CSCC gets grant to expand distance learning

Friday, July 18, 2014

(COLUMBIA, Tenn. -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, in conjunction with Columbia State Community College, hosted a press conference July 8 to announce Columbia State as the recipient of the Rural Utilities Service Distance Learning and Telemedicine program grant. The RUS-DLT grant program is designed to meet the educational and healthcare needs of rural communities in southern Middle Tennessee through the use of advanced telecommunications technologies.

The RUS-DLT grant will provide funding for Columbia State to expand distance education courses using web-based video conferencing technology. This will allow students to connect to classes in real-time -- via their computer, laptop or mobile device -- which will provide greater access to courses for students in rural areas. The device must have speakers and be connected to the Internet, and some classes will additionally require a webcam and microphone.

"Through this partnership grant between the Rural Development and Columbia State, learning opportunities and other services can be provided to students and citizens who may not can attend a campus class or activity or whose life-or-work style is more compatible with an alternative delivery method," said Dr. Janet F. Smith, Columbia State president. "To grow the education level necessary to comply with the 21st century job requirements of today and tomorrow, alternative instructional practices and student engagement are essential."

The RUS-DLT grant will allow Columbia State to significantly increase the availability of educational opportunities through distance education for residents in Marshall, Giles, Hickman, Lawrence, Lewis, Perry, and Wayne counties.

"I see the need in these counties," said Faye McEwen, USDA-Rural Development area director. "This is going to provide some great opportunities for students to attain that further education."

Bobby Goode, USDA-Rural Development state director, said that the total combined investment is a little more than $300,000, with the USDA providing more than $150,000 with additional funding from Columbia State of more than $151,000.

"Congratulations for what you re doing here at Columbia State and your continued growth and involvement in the rural areas around here," Goode said. "Just think of all the good that these dollars can do with education this year and for years to come. We look forward to what more we can do."

Dr. Margaret Smith, Columbia State executive vice president and provost for academic and student programs and services, said that although Columbia State currently has interactive distance classrooms, students must still travel to a designated location to participate in a class that is generated from another location.

"With this new technology learning can take place in any location, students can participate in their home, the public library or any place that has internet access," Margaret Smith said. "The technology is fully interactive. The camera is on the instructor, and the students and instructor can communicate back and forth."

Margaret Smith explained that through the new technology, all distance education classes will be recorded so that students can go back and watch if they feel they need to review or reconnect with the content, making college more accessible, convenient and doable.

"The RUS grant gives us the opportunity to create a more dynamic and personalized learning environment for all students in the communities that we serve," said Dr. Marilia Gerges, director of instructional support, distance learning and university services. "We are excited that we have this opportunity to offer this service for our students."

Plans include expanding the use of this technology into many workforce development courses as well. This will allow local employers to offer convenient training and professional development opportunities to their employees on-site. This will drastically reduce the time away from the workplace as the employee would not need to commute.