Indiana Daily Student

New plan promotes virtual technology, hands-on learning

University releases strategic plan for distributed education

IU students will soon get the chance to go places and meet people without leaving their houses or residence hall rooms as part of IU's system-wide Strategic Plan for Distributed Education. \nThe plan includes seven general recommendations and 35 proposed actions that are aiming to increase technological innovations and provide greater access to educational resources at IU to both students and non-students. \nErwin Boschmann, IU-Purdue University at Indianapolis professor of chemistry and associate vice president for distributed education, said although there have been distributed education initiatives developed by and for individual campuses, courses and professors, this is IU's first comprehensive plan.\n"The common term is distance education," Boschmann said, "but at Indiana we used distributed education because it includes any technology or media-enhanced education that helps students on campus and off campus."\nIn order to develop the plan, Boschmann visited IU campuses and talked to "academic leaders" such as faculty and deans. He brought the information he learned to an official committee made up of members from every IU campus, which he headed. Together, the committee members spent about a year, beginning in June of 1999, developing goals and recommendations for a plan on distributed education.\nBoschmann said aspects of the plan will begin influencing programs on campus this fall.\n"Our goal is to successfully bring distributed education into the mainstream of IU's teaching and learning," he said. "We've asked faculty interested in the area to help put courses online and to facilitate with the programmers to display the courses in the proper way."\n Under the recommendations of the plan, students will become more engaged in their courses through hands-on exercises and virtual technology.\n For example, Simon Brassell, professor of geological sciences, teaches an introductory course in oceanography each year. He said one of the major challenges is giving students a feel for the ocean when the nearest oceans are hundreds of miles away.\n "The oceanographic community has been very rapid and effective in putting a lot of images and data on the Web," Brassell said. "Rather than having students sit in lab where they are just doing exercises from a book, they can go on the web and look at images and date describing oceanographic phenomena." \n A multimedia research and development unit from the School of Continuing Studies provides other examples. Students in art appreciation classes can learn elements of design or pigment mixing by actually balancing shapes on a plane or combining colors on a palette using a computer. \nAlumni and other non-students will also benefit from the increased uses of technology, mainly through non-credit opportunities, Boschmann said. For example, although a non-student might not have the time or the money to take a class about art and architecture in Rome, culminating with a trip to Greece, they would be able to go on-line and link to real life pictures and descriptions without buying a plane ticket.\n"These people want the knowledge, not necessarily the diploma," Boschmann said. "They just want to be updated in their field or to generate enjoyment."\nJacqueline Blackwell, associate professor of education at IUPUI, is already teaching a class that utilizes an innovation promoted by the new plan. Blackwell teaches an early childhood class that she presides over in Indianapolis. Still, students from IU in Bloomington and the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville are enrolled in the class and interact with Blackwell and classmates through a live, two-way audio and video TV connection.\n"The exciting part for me is to develop a community of learners," Blackwell said. "Rather than having three classes, my goal is to have one class with three locations. It allows for a very rich experience in terms of involving different parts of the state."\nBlackwell said she learns the names of all her students no matter what city they live in. Students from the class occasionally work with classmates from different cities on projects via the Web, e-mail and less frequently, by phone. The class also holds a chat session on-line with Blackwell.\nBoth Blackwell and Boschmann support this approach in part because it gives interested students in remote places the ability to take advantage of well-known professors and programs without having long commutes or spending large amounts of money.\n"If you had the choice between taking a class on TV or in the classroom you would probably choose the classroom," Boschmann said. "Or maybe you wouldn't because you have to drive two hours back and forth each time. With this kind of communication it really becomes almost like you're actually in the class itself with the professor. We just have to make sure the technology always works."\nBlackwell also stresses that integrating distributed education into programs is happening on more than just the college learning level.\n"I work with a group of pre-kindergartners and they've had a distributed education experience," she said. "Even our youngest learners are having the chance to connect with students from other campuses. The children were delighted to communicate with teachers from other campuses and asked me for more. It's not just happening here; it's happening everywhere"

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