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Tennessee Public Universities in Online Campus Collaboration

We are starting to see state university programs embrace online education technology and in the process, create some interesting academic options for their students. In Tennessee, total enrollment in distance education courses is growing an average of 30% each semester at the Tennessee Board of Regents' six universities, 13 community colleges and 27 technology centers.

The Board of Regents (TBR) has devised a program that gives students at all its campuses access to distance learning programs offered on any campus. The Campus Collaborative offers degrees and workforce training by sharing resources among its 46 affiliated schools. Through Regents Online Degree Program (RODP) and Regents Online Continuing Education (ROCE), students register at one campus but choose distance learning courses from any participating institution.

"Students get to take classes from all kinds of instructors," says Dianna Rust, an associate dean in distance education at Middle Tennessee State University. "And they get to take classes that their institution might not have been able to offer because it didn't have enough students to justify it." Currently, RODP programs are asynchronous, which means students complete the coursework independently on their own schedule. That's important to students who work odd hours or juggle work, family and school.

If you're interested in this new venture, the TBR website has a multimedia school orientation on the home page. There is also a list of any new online degree options; at the moment they're featuring a degree in health information technology. This degree program draws classes from several of the state's public universities and colleges; it's an example of a new degree which requires the teaching resources for just one campus but is available to students from all.

In the spring of this year they launched an online associate degree in nursing that is designed to prepare students for the RN exam. "The establishment of a program designed to deliver the didactic component in an online environment, as well as the opportunity to ��share' faculty resources in teaching/supervising the clinical component of the curriculum allows the current associate degree programs to increase capacity while maximizing resources." This program is meant to help with the critical shortage of nurses in Tennessee, and to do so ASAP.

There is no single technological protocol for teaching effective online courses. At UT-Knoxville, for example, most professors use voice-over IP technology to deliver lectures and interact with students in real-time. It's somewhat like a conference call, but on a computer. It works well for student-teacher contact, fostering mentoring relationships between the professor and online students, which are especially critical in graduate-level courses. There are currently online versions of graduate degrees in education and human resources along with several other options.

Also, according to Assistant Dean of Distance Education George Hoemann, "There are quite a number of counties in Tennessee that don't have broadband access," he explains. "When you are thinking about creating a distance program, you still need to design to the lowest common denominator and then take advantage of broadband in an incremental way."

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