Worcester Telegram - UMassOnline unit gets $650K grant

Worcester Telegram - UMassOnline unit gets $650K grant

By Lisa Eckelbecker -

UMassOnline, the online educational arm of the University of Massachusetts, has been awarded a $650,000 grant from the Sloan Foundation to create programs that blend online and classroom learning.

UMassOnline will use the two-year grant initially to develop health programs at all five of the UMass campuses, including the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. UMassOnline Chief Executive David J. Gray said the new effort to blend online and classroom, laboratory or other real-world experiences will give students the best of both worlds.

“There’s still something very nice about being able to connect physically with your professor and your peers in the classroom,” Mr. Gray said. “There’s also sometimes something nice about not having to make the drive to campus after a busy day.”

UMassOnline, now five years old, offers 69 online degree and certificate programs. About 11,000 students are enrolled in UMassOnline courses. The average age of students is in the 30s, and many are mid-career learners with jobs, Mr. Gray said.

That makes online students a bit older than the traditional UMass undergraduate, but “blended” programs may blur the lines in the future as more students spend time in a variety of learning settings, Mr. Gray said.

Almost any academic discipline could become the subject for a mixture of online and real-world learning, but technical courses that require laboratory work or clinical sessions would benefit, Mr. Gray said. Under the first phase of the Sloan grant, one of the first new blended programs will be a post-master’s degree certificate in a nurse educators’ program at the UMass Graduate School of Nursing in Worcester. New blended UMassOnline courses could start in the summer or fall.

“This model of blended (learning) lets those students still kind of get their academic aspirations met while still giving them the value of face-to-face interactions but not all the class meeting requirements,” Mr. Gray said.

Date: 1/20/07

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