Modeling Distance Education Practices for Graduate Students

Article excerpt

Graduate students in education are facing new demands on their skills when they complete their program of study. A quick perusal of current job descriptions for those with a master's degree in education often finds phrases like "experienced in distance learning" and "must be able to collaborate with others." Each year, rising travel costs encourage more organizations to use the Internet to provide training and manage project workflow for staff in both satellite offices and on the road. For these new distance programs to be successful, administrators must be hired who have experience in both the philosophy and mechanics of distance education and distance collaboration. However, college and university curricula for graduate students in education typically lack required coursework in distance education; workplace collaboration with the Internet is rarely even discussed. Graduate students are leaving their programs unprepared to set up and administer distance education and collaboration systems for education, non-profits, and industry. The Continuing and College Education department at Western Washington University created three no-cost, online resources with the course management system Blackboard to better prepare master's degree graduates for these new directions in adult education and business communications. The Adult Education Distance Learning Lab (AEDLL) is a cyber-lab for field experience students to develop both distance education and collaboration solutions as they interact entirely online with their real-world clients from education and industry. The Student Support Center provides practical resource sharing, communication, and collaboration services for graduate students on several campuses, showcasing stateof-the-art groupware concepts. The Learning Object Repository, designed and managed by students for use by faculty, illustrates the power of electronic content sharing and peer collaboration. This article explains how these three online Blackboard resources were created for graduate education students to observe and experience contemporary educational theory and technology first-hand.

INTRODUCTION

Graduate programs in education are very traditional in their offerings. It is not unusual to find a curriculum that was created 25 years ago still in place with only minor modifications. Each curriculum has its foundation courses, research courses, teaching and instructional design courses, and an occasional instructional technology course. Students graduate and leave the program prepared to teach, design curricula, research topics and understand the principles of traditional educational delivery. However, with the dramatic changes in the delivery of information and the technological innovations brought on by the telecommunications explosion, graduates may find themselves in a world in which they are ill-equipped to handle.

The world around academia has changed dramatically in the past 10 years and classrooms are starting to change also. Most campuses now have at least some of their courses delivered electronically. This dramatic change in delivery has come about in a relatively short period of time. Less than 10 years ago, most courses were offered in a traditional face-to-face fashion. The term "faceto-face" wasn't even in use 10 years ago. Classrooms then usually had a screen, an overhead projector, and traditional chalk blackboards. Today's classrooms are equipped with multimedia computers connected to the Internet to accommodate many types of e-learning, learning accomplished with the use of electronic (e) technology. Less than 10 years ago, students most likely used a library computer and communicated by telephone, fax, and postal ("snail") mail. Today's students use wireless laptop computers to download assignments and exams nearly anywhere, chat with other students on cell phones, and routinely use e-mail for communication and to submit assignments. Most students seldom have a need to come to the main campus or study in the university library. …