics at Penn State, said. These are people who need education but are already working. The World Campus is helping to meet their education needs without interfering with their work. We also have an opportunity to use computers and animations in our teaching. This is very exciting and very new.
Ive actually spent more time one-on-one with the students through distance education than I do with students in residence, Burroughs added.
With this kind of faculty support, what was just a pilot program last year is swiftly becoming part of the mainstream of the University teaching and learning environment. Already, faculty are beginning to teach in the World Campus as part of their normal teaching load, and many have commented that they appreciate the flexibility and innovations of their teaching experiences on-line.
According to Dr. Gary Miller, associate vice president for distance education and executive director of the World Campus, The potential for the World Campus to contribute to teaching and learning enhancement for all Penn State students through information technology is real.
Distance education has been an integral part of the land-grant mission at Penn State for more than a century, Miller added. Since our first correspondence course in 1892, Penn State has been responding to the needs of students who cannot attend classes on campus. Now, with the new interactive technologies available to us, we are taking the next step, using the Internet to create an on-line campus where our distant students can fully participate in a university learning community. The World Campus is committed to delivering our best University research-based teaching to learners when and where they need it.
Students enrolled in World Campus courses have access to renowned faculty in their disciplines, national leaders in the field of distance learning and instructional designers with cutting-edge technology. While technology does not drive program development, it helps shape the nature of learning. The needs of learners and the academic integrity of the faculty and colleges are the impetus to establishing World Campus programs.
Although technology does not motivate program designers, World Campus faculty are certainly not shy about using it to tackle tough distance learning problems. Before the first Noise Control Engineering class went on-line last year, a team of acoustics professors, computer programmers and instructional designers created simulation software that could give students virtual hands-on experience with equipment, allowing them to simulate experiments on software-based sound-level meters identical to the real instrument. Since then, this faculty team has launched the second course in the Noise Control series and plans to develop more original software to simulate a spectral analyzer in future courses.
I believe the future of distance learning or learning virtually is very bright, said Dr. Barbara Grabowski, associate professor of education at Penn State. I think in the next millennium, were going to see many people taking advantage of opportunities that are available for lifelong learning. I dont think distance learning is going to replace what happens on campus, but its going to be an opportunity for people who cant get here to have access to education and learning experiences. That actually means something very exciting for us as professors. As a result, we must ensure that the learning environment is engaging, that its rich in content and interactions and that its motivating and efficient. We cant just pass on information to the students, we really have to make distance education a learning experience. The World Campus is taking a very important leadership role in making sure that the on-line instruction we offer to the world community is of extremely high quality and filled with the kind of productive interactions which are so critical to good learning.
Grabowski sees further implications of her work with the World Campus. As a researcher of instructional technology, she believes having the opportunity to watch students at work in a developing media is invaluable to finding the best ways to teach and to learn.
The achievements and lessons learned during the first year of the World Campus represent valuable advances in the distance education field. Penn State has launched a significant number of new on-line learning products, increased awareness and acceptance of distance education and served as a model for other universities planning virtual campus programs.
According to Dr. Elizabeth M. Hawthorne, director of academic programs for the World Campus, the World Campus designers have learned to adapt to rapid changes in the field, teaching faculty and others how to apply on-line learning innovations. Given current technology, the World Campus has adopted a multiple-media approach that includes traditional distance learning technologies and print materials, as well as the newer digital media. This strategy, faculty claim, has been instrumental to student and program success. In fact, faculty are positive about the overall quality of on-line instruction through the World Campus; some have enriched their courses through on-line simulations, case studies and digital enhancements to content presentation.
Penn State has also used this first year to create a strong support infrastructure for both faculty and students. Building on its long tradition of distance education, the Penn State World Campus is committed to providing a full complement of services to its distant learners. As a result, World Campus students use an on-line catalog, register through Internet-based electronic commerce, find answers to frequently asked questions and get technical support on-line. Staff are available by phone and e-mail to address administrative, advising and technical issues. Future plans to enhance the on-line environment include library services, increased advising and financial aid accessible worldwide.
Experience has also reinforced the need for World Campus programs to be market-based. Most of the 12 programs for academic year 199899 have at least one industry or professional association partner, including the Alliance for Employee Development (AT&T/Lucent Technologies), AT&T Learning Network, Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, the Institute of Noise Control Engineering, Intergraph Corporation and the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors.
Dr. A.J. Turgeon, professor of agronomy at Penn State, is excited about the future of Penn States World Campus. Institutionally, the World Campus will enable Penn State to take a leadership position globally. Top-ranking University programs like Turfgrass Management can help establish the World Campus as a high-quality global educational resource.For more information, please visit the World Campus Web site.