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Distance ed program gets national attention
By Courtney Coufal
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Efforts to take university-level training to every corner of the state have earned the Mississippi State University Extension Service two national awards.
The American Distance Education Consortium and the U.S. Distance Learning Association both recognized the Extension Service for its outstanding and comprehensive distance education program. The program provides Mississippians with educational instruction when physical distance separates students and instructors.
The education consortium selected MSU Extension and New Mexico State University to share the Distance Education Award of Excellence, an award that supports and strengthens distance education programs to create wider and more diverse access to higher education programs. The award was presented at the Consortium's annual meeting held April 25-27 in Seattle.
ADEC president Janet Poley said the consortium peer review committee selected MSU's Extension Service because of its outstanding and creative programs.
“The committee liked the fact that MSU Extension offers so many different kinds of activities, and that they service many different population groups,” Poley said. “This includes Extension programs, short courses, academic programs, livestock auctions – overall they have a nice diversity of programming, and they make a really good comprehensive effort.”
The U.S. Distance Learning Association presented Extension with the 2007 Best Practices in Distance Education Learning Programming Award Bronze Level for videoconferencing at their annual conference held May 6-8 in Kansas City, Mo. The association recognizes distance education instructors, programs and professionals who have demonstrated extraordinary achievements in using online, videoconferencing and satellite/video delivery technologies.
Extension distance education coordinator Susan Seal said winning two national awards is a great tribute to the strength of MSU's Extension Service program and its people.
“Those of us in the distance education program are fortunate to work with agents, specialists and administrators who have a real passion for serving people. We are honored to be able to support their efforts, and in doing so, bring national recognition to the efforts of the MSU Extension Service,” Seal said.
This is the first year MSU Extension entered the national award competitions.
“When I first began researching what other universities were doing in the area of distance education, I found the ADEC Award of Excellence winners to be the model programs,” Seal said. “I remember thinking how great it would be if we could build a program that would be considered a program of excellence.”
Seal explained that distance education organizers use a wide range of media, such as interactive video, Web-based support, podcasts, CD/DVD and streaming video, to bridge the physical gap between student and instructor.
“Our focus is not on technology but on the people. We want people to tell us what they need to help others learn. Then based on their needs, we figure out what technology would be best. We keep the focus on the people and use technology as a tool,” she said.
MSU Extension Service's distance education program has grown steadily since its beginning. Every county office in Mississippi is equipped with an interactive video system. In 2000, distance education hosted 13 videoconferences; by 2006, almost 700 videoconferences had been shown to and used by students, state specialists, state officials, consumers, producers, and organization members and officers.
Examples of programs offered include streaming video previews of animals for livestock sales and auctions; podcasts about drought strategies; and several Web sites including an online bidding system for livestock sales.
ADEC is a non-profit distance education consortium composed of about 65 state universities and land-grant colleges. The consortium focuses on the extension of educational content and opportunity beyond the traditional boundaries of the university walls.
USDLA, the nation's premier distance learning association, presents awards to distance education and training programs in five major sectors, including preschool to grade 12, higher education, corporate, government and telehealth markets.