In the Spotlight:

Distance-learning Program Gains National Attention

Announced during President J. Michael Adams’ inaugural address, Fairleigh Dickinson’s distance-learning initiative is garnering national attention.

Stories and broadcasts featuring the news that Fairleigh Dickinson has become the first traditional university to require students to take online courses have appeared in local and national media, including CNN, MSNBC, USA Today, The Boston Globe, U.S. News and World Report, the Chicago Tribune, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Associated Press, The Chronicle of Higher Education and Voice of America.

“We’re pleased that our efforts are resonating with the public and that this exciting program has received so much interest throughout the nation,” says Adams.

Adams emphasizes, though, that the distance-learning program is just one part of Fairleigh Dickinson’s overall mission to provide a global education. Among other developments, academic programs are incorporating global issues across the curriculum, the Office of Global Education was created to support world-based initiatives, and the Institute for Global Commerce was formed to focus on the relationship between commerce and world peace.

“Every Fairleigh Dickinson student will know how to learn online, but more importantly, they will discover how the Internet can be used to connect people and to open doorways to new worlds and new cultures.”
— J. Michael Adams

The distance-learning component, however, has most vividly captured the imagination of the public. Under the program, beginning in September, each FDU undergraduate student must take one fully online course per 32 credits of study. Adams says, “Every Fairleigh Dickinson student will know how to learn online, but more importantly, they will discover how the Internet can be used to connect people and to open doorways to new worlds and new cultures.”

The University has offered 35 online courses over the past four years, in addition to a full graduate degree program and many Web-enhanced classes. For the undergraduate requirement, FDU will develop approximately 90 to 100 online courses, including ones covering such possible topics as the use of the Internet as a communications, research and learning tool. Over the next four years, the University will spend over $12 million to develop these courses and upgrade the network.

The first online requirement for incoming freshmen will be the Core course, Global Issues, which is being redesigned for online delivery and which must be taken by most students within the first two semesters.

“The selection of this course is especially appropriate considering our global mission,” says Michael Sperling, interim dean of University College: Arts · Sciences · Professional Studies, who is coordinating the implementation of this distance-learning initiative. “The nature of the subject material lends itself very well to using global resources in the teaching/learning process that you can find only on the Web.”

Nation’s First

World Faculty

Adams says that while many universities have introduced online courses to bring programs to new students in distant localities, that is not the philosophy of FDU’s effort. “Rather than using the Internet to bring in students from around the world, we want to emphasize using the Internet to bring the world to our students. The Internet is a powerful learning tool. It can bring teachers and students from throughout the world together, and it can expose students to insights and perspectives found in every corner of the globe.”

Toward that end, the University has begun recruiting a cadre of distinguished scholars and practitioners to serve as world faculty. Cultural, political, academic and business leaders are being identified to partner with campus-based faculty members in the Web-based delivery of courses. World faculty will typically be nominated by a member of the FDU community.

“Their primary role,” Adams says, “will be to bring a global dimension to the learning experience by offering different perspectives and observations on the issues under study. Imagine a student in an anthropology course studying online with an anthropologist in New Guinea or an economics student engaged in an electronic discussion with a virtual faculty member from the World Bank.”

Adams, though, stresses that campus-based faculty will shape the world faculty member’s participation. “While we are adding an arsenal of world-class scholars, the current Fairleigh Dickinson faculty, which is second to none in its breadth and academic expertise, will remain the architects of Fairleigh Dickinson’s global education. They will design the curriculum, organize the content, and continue to provide the traditional classroom environment. We are not taking anything away, but simply adding a new dimension to the educational process.”

World faculty will participate in an online training program to familiarize them with the details and expectations of the program. All communication with world faculty will be Web-based with the world faculty members remaining in their home environments.

Ready, Set, Go!

While Sperling will direct the implementation of the online learning project, Adams has asked Martin Donoff, special assistant to the president for strategic initiatives, to focus on resource and content partnerships.

The faculty, under the leadership of the deans and provosts, will address such issues as the content of the courses and how they fit into the overall curriculum.

The Office of Information Resources and Technology will focus on providing expanded bandwidth for the campus networks, increasing the capacity of the network servers, ensuring that FDU has one network connection per student in the residence halls, and providing remote access to faculty teaching distance-learning courses.

The Office of Educational Technology will play a central role in supporting the faculty in developing and delivering courses. Among other things it will be responsible for selecting the course delivery platform, supplying instructional design services, providing faculty training and support and engaging in ongoing assessments.

Controversial Format?

There has been controversy over the merits of online learning, but Adams says he has found that “by every measure distance learning can be just as effective as classroom teaching. Neither is automatically superior. You can be taught well in the classroom and you can be taught poorly. The same applies to the Internet.”

“By every measure distance learning can be just as effective as classroom teaching.”
— J. Michael Adams

Some contend that an element of personal interaction is lost over the Internet. Adams says this issue will be addressed in FDU’s program. “We will provide opportunities for students to come together online and in person, and we will make sure students can schedule meetings with professors online and, when possible, in person.”

Adams concludes, “One thing is not debatable: the Internet is here to stay and we have to prepare people to use it well. Not only can it provide tremendous benefits for a lifetime of learning, it also can bring people and cultures closer together. With the learning capability of the Internet, students can reach out beyond the normal boundaries, explore new worlds and learn how to play leading roles on a global stage.”

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