Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Shape of Things to Come!

Going the distance

Posted on 11/6/2007 11:05:58 AM

Through the window it might look as if Nancy Ernst, lecturer in Applied Mathematics at Kettering University, was teaching Calculus II to an empty classroom. In reality, she is using the latest in distance learning technology to deliver lessons to 13 students in four different school districts, without the students having to leave their home schools.

Ernst is teaching the pilot class in Kettering’s new distance education classroom, which enables the university to have a direct link to students and teachers in the Genesee Intermediate School District, and beyond the county boundary.

The classroom was funded by the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, Citizens Banking Charitable Foundation Trust, Loeb CharitableTrust, and a Department of Education collaborative grant involving Genesee Intermediate School District and Kettering University.

“This project is part of Kettering President Stan Liberty’s vision to collaborate with the K-12 education system in Flint and Genesee County,and collaborate with other higher education institutions in the area,” said Robert Nichols, director of External Affairs at Kettering, of the distance learning classroom. “The opportunity to offer dual enrollment through distance learningwas made possible because of the GenNET and FANET project in all the area highschools and the leadership of the Greater Flint Educational Consortium."

GenNET, the Genesee Network for Education Telecommunications, and FANET, Genesee County’s higher education network, allow local school district classrooms to link together with FANETclassrooms through a fiber optic cable network that links voice, video and datacapabilities.

“All of this came to fruition within the last year,” Nichols said. “Through the collaboration of the GFEC, the local higher educationinstitutions: Baker College, Mott Community College, the University of Michigan-Flint and Kettering, met with the superintendents and principals of highschools within GISD’s service area to ask what academic topics they needed helpproviding their students."

Nichols credits Robert Hahn, coordinator of K-12 projects office of the associate provost at UM-Flint, for being the driving force that kept the project moving forward and launching within 12months.

Kettering’s distance learning focus, along with the dual enrollment program, is to help middle and high school teachers make math and science relevant to all students, accordingto Bahram Roughani, professor and chair of physics at Kettering. Within the new Michigan curriculum, graduation requirements include four years each of science and mathematics. For many students, these subjects are abstract, said Roughani. The Kettering faculty's specialized talents inapplications of mathematics and science are ideal for assisting teachers in helping students answer that question, "Why do I need to know this?"

In addition to making math and science relevant, other advantages to using distance education for dual enrollment include: students are not on the road attending classes at the colleges and universities and can participate in their extra-curricular activities; both teachers and students save time and the cost of transportation by remaining at their school sites; students receive quality instruction and K-12 teachers benefit from professional collaboration with their higher education counterparts. Students also get a jump start on earning college credits and school districts can provide advanced courses without hiring additional teachers.

While the pilot class is still underway at Kettering, there has already been a growing interest among K-12 educators in partnering with the university through distance education technology.

“Educators from Grand Rapids and Big Rapids, Michigan, have contacted me about working with us to build enthusiasm among their students for math, science and engineering programs,” Roughani said. “My hope is that by expanding our outreach and K-12 education programs through our new distance learning capability, within the next few years we will experience the need to build a second room to accommodate all programs. We would like to offer a broad selection of courses that would enable high school students to plan ahead for their college careers.”

In addition to Kettering’s Calculus II class, as part of the project this fall, Mott Community College is offering courses in Arabic and College Algebra; Baker College is offering a course in Human Relations and Psychology; and UM-Flint is offering courses in Introduction to Ethics and Anthropology.

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