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Thomas Edison State College Gets Grant to Expand Variety of Distance Learning Modes

Thomas Edison State College in Trenton, NJ, which specializes in distance learning, has received funding from the feds to help it expand how college courses are delivered. The latest initiative, funded by a two-year, $250,000 federal grant, will accelerate the deployment of a new course delivery system that uses cloud computing technologies and is designed to increase access and minimize technical issues for adults earning a college degree.

The grant, awarded by the United States Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), will be used to develop 40 courses over the next two years. Those will also be configured for delivery via flash drives, a medium introduced in spring 2009 for those students who lack constant Internet access. Flash drive users need Web access only to submit assignments and participate in online discussions. The remainder of course work can be completed offline.

"This grant enables us to make our courses and degree programs more readily accessible to students in locations all over the world, even where broadband Internet access is limited, including remote rural areas in the United States, in the Middle East, and on ships at sea," said George Pruitt, college president. "The new technology is helping us increase access for our students who cannot be tethered to a computer for long periods of time. It will also allow us to deliver education to students where they are located and in the format they select."

The college is developing a second generation of flash drive-based courses and will also explore the integration of cloud computing technologies to store course content for mobile students. The goal is to develop a platform-independent course delivery system that allows the college to offer courses in more formats, including:

  • As an asynchronous online course with discussion boards and class interactions;
  • As an independent study course or examination program, where students have no interaction with other learners;
  • Delivered entirely on a flash drive, secure digital (SD) card, or other removable storage device; and
  • Delivered to a smartphone or other Web-enabled device.

The project is being led by Henry van Zyl, the college's vice provost of Directed Independent Adult Learning. "I think what we are doing is revolutionizing course delivery methods in higher education," he said. "We are going to be able to reach a level of flexibility and access that is unprecedented, and that goes beyond recreating the online experience in an offline setting."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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