Along with its tenth anniversary celebration, the Hispanic Educational Telecommunications System (HETS) offered the first workshop on inter-institutional collaboration initiatives to develop online academic programs, according to Dr. Nitza Hernández López, Consortium Executive Director. This workshop took place, concurrently with the HETS Board of Directors meeting, at the Herbert H. Lehman College, in New York City, on June 17 and 18.
The Collaboration Initiatives Workshop brought together 31 academic leaders of post secondary education institutions from the United States, Puerto Rico, and Colombia, HETS Consortium members who are interested in collaborating with other member institutions to develop joint online academic programs. Leading the workshop were Dr. Sue Maes y Ms. Dawn Anderson, from the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (GPIDEA), an inter-institutional collaboration consortium under the umbrella of the Kansas State University. With GPIDEA’s aid, HETS has been able to create an action plan to develop and implement, in a collaborative manner, academic and student support services programs among the member institutions that are partners in the Learning Anytime Anywhere Partnerships (LAAP) project.
During the workshop, participants from various institutions had a chance to learn about GPIDEA’s inter-institutional collaboration model. Later, participants met in smaller groups to explore collaboration opportunities in the fields of communication, nursing, business administration, criminal justice, Latin American studies and student support resources.
For the upcoming 2003-2004 academic year and beginning in July, HETS will publish a Call for Proposals. Through their proposals, many member institutions will present innovative projects for the joint creation of bachelor’s and associate degrees, certification and other professional development programs. HETS will distribute a total of $75,000 among those projects with the most potential. Once the online programs are developed, students who are interested will be able to enroll in courses at various institutions to complete their program. The online programs that are developed jointly will have to offer administrative solutions to the institutional barriers that currently do not allow interested students to enroll in online courses at other institutions. The online programs and resources will be accessible through the Virtual Plaza portal (www.virtualplaza.org).
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: email@example.com or by calling the HETS offices at 787-766-1912, extensions 2221 or 2222.
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.