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Wilkes University to offer 'blended' learning program to Alle-Kiski teachers

| Tuesday, July 6, 2010

An eastern Pennsylvania university plans to begin offering graduate courses next month in the Alle-Kiski Valley through a "blended" learning program to teachers who otherwise couldn't negotiate a full-time schedule on a college campus.

Wilkes University, a private school in Wilkes-Barre, will offer courses within the Allegheny Valley and Apollo-Ridge school districts as part of its Educational Development and Strategies master's program.

The program blends online courses with those in a classroom setting, a practice that higher education officials say is increasingly common.

Schools like Wilkes are developing "distance learning" programs that reach beyond campus boundaries to offer classroom instruction.

Wilkes is offering courses at more than 50 off-campus locations, university officials said, and recently expanded its reach into the Pittsburgh area.

Professionals looking to earn graduate degrees or certifications are gravitating toward programs that offer a higher level of convenience -- such as online or evening and weekend classes. Colleges and universities, more and more, are meeting that demand.

"We do see this as a trend," said Karen Pollack, an official with Penn State University's World Campus.

Pollack said Penn State has conducted research showing students "actively are looking for more opportunities to earn degrees and credentials in more flexible ways."

An Indiana University of Pennsylvania official said a majority of the university's graduate programs are blended because they do a better job of meeting the needs of students in the work force.

"We started moving in that direction 20 years ago — moving to times more convenient for teachers, such as in the evenings or on Saturday mornings," said Mary Ann Rafoth, dean of IUP's College of Education.

Within the past 10 years, IUP has added online courses to the mix, she said.

The university runs a satellite campus in Monroeville that attracts teachers and other professionals earning degrees through blended programs.

Janet Moore, an official with the Sloan Consortium, a nonprofit that describes its mission as "integrating online education into the mainstream of higher education," said online and blended programs are "the wave of the future."

A study the consortium conducted about three years ago sought to discover why colleges and universities increasingly offer online courses. Improving student access and increasing the rate of students completing degrees topped the list.

Lowering costs wasn't a primary factor, according to the study.

Moore said a concern exists among educators about "fly-by-night" degree programs.

Officials said accreditation is one way to determine how reputable a program is. The U.S. Department of Education and Council for Higher Education Accreditation maintain databases of accredited colleges and universities.

Rafoth expects the trend toward blended programs to continue to grow, especially as options for online courses improve. She said technological advances such as Skype, an online videoconferencing program, are making online courses more attractive.

"Online learning is going to become better and better," Rafoth said. "You're going to be able to have more interaction with your professors and other students."

She added that traditional classroom instruction will remain a part of the mix.

"A lot of the people we survey prefer 'blended' to completely online because they want some contact with a professor and feel some of the material is best handled face-to-face."

Additional Information:

About Wilkes University

Wilkes University will begin to offer master's-level courses in education within the Apollo-Ridge School District. 'Using Assessment to Guide Instruction' will run from Aug. 5 to 12 at the Smart Start Education Center in Apollo.

Wilkes plans to offer courses at Springdale High School in Allegheny Valley School District beginning in September.

The university uses local educators as adjunct faculty for its courses. For instance, Allegheny Valley Superintendent Cheryl Griffith and Assistant Superintendent Paula Calabrese are slated to teach the Wilkes courses at Springdale High.

The university, which is accredited, partners with Professional Learning Systems in offering its degrees.

Many of the courses in Wilkes' graduate programs are offered online.

For more information about Wilkes, go online.

For more information about accredited schools, go online.

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