At 60, most people are researching retirement options, making plans for another chapter in their lives. Secondary school teacher Judy Craig Hartley, however, explored a new path within her profession by way of Virginia Tech's online Instructional Technology Master of Arts program.
"I enjoyed taking courses online and knew I had the discipline to do so," says the Giles County, Va., resident. "But as a full-time teacher, I didn't have the time or energy to drive across the mountain to pursue my degree on the Tech campus. So it was exciting to have the opportunity to earn a master's degree without compromising my daily teaching."
Even before graduating from the program, Hartley, who's a quick study in electronic environments, was hired by Giles County Public Schools as an instructional technology resource teacher. Hartley is one of thousands who have taken advantage of electronic education at Tech since 1995.
Guided by a holistic approach to education, "the institute has provided not only an engaging environment where Virginia Tech students and faculty can be successful but also a philosophy grounded in the belief that eLearning is an academic endeavor focused on teaching and learning, not teaching and money," says Tom Wilkinson, associate provost for distance learning and summer sessions and the primary author of the original proposal to establish the Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning.
Virginia Tech's investment in distance and distributed learning has yielded unprecedented opportunities. As barriers of time and place are overcome, students have a greater possibility of realizing their potential, while faculty members engage in research that transforms the educational experience.
Alumni continue to look to Virginia Tech for lifelong learning. This union of people and technology is a powerful combination that facilitates Virginia Tech's ability to fulfill its core missions of learning, discovery, and engagement.
The graduate certificate in liberal arts program celebrated its first three graduates last spring. Appropriately enough, in light of eLearning's international reach, the program was created in Finland by Virginia Tech professor of interdisciplinary studies Michael Saffle while he was serving as Bicentennial Fulbright Professor of American Studies.
After a phone call from his director requesting some ideas for an online graduate course in interdisciplinary studies — needed in 24 hours — Saffle strolled around Helsinki's harbor with his wife, Sue, an English professor at Virginia Tech, discussing ways to reach out to graduate students. After dinner, he returned to his office and created the syllabus for the nine-hour certificate program.
One of Virginia Tech's eLearning pioneers, Saffle, a 2007 recipient of the university's William E. Wine Teaching Award, first entered the online environment in 1997, when he learned that one of his summer humanities courses might not launch.
"It was either go online with the course or cancel it," he admits. "I hired a colleague who knew HTML to help me transform the course into 10 Web-based 'lectures' and 'worksheet' assignments."
The course was a success. The following summer, Saffle taught two sections; the next year, three.
In addition to its expansive offerings, the eLearning experience at Virginia Tech is a good fit for many students. Such was the case for Superior Court Judge Michael Clark of Lawrenceville, Ga., who, searching for courses to learn more about the circumstances preceding Sept. 11, was led to Virginia Tech's online graduate political science courses.
"I looked around for a program that offered an understanding of American foreign policy and could be pursued without interrupting my career and that would have minimal impact on my family and personal life," Clark explains. "The professors were well-informed, and classmates brought a tremendous range of experience and expertise to the class."
A recent eLearning undergraduate student, Claire Elpi, feels similarly. "The format of the courses was perfect," she notes. "It gave students the opportunity to have a choice in their studies, which I thought was a marvelous idea. As well as being a creative outlet, the course gave me a preview of what graduate school would be like, allowing me to enthusiastically prepare for my post-graduate studies and employment."
Instructional Technology Master of Arts graduate Hartley says that her Virginia Tech eLearning experience changed the face of her career.
"Obtaining my master's degree has met every professional expectation I could ever wish to have," Hartley says. "It has inspired me to continue working in the educational field well past the usual age of 65. I look forward to each day with a spring in my step and a smile on my face."
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