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$2 Million Federal Grant Bolsters NEO Distance Learning Program

A $2 million Department of Education Title III grant designed to help institutions of higher education better serve Native American students is going to help Northeastern Oklahoma A&M (NEO) upgrade its distance learning offerings.

Awarded in late-September and distributed over a five-year period, the grant will be used to develop three online degree programs (hospitality management, early childhood education, and criminal justice). The funding will also cover the cost of four new staff members, the installation and maintenance of high-quality streaming video services for NEO's online courses, and a number of other IT initiatives.

Jeffery L. Hale, president of the Miami, OK-based college, said the school's location in northeastern Oklahoma's "Indian territory" puts it in the position of being able to vie for such grants. The new programs are not limited to Native American students, but, Hale said, this group is the focus of the grants.

Home to 39 federally recognized tribes, Oklahoma has one of the largest American Indian populations of all the states. "In our tiny county alone we have nine federally recognized tribes," said Hale. "For a long time roughly one in five of our students has been American Indian."

With the funds NEO will hire a technology specialist who will develop online support services for students and a distance education curriculum designer who will help faculty members redesign their courses. The college also has plans to hire a project director and an administrative assistant.

Classrooms will be equipped to capture, stream, preserve, and distribute real-time classroom materials to students' computers and mobile devices. New equipment will include single-channel encoders, Cisco switches, a media server, a storage server, wireless network cameras, and various software programs and applications.

The equipment will improve the quality of NEO's online courses and allow for increased interaction between the instructors and students and also between students enrolled in the face-to-face version of the class and students enrolled in the online version.

Several classrooms will be equipped with iPads to allow students in classrooms to collaborate with pupils who are enrolled in the same class. "They'll be able to work on shared projects using Google Docs, wikis, and other applications," said Hale.

Hale said NEO's internal planning team is currently finalizing a job description for the school's new project director, who will oversee the grant distribution for the next five years. Once the project director is in place, the school will hire the additional technical support personnel, said Hale, "and start gearing up to get these new degree programs online and in use."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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