• Summer 2013

    Volume 35, Number 4

    Virginia Tech Magazine, summer 2013

  • Enriching your lives through distance learning

    Tom Tillar '69

    Distance learning is older than Virginia Tech.

    In 1728, Caleb Phillips, of Boston, Mass., advertised teaching shorthand through weekly mailed lessons. This concept evolved from purely correspondence courses to radio and television, delivering educational content for credit.

    Then came the Internet, offering both synchronous learning and asynchronous learning. In synchronous learning, all participants are "present" at the same time—in Web conferencing, video conferencing, and educational television. In asynchronous learning, participants access course materials on their own schedules, much like with old correspondence courses. Now, PowerPoint, message board forums, email, and video and audio materials are the norm.

    Distance learning allows for a further reach than our physical infrastructure can afford. Faculty and students around the world may interact and collaborate with one another. Physical distance, work obligations, participation in professional events, or even illness do not restrict access to classes. The 800-plus distance-learning courses offered by Virginia Tech are weighted equally with those offered face-to-face. Online courses adhere to the same governance process as traditional courses, and credentials for faculty are equivalent to those teaching traditional courses. Indeed, faculty often do both.

    Some feel that teaching online is inherently less effective than face-to-face, but Peter Macedo (physics '97, M.A. curriculum, design, and instruction '98), director of Virginia Tech's Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning (IDDL), emphasized that "research in the field of teaching and learning reflects time and time again that the quality of the learning experience has little to do with the delivery mode. What does have an effect is the appropriateness of the method chosen and the aptitude of the teacher in delivering the instruction."

    The university offers hundreds of distance-learning courses at the undergraduate level although no online undergraduate degrees are offered or planned. Several master's degrees are offered online, plus post-graduate certificate programs that are increasingly attractive to our alumni. Some of the numerous offerings are illustrated to the right.

    Macedo expands the discussion of distance learning and the IDDL program. As his unit's distance-learning strategic plan states, "Today, Virginia Tech stands at the distinct vantage point to expand the educational opportunities and experiences for its students, creating global access via distance learning." Distance learning is an exciting trend in higher education, and for Hokie alumni, the availability of courses enhances the quality of a Virginia Tech degree.

    Tom Tillar '69
    Vice President for Alumni Relations

    Dave Hunt, communications director
    Shirley Fleet, Class Notes editor

    Summer 2013

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    The Grove: When a house becomes a home

    Data-driven Visionary

    Hokie Spirit: License plate programs bolster pride

  • Digital editions
    digital edition    View or download PDF

    Distance learning enhances experience for students and alumni

    by Peter Macedo '97, M.A. '98

    Peter Macedo

    As a Virginia Tech graduate, I want all students to be able to participate in quality educational experiences. Distance learning allows for a broader curriculum and options for instructional delivery, often bringing students together from distant places on the globe. Most importantly, distance learning provides students with increased opportunities to enroll in classes that will move them forward in their academic and professional careers.

    Virginia Tech offers distance-learning courses at both the undergraduate and the graduate levels, including required courses and free electives during the fall, spring, and summer semesters. Online course credits are transferable throughout the institution and beyond. Undergraduate enrollments have grown annually, rising to 18,442 in the 2011-12 academic year—equivalent to more than 600 30-seat classrooms.

    While there is no undergraduate degree that can be earned completely through distance learning, including online courses as a part of an academic career can help students graduate early, double major and/or minor, fulfill major and minor requirements, and stay on track each semester with course scheduling options. Virginia Tech's 560 graduate distance-learning course offerings include more than 30 master's and certificate programs in a variety of fields.

    Through the efforts of Virginia Tech's Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning (IDDL), two professional development certificates have been established to prepare faculty to teach at a distance. In this model, Tier 1 instructors, typically new to the online environment, receive tool-based professional development, and Tier 2 participants examine strategies, pedagogy, and best practices. Faculty who have participated have consistently earned higher ratings in student perception assessments than those who have not. To date, 300 individuals have participated in the certificate programs.

    Peter Macedo (physics '97, M.A. curriculum, design, and instruction '98) is the director of Virginia Tech's Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning.

    Distance-learning strategic plan:
    Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning:

    Quinton Nottingham

    Quinton Nottingham '89, '91, '95, associate professor of business information technology

    Some examples of online courses include

    • English 1654: Introduction to Science Fiction, an award-winning class recognized for its innovative use of collaborative wiki assignments.

    • Science and Technology Studies 2054: Engineering Cultures, created by University Distinguished Professor Gary Downey.

    • Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology 2135: Human Anatomy and Physiology, the first Virginia Tech online class to integrate a hands-on lab component.

    In addition, some graduate degrees are offered entirely online. These include

    • The master of arts in political science, credited with being the university's first online master's program, launched in 1997.

    • The master of arts in instructional technologies, considered one of the finest instructional programs in the country. Students range from K-12 educators to professionals in business, government, and nonprofits.

    • Master of information technology, recognized in 2012 for the second year as one of the nation's best distance-learning programs by U.S. News & World Report.

    For its excellence in developing distance-learning programs, Virginia Tech will receive the National University Technology Network (NUTN) 2013 Institutional Achievement Award at a NUTN conference in September.
    The panel of reviewers called Tech's submission the "gold standard" of nominations, citing the university's organizational commitment to distance learning and its methods for ensuring effectiveness and quality, efforts to advance the field, encouragment of faculty members, and creation of the Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning as a resource.

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