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  1. November 3, 2011 at 6:24 am

    Great Non-Profit Schools Currently Online

    Today’s Guest: Sarah Fudin

    Sarah Fudin currently works in community relations for the University of Southern California’s Master of Arts in Teaching program, which provides aspiring teachers the opportunity to earn a Master’s degree and teaching credential online while learning how to become a teacher. Outside of work Sarah enjoys running, reading and Pinkberry frozen yogurt.

    Online education has exploded in recent years as new technologies have emerged to replicate the classroom experience via the Internet. Over 5.6 million students were enrolled in online courses in 2009, and the number continues to grow as the offerings multiply and become more advanced. For-profit colleges led the way in online education, but have been criticized in recent years for providing questionable value. In the meantime, non-profit colleges have stepped up and developed high quality online programs that use a variety of emerging technologies and methods to teach students.

    The University of Southern California was one of the first highly respected schools to start offering online graduate degrees. Its first program was the Master’s of Arts in Teaching that it developed in conjunction with 2tor, a New York-based company that partners with elite universities to create online degree programs. For the MAT@USC program, they developed a state of the art Learning Management System (LMS) that makes heavy use of video and encourages interaction between students.

    The Learning Management System employs a combination of pre-existing open source tools and ones specifically developed by 2tor. The open source course management system Moodle provides the backbone of the LMS, and is supplemented with open source Kaltura for video and Adobe Connect to host classroom sessions. The result is an experience that allows students to attend live video classes where each of their peers are all on the screen at once, to post comments on online discussion boards and to review course texts online. Students can even access course content from their iPad and iPhone with the MAT@USC app.

    USC has also brought its Master’s in Social Work degree online. They again partnered with 2tor and developed a Virtual Academic Center (VAC) that closely resembled the LMS in the Master’s in Teaching program. Like the MAT platform, the VAC integrates familiar social networking tools to allow students to create profiles and get to know one another through online communities and interest groups. They can attend professors’ virtual office hours through video calls, watch documentary style videos with course content or work through interactive exercises. Students can post video messages for asynchronous discussions with classmates or chat with them live.

    Other schools, like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, take a different approach. MIT’s Open Courseware project provides online access to nearly all of MIT course content free of charge to anyone with an Internet connection. They do not, however, grant any degrees or certificates; the material is meant for people to work through on their own. MIT also uses an open source content management system called Plone to host the courses. Since MIT is providing all of this content for free, less of it is specially developed for the online version. They post syllabi, course outlines, old exams and solutions, and sometimes audio or video lectures, but many courses require outside textbooks to follow along. Video and audio lectures are available for free through iTunes U, which is an extension of Apple’s iTunes store.

    Southern New Hampshire University has also created a thriving online component that includes both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Since such a wide variety of courses of study are available, there is variation in how each is taught. SNHU employs the widely used Blackboard platform to host and manage its content. Students can view their grades, post to online discussion boards, send their peers and professors private messages, and even take tests online. Students can read texts within Blackboard or save them to their local computers for later. The courses include the same content as those taught on campus, but are managed by adjunct faculty who respond to students’ questions and grade assignments.

    Though the three schools described above each use different technologies and methods for their online programs, each has been successful in attracting students and educating them. This is but a small sample of the universities online and technologies employed to teach students over the Internet.

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