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.

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