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Penn State Wins Award for Online GIS Degree

Penn State has poured a lot of effort into their online effort; as a result their World Campus is probably among the top five online education programs among the country's top traditional universities. Recently online education foundation The Sloan Consortium recognized the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences' Master of Geographic Information Systems program delivered through the World Campus as the 2009 Most Outstanding Online Teaching and Learning Program.

A generation ago a college's earth sciences or mineral sciences program was usually about mining. Today Penn State is offering an information technology degree through that department that trains professionals in the field of geographic information systems - GIS. There is more to GIS that GPS, apparently, as the description of the profession extends well beyond mapping out street grids.

"GIS professionals use computer technologies to visualize, analyze and display data. They work in local government, environmental engineering and resource management, utilities, transportation planning, emergency management and homeland security, and many other fields."

Certainly the weather systems today that utilize Doppler radar and computer generated projections qualify as an important GIS service. The program offers a certificate in GIS studies to post graduate students, and has a complete master's degree in information systems program dedicated to the field. Penn State opened its online GIS certificate program in 1999 and today offers 26 courses for certification and degree purposes.

"To date, there have been nearly 9,000 online enrollments by students from every state and many countries in the combined Master of GIS and Postbaccalaureate Certificates in GIS and Geospatial Intelligence. The department has awarded nearly 1,300 GIS certificates and 55 Master of GIS degrees."

This program illustrates the speed with which online learning technology is progressing. The packaged interface designs now available for online teaching include the technology to assemble videotaped lectures with multimedia presentations for presentation purposes. The ability for students to share a discussion with an instructor or professor about such a complex and graphic academic topic as geographic information systems shows that the virtual classroom has come a long way from a one-dimensional, one way communication format.

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