Distance learning goes abroad

Students in GW’s distance learning program are trading in their classroom seats for chairs in front of their computers worldwide.

Outside the United States, students are participating in new distance learning classes that GW is offering in conjunction with the United States Navy and GW’s Medical Center.

Through the program, one student worked toward his degree on the U.S.S. Roosevelt in Korea and Tokyo. Another student took classes on the U.S.S. Nassau while on active duty during the Kosovo crisis this year.

In 1997, GW began offering bachelor of science degrees, graduate clinical degrees, clinical management and physicians assistants degrees – all on the Internet.

“The University already had a relationship with the U.S. Navy,” said Steve McGraw, the co-director of the Health Sciences Distance Learning at GW. “Several sailors interested in further medical training approached GW about helping them take courses from their small ships in remote locations.”

The result of those inquiries was the bachelor of science degree for independent duty corpsmen, established in January 1997. GW organized a distance learning program that allows sailors with some medical training to complete a bachelor’s degree using videotape and the Internet. So far, 10 students have graduated with the degree based on classes taken through distance learning.

GW expanded the program to include courses for non-military students who, for various reasons, cannot attend a traditional university. Degree-granting programs for clinical management, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, clinical research administration and in emergency services management are now available to students with Internet access, a television and a VCR.

“These are non-traditional students, average age about 35,” said Cathy Turley, the other co-director of the Health Sciences Distance Learning program. “They are interested in continuing their education, but before distance learning, they had no way to do that. The distance learning programs allow students in rural areas, with full-time jobs or family commitments to further their education.”

More than 100 students are enrolled in the programs combined. Students must log onto the Internet once every class period, usually one-week long. On the Internet, students participate in discussion groups, e-mail professors, do research and turn in assignments.

“Some students don’t last long with distance learning, but most do,” McGraw said. “There is more time to think and to do research. Normally, reluctant students are forced to `speak.’ They can’t just coast in the back.”

Turley agreed participation is key to the program.

“There is more `talking in class’ so to speak,” she said. “Many otherwise shy students are more comfortable online, and there is more professor-student interaction. And distance learning really improves a student’s writing ability, which helps throughout a career. “

Parts of the distance learning program are being integrated into on-campus classes. Starting this year, students on the Foggy Bottom campus can take distance learning classes, and some online classes may be required coursework in the future.

“It’s synergistic,” McGraw said. “It exposes on-campus students to a new type of learning.”

GW expects that type of learning to grow, McGraw said. The number of programs offered by GW has been growing each year, and enrollment in the programs is rising.

“Distance learning enhances on-campus learning, and the distinction between the two is blurring,” Turley said. “It won’t replace the Marvin Center or the residence halls, but it is an exciting opportunity.”

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