New Menus and Services at the HETS Virtual Plaza Portal

The Hispanic Educational Telecommunications System (HETS) recently included new services and new menus to the Virtual Plaza portal (www.virtualplaza.org) in the Internet. The homepage was re-designed for a more dynamic image and to provide headlines with links to news and articles of interest, as well as to include sections the show sponsors’ banners and logos.

Worth mentioning among the Virtual Plaza’s new services is a news section where HETS member institutions and other project partners can publish articles and news briefs directly into the portal. In the Student Placita menu, the “Learning Effectively Online” free module has been added. Using it, students can learn basic skills in order to take Internet courses. Similarly, the menu of the Faculty Placita now offers a wide selection of educational resources that have the goal of enriching the online teaching and learning experience.

HETS has designed a new FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section, which features a list of answers to general questions about the project and the portal, as well as answers to questions regarding services and opportunities offered through the Virtual Plaza. The Cibercafe was restructured to ease access to different electronic communications forums by having a common starting point. Also from this area, a tool is offered to schedule events in order to organize cyber-conferences using the chat and other options for electronic discussion.

In the Mentors Placita, a new communication space known as las salitas (The Lounges) has been provided to allow each pair of ciber-padrino and ciber-ahijado to meet and talk. In order for the mentor and mentee not to depend exclusively on email, each salita has its own forum for electronic messages and access to chat. The salitas also provide access to scheduled activities and to a tool to share documents. The Mentors Program allows for a match to take place between a student and a professional that can offer guidance about the career world. To complement the online Mentoring Program, the Virtual Plaza offers the section Career Exploration. This section has been optimized with models for preparing a resume, and cover and thank you letters, which students can use when they are looking for a job. Finally, the portal’s menu was expanded to include a new section of Academic Collaboration, which explains the benefits of participating in collaboration projects that join professors from different institutions and features models and ideas of for developing online inter-institutional programs and certificates.

As part of the promotional efforts to spread the word about the services available through the HETS Virtual Plaza, a public service announcement has been produced through Channel 40 in Puerto Rico, property of the Ana G. Méndez University System, in partnership with the Inter American University of Puerto Rico and the Sacred Heart University. It will be distributed through public broadcast stations throughout the states where there are HETS member institutions as well as in Puerto Rico.

The Virtual Plaza is a bilingual interactive portal for online learning, teacher collaboration, career exploration and mentoring support. This project is an innovative response to the need of preparing Hispanic students with technological skills and a deeper understanding of the increasing interdependence between the new global economy and the digital society. The Virtual Plaza was created by HETS and has been financed, in part, with funds from the Learning Anytime Anywhere Partnerships (LAAP) program, the Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE), and the U.S. Department of Education, as well as in kind contributions from HETS affiliated institutions and the private sector.

HETS represents the first telecommunications consortium created to serve the Hispanic community through distance education and it has the support of 18 autonomous higher education member institutions in the United States, Puerto Rico and Colombia, all certified by diverse academic accreditation agencies. For more information about this topic, please contact Dr. Nitza M. Hernández, HETS Executive Director and Learning Anywhere Anytime Partnership (LAAP) Project Director, through her email: nhernandez@virtualplaza.org or by calling the HETS offices at 787-766-1912, extensions 2221 or 2222.

University of Texas at Brownsvile – Online Course Offering Doubled Last Year

The University of Texas and Texas Southmost College continues to forge ahead in its continuing effort to providing quality online service and support to its students and faculty involved in online courses. The Office of Distance Education is the principle agency that makes these services possible. This office continuously strives to put technology and technology support services within grasp of all students and faculty. Its vigilance in these matters allows The Office of Distance Education to continually meet with success in offering and supporting its online courses in all modalities.

This continued success is evidenced by the perpetual demand for these types of courses. This demand in turn has generated growth in the number of courses offered as well as the number of students taking these types of courses. In fact, the number of courses offerings has doubled since last year from 67 to 130. Additionally, student enrollment in DE courses has also risen over the past year from 8% to 23%.

Thus, these successes are met with significant advances for developing newer and better services for students. The most impressive of these new developments is a partnership between The Office of Distance Education and The University of Texas at Austin TeleCampus. This partnership will launch Blackboard as UTB/TSC’s new Learning Management System. This will be the official campus platform for all UTB/TSC courses in all of their modalities– hybrid, online and video courses. It will facilitate student and faculty interactions by providing integrated course tools that replace several existing software. It will incorporate innovative teaching with technological know-how to achieve superior course quality. Finally, the simplicity of use and implementation will allow both students and staff to experience a smooth transition into this new learning environment.

As mentioned, quality is the first commitment of The Office of Distance Education. Therefore, as an added benefit to the partnership, TeleCampus is providing top-of-the-line faculty development session. The training sessions will be conducted by experienced TeleCampus staff. Specifically, the trainers will be TeleCampus’ Michael Anderson, UTTC Technology and Course Development Manager and Lori McNabb, UTTC Student and Faculty Services Manager. UTB/TSC and The Office of Distance Education look forward to continued growth and expansion with maintained quality in services and support for all their students and faculty.

Miami-Dade – Awarded $500,000 to Develop On-line Writing Lab

Miami-Dade Community College´s English as a Second Language (ESL)Department at the Kendall campus has been awarded $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Education´s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE). This grant will enable faculty to create an innovative, online writing program for ESL students on campus and in the community. The project will be called eWriting: ESL Writing Success.

M-DCC is confident the program will help students because having added lab components to its present writing courses has already improved students’ academic performance. The new eWriting program will allow ESL writers to improve their skills and scores with the accessibility and convenience of being able to practice any place with access to the Internet.

One of the benefits of the project’s design is that once it has been successful on the Kendall campus, its results can be compared with those obtained from a full, College-wide implementation. After such a wide-reaching, multi-campus application, the program can be readily adapted by other learning institutions across the country.

The ESL program at M-DCC enrolls over 12,000 students per year, making it the largest of its kind in the U.S. The team assembling the eWriting project at Kendall includes Endowed Teaching Chair recipients, published authors, professors who have taught ESL here for over 20 years, international language consultants, teacher trainers, software designers, grant directors, online course developers, and more.

Miami-Dade Community College prides itself on a rich history of developing and implementing educational innovations to meet the ever-changing needs of the students, communities, and businesses it serves.

New HETS Board of Directors President

Manuel J. Fernós, President of the Inter American University of Puerto Rico (IAUPR), was elected President to the Hispanic Educational Telecommunications System (HETS) during the Board of Directors meeting that took place in New York City’s Herbert H. Lehman College, on June 17th and 18th, 2003. Also elected was the new Vice President, James Lyons, President of the University of California-Dominguez Hills. Likewise, Antonio Pérez, Borough of Manhattan Community College President, and Dolores Fernández, Hostos Community College President were re-elected as Board Secretary and Board Treasurer, respectively.

Currently, IAUPR houses the HETS Consortium headquarters, in its main offices. IAUPR became a Consortium affiliate in 1998 and has since been actively involved in the organizations initiatives and projects. Since 2000, IAUPR co-hosted the Board of Directors meetings celebrated in Puerto Rico. In addition, IAUPR’s leadership in the Latin American and Caribbean Network has allowed it to sign a collaboration agreement between the two organizations. In addition, around 40 IAUPR professors have taken advantage of the on-line Learning Workshop offered by the University of Texas-Pan American, a HETS affiliate institution renown in the field of distance education.

Mr. Fernós becomes the fourth President to lead the HETS Board of Directors. The earlier board presidents were José F. Méndez, President of the Ana G. Méndez University System, first HETS President and one of the founders of the HETS Consortium; Richard Peck, former President of the University of New Mexico; Norman I. Maldonado, former President of the University of Puerto Rico, who presided the Board from 1998 to 2001; and Ricardo Fernández, Lehman College, CUNY, who presided from 2001 until 2003.

HETS represents the first telecommunications consortium to serve the Hispanic community through distance education and it has the support of 18 autonomous higher education member institutions in the United States, Puerto Rico and Colombia, all certified by diverse academic accreditation agencies. For more information about this topic, please contact Nitza M. Hernández, HETS Executive Director and Learning Anywhere Anytime Partnership (LAAP) Project Director, through her email: nhernandez@virtualplaza.org or by calling the Consortium offices at 787-766-1912, extensions 2221 or 2222

HETS offers first workshop on Collaborative Distance Learning Initiatives

The Hispanic Educational Telecommunications System (HETS) will offer a workshop to get together academic leaders and key staff of the institutions that make up the Consortium who are interested in establishing partnerships with other institutions to develop online studying programs. The workshop on Collaborative Distance Learning Initiatives will take place at Herbert H. Lehman College in New York, on June 17 and 18, 2003, at the same time as the HETS Board of Directors meeting and the Consortium’s tenth anniversary celebration.

During the workshop the participants will be able to study the collaborative model of the Great Plains Alliance Program, under the Kansas State University. Following this model, HETS will create an action plan to develop and implement collaborative programs and online services for students, among the Consortium member institutions that are partners in the Learning Anywhere Anytime Partnerships (LAAP) Project. The workshop will be lead by Dr. Sue Maes and Mrs. Dawn Anderson, both of whom are part of the Great Plains Alliance staff. Beginning in August, HETS will distribute $75,000 among the best proposals received from groups of two or three institutions willing to collaborate during the 2003-04 academic year. The programs and online resources will be accessible through the Plaza Virtual portal (www.virtualplaza.org).

Simultaneously with the workshop, the HETS Board of Directors will hold its administrative session and it will celebrate the Consortium’s tenth anniversary in the evening of Tuesday, June 17th. During the event, HETS will present several awards to outstanding member institutions and corporate partners to recognize their support of Consortium initiatives over the past ten years. Presently, sixteen university presidents and chancellors, and more than forty representatives of member institutions have confirmed their attendance to these events in New York.

HETS is the first telecommunications consortium to serve the Hispanic community through education at a distance. Eighteen autonomous higher education institutions from the United States, Puerto Rico, and Colombia, all certified by diverse academic accreditation agencies, make up the consortium. Founded in 1994, Great Plains Alliance is an organization that joins various U.S. universities and academic programs that specialize in the Human Sciences. For more information about this, please can contact Dr. Nitza M. Hernández, HETS Executive Director and LAAP Project Director, at her email: nhernandez@virtualplaza.org.

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