Grant expands distance education

January 21, 2016


Larry Brooks, assistant professor of biology and associate dean for academic affairs at Dakota College at Bottineau.

Larry Brooks has been successfully teaching through the interactive video network for 20 years. A new grant will help upgrade the IVN system, deliver courses to students who would normally not have access to them, bring in more revenue and increase collaboration among campuses.

The assistant professor of biology and associate dean for academic affairs at Dakota College at Bottineau has been teaching through IVN since it started being used as a delivery method two decades ago. He’s taught numerous courses, including Anatomy and Physiology I and II, Human Structure and Function, and Water Resource Management. Now, the grant awards totaling more than $505,000 will help to expand on those course deliveries.

Brooks said that the upgrade as applied at his college was most welcome – that although some students might feel a bit anxious at first about the nontraditional course delivery method, they adapted very well to the IVN was of classroom instruction.

“I highly recommend instructors visit the distant sites during the first two-three weeks of each term to help strengthen the student-instructor relationship,” he said, adding that further site visits were always encouraged.

For Brooks the classrooms stay fairly manageable even at a distance. Average overall was around 10 at two distant sites. For his classes it ranged from 10-13 at five or six sites, in addition to 15-20 on-campus students. The greatest benefits to teaching through IVN, from Brooks’ perspective, was that it allowed campuses to deliver courses to students who would otherwise not have access to them – such as students from rural settings.

“The IVN system has been invaluable for DCB to increase its dual credit capacity and to provide instruction to distant sites in Minot and Valley City where DCB offers multiple programs,” he said. “The IVN system allows campuses to expand course offerings while increasing efficient use of faculty resources. Offering classes via IVN increases students headcount which leads to increased tuition collection and enhanced program and campus viability.”

Brooks added that because of IVN-delivered courses, DCB was able to collaborate with other campuses on some programs and classes.

“For example, the Dakota Nursing Program is a consortium of four state colleges (Bismarck State College, DCB, Lake Region State College and Williston State College) who use the IVN system to deliver shared didactic courses and to conduct faculty and administrative meetings,” Brooks said. “The Northern Information Technology Consortium is a consortium of three state colleges (DCB, LRSC and WSC), one tribal college (Turtle Mountain Community College), and one four-year regional university (VCSU) who use the IVN system to cross-list and share IT courses. The IVN system allows both consortia to maximize efficiency and effectiveness through the use of shared resources via the IVN.”

Collaboration is vital as it can lead to the expanding of knowledge bases and the sharing of services. But, the implementation of IVN is focused first on providing distance education. Many students have been able to take courses they’d otherwise have missed out on. One DCB student, Megan Saville, is taking full advantage of those courses.

Saville is now in her last semester at DCB, where she’s finishing her associates degree in Elementary Education. Saville has had a handful of education courses through IVN. For the most part she was happy with her experience.

“I benefitted by having students from other sites input in conversation and discussion,” she said.

Betty Tykwinski, the site manager/nursing instructor for DCB at VCSU, said IVN had been integral to the nursing program’s success. She considered herself to be a novice to the process of teaching through IVN, having just started this year after teaching in traditional classrooms since 2011. Each college involved in the Dakota Nursing Program consortium (BSC, DCB, LRSC and WSC) has distant sites, as well as clinical and lab instructors. Tykwinski serves as a didactic instructor for the VCSU site and teaches through IVN to all the sites – reaching a total of 98 Practical Nursing students and 89 Associate Degree Registered Nursing students.

“All of the theory courses for the Dakota Nursing Program are delivered over the IVN system, so when I teach my class I only have my Valley City students in front of me,” she said. “They attend the afternoon lecture, so when I teach in the morning I have no students in the classroom with me, just those over IVN.”

She felt the benefit to an IVN-delivered class, which could have as many as 50 students enrolled, was in how the offering extended the reach of the program.

“The program is very unique and has allowed many students to become nurses in a nontraditional way – the majority of our students have families, jobs and other responsibilities that would prevent them from attending the traditional nursing program, especially those in the smaller rural areas such as Hazen and Harvey, even here in Valley City,” she said. “The IVN system allows the program to pool faculty resources from each of the sites to deliver a high quality program.”

According to Jerry Rostad, assistant CIO of Core Technology Services, that funding will go toward upgrading 35 Interactive Video Network classrooms through eight institutions. The grant money comes through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service program.

“This grant [program] has been around for some time and we knew the value it provided,” Rostad said. “Concurrently, a lot of our IVN equipment was nearing end of life, and so we figured the USDA would support the continued operation of our successful video network.”

The IVN classrooms can be set up in about a day; classes or events such as meetings can be scheduled for any time in the future. The institutions of Dakota College at Bottineau, Dickinson State University, Lake Region State College, Mayville State University, North Dakota State College of Science, North Dakota State University, Valley City State University and Williston State College will all receive upgrades. Rostad said the other four institutions – located in Bismarck, Fargo, Grand Forks and Minot – did not meet the rural requirements of the grant.