from a distance
Internet makes an RIT education available anywhere, anytime,
was when classroom technology meant blackboards, overhead projectors
and mimeograph machines. At the turn of this new century, teaching
tools include the World Wide Web, e-mail, CDs, video, chatrooms,
instant messaging, and conference calls.
Pilittere found a path to a new career through distance learning.
(below) For Edward Shansala, distance learning is intellectually
stimulating and family friendly.
programs at RIT use all these technologies and more, creating
a virtual campus that is growing exponentially, while serving
as a benchmark for other such programs across the country.
learning," says Karen Vignare, director of business development
for RIT's Online Learning Initiatives program, "that's what
we offer at RIT. It gives the students the convenience of taking
courses anytime, anywhere and anyplace, following our academic
at RIT -- now one of the largest the nation -- began in 1978
as a small piece of the continuing education program. Lectures
were offered on WXXI-TV, and exams took place on campus. The
program adapted to new media, with lectures offered on cable
television, some classes offered to industry via closed-circuit
television, papers and class notes sent by snail mail or fax
machines. In 1990, RIT became the one of the first 15 institutions
to offer a full degree through a distance learning program.
"RIT has always specialized
in using the consumer technology of the day. Today, that means
computers and the Web," says Chrstine Geith, director of e-learning
inititives. "Almost everyone has access either at work or at
home, and we've just been growing and growing." Now RIT has
6,500 enrollments in distance learning programs, with 275 courses
available, eight complete graduate degrees, three graduate certificates,
five undergraduate degrees and 16 certificates available online.
"People are searching
for alternative ways to study at RIT," says Geith. "Awareness
of our online option is increasing," One result: Last year saw
close to a 25 percent growth in RIT's distance learning enrollments.
Distance learning gave
Helen Pilittere of Irondequoit the option of working full-time
and going to school full-time. After being laid off an administrative
job at Kodak, she faced an uncertain future. "I had no real marketable
skills," she says. But she had pressing family responsibilities:
Her husband is disabled, and her two sons were entering college.
While working two jobs to make ends meet, she began a bachelor's
degree program in quality management via Distance Learning. She
got her degree in 1999.
in our personal lives is an important thing to have these
days," says Debra DeMay, Preferred Care. "Distance learning
is a way for us to accomplish our career goals and balance
our work and family initiatives."
landed a job with Global Crossing, an international telecommunications
company, where she now works as a capacity planning analyst.
So, she's now enrolled in RIT's telecommunications diploma program
-- once again taking courses online.
"It turns out distance
learning was a good way for me to learn," she says. She could
fit the coursework into her schedule, listen to lectures more
than once if she needed to, and, most important, "We had really
excellent professors, who were willing to help." Her efforts
paid off in a 4.0 grade point average -- and a new career.
"Students log in
when it's convenient within the due dates of the course," says
Geith. "They can have a dialogue with a faculty member and with
other students. We are finding our students put a high priority
on that dialogue."
Edward Shansala agrees.
Director of quality improvement and educational enhancement
for the Finger Lakes Visiting Nurse Service, he completed a
master's degree in health systems administration from RIT last
May via distance learning. "The program appealed to me," says
Shansala, who lives in Phelps, N.Y. "I'm a lifelong-learner
type and, unlike traditional programs, intellectual stimulation
is only a log-on away with online study."
Plus, says the father
of a precocious 4-year-old, "Distance learning is more family-friendly."
employs the same high-quality faculty as the traditional RIT
programs. Shansala, who has a bachelor's degree from RIT in
chemistry and biotechnology as well as a master's in education
from the University of Rochester, says, "Course content has
been relevant in spite of the dramatic changes in the health-care
market. I believe this is indicative of the top-flight faculty
who have a passion and capacity to provide the highest quality
educational experience possible."
RIT faculty are in
a unique position to create curricula that respond well to the
online market, Geith explains. RIT's programs are in high demand
worldwide. Faculty are experienced and have spent time thinking
carefully about the learning objectives of their courses and
how best to teach them to diverse audiences.
"Because of the needs
of the students at the National Technical Institute for the
Deaf (one of RIT's seven colleges) and our easy access to technology,
faculty spend time finding new ways to present material," Geith
says. "To teach well online, you have to think about what you
currently are doing, then think about how to do it effectively
in an online environment."
RIT's James Mallory,
for example, who teaches applied computer technology at NTID,
says, "The problem with teaching computer programming is that
there is so much going on simultaneously. You have to deal with
input, output, the actual code, memory allocation, how the program
executes. It's difficult to follow all that. So I tried to figure
out a way I could show all this at the same time." Mallory combined
closed-captioning, sign language, graphics, cartoon graphics,
and executable simulation files to his videotaped instructions
that students can view at home at their convenience.
"Faculty like Jim
Mallory are eager to produce the best distance-learning experiences
for their students," says David Cronister, director of the Educational
Technology Center. The center helps faculty incorporate the
various technologies into their curricula.
also appeals to international students. According to Glenn Shive,
past director of the Institute of International Education's
office in Hong Kong and author of articles and a forthcoming
book on distance learning, international distance learning is
"a new gold rush."
is complicated and often students must prove they have access
to enough cash and/or capital to support their entire stay in
the United States," says Karen Vignare. "It is important to
understand that many international students would like to be
in the United States, but we think those students also are interested
in distance learning and time-shortened experiences in the United
RIT graduate student
Oz Yakuphanogullarind, a native of Turkey, lives in Switzerland
and works as a telecommunications manager for an international
company. He opted for RIT for his information technology studies,
even though he could attend schools in Switzerland. "I wanted
to study at an American university because they are internationally
well known and well accepted," he says. After researching online
programs, "I found several through some searching on the Internet.
One of them was RIT and it was the most interesting to me."
Employers are pleased
with RIT's programs -- if workers can attend school online,
they spend less time away from work. "Overall I was very pleased
with RIT. This is a good way for employees in a company as far
flung as Exxon Mobil Corp. to keep certifications current and
advance their careers. Eventually we'd like to offer a full
curriculum of these courses to all of our employees on a worldwide
basis," says Neil Ryan, Exxon Mobil senior environmental health
and safety advisor.
Adds Debra DeMay,
director of human resources, Preferred Care, a Rochester-area
health-care organization. "We all know that flexibility in our
personal lives is an important thing to have these days. Distance
learning is a way in which we can accomplish our career goals
and balance our work and family initiatives. We certainly, as
a company, are completely supportive of whatever mechanism people
use to accomplish their educational objectives. Distance learning
at RIT is one way to help people get an education who could
not otherwise go on a campus to take classes."