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Ottawa U Signs 'Game Changer' Deal To Expand Online Program

Ottawa University, a 7,000-student institution, has just signed a first-of-its-kind agreement to help it deliver on a major program expansion. Ottawa will work with Blackboard to launch Project Virtuoso, an online initiative that will allow any student in any state to have synchronous and asynchronous interactions with faculty members and fellow students. The project is part of Ottawa's long-range strategic plan, called Vision 2020.

According to university coverage, the goal is to eventually allow courses to be simultaneously taught "live" to in-class students and remote students via video conferencing. All course sessions will be recorded to give students 24/7 access to class lectures and they'll be able to collaborate with faculty and staff through virtual office hours, video conferencing, and instant messaging capabilities. The new program will be piloted by the business school starting this spring. Eventually, the project will link students and faculty from Ottawa's five campuses--the main one in Ottawa, KS as well as others in Kansas City, Arizona, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

In that same coverage, the university said that its online initiatives have "proven very successful for us thus far." In fall 2012 Ottawa delivered more online credit hours than "ground-based" credits for the first time.

The new initiative, the administration said, would "require major new resources to support the technology and marketing necessary to get us there, and we are negotiating a very significant new partnership to access those resources at this writing." Although details were sketchy, it's possible that Ottawa has set up a similar arrangement with Blackboard that other schools have with companies such as 2U and Deltak. In these deals, the vendors provide capital and help with multiple aspects of the online expansion, such as marketing, recruiting, enrollment, and conversion of courses to an online format, in return for a cut of the returns.

This would be a new direction for Blackboard, which is the leader in learning management systems and offers a number of other technologies for education environments, including mobile, collaboration, campus IDs, and analytics. What's new in this case is that Blackboard will also work with faculty members in helping them develop their expertise in delivering online courses.

As part of the new arrangement, the university said in a statement, Blackboard has agreed to establish the Blackboard Center for Academic Innovation, which will be housed in Ottawa's new Gangwish Gibson Library and Student Center, which will begin construction this year. Company funds will be used to augment the resources supporting the university's Curriculum Design Studio to set up a media unit and bolster its online course production values and capabilities.

"We are delighted that Blackboard has chosen to partner with Ottawa University in this bold new venture at a time when all higher educational institutions are being challenged to respond to an environment of exponential change," said University President Kevin Eichner. "Clearly, this is a world where students are demanding their educational experiences and credentials on much more flexible and student-centered platforms and on different terms than have historically been available... This partnership promises to be a real game changer for us and potentially for all of higher education."

"We are very excited to partner with such a forward-thinking university as they take this large step in growing their student population and providing a more innovative education experience," added Katie Blot, president of Blackboard’s Education Services Division. "This is an ambitious endeavor and we are eager to work toward making Ottawa’s Vision 2020 goal become a reality through an expansion of the learning opportunities offered to students of all types."

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