Learning Goes Digital

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With the price of gas rising exponentially, commuting to school or work is becoming more of a hassle. Add to the expense the fact that you’re an IT student strapped for time and cash, and it seems traveling more than a short distance is nearly impossible.

Stevens Institute of Technology, based in Hoboken, N.J., is one school that has attempted to break down this logistical barrier. Stevens introduced a Web-based component to its on-campus Executive Master’s in Technology Management (EMTM) curriculum. The EMTM degree is designed for IT professionals with five to eight years of work experience who want to transition from the purely technical side of IT into the management arena.

“In the current face-to-face design, students come every other Saturday to campus for a total of eight or nine Saturdays over a 16-week period. And therefore by design, you’re going to be limited to perhaps a 30- to 50-mile driving radius,” said Murrae Bowden, academic director of Stevens’ EMTM program. “So we had some discussions earlier this year about whether we could expand the model to make more use of the online facilities and come up with more of a blended design that would essentially extend the geographic reach.”

Mission accomplished: The new 21-month EMTM program is virtually all online. Students come to campus only twice, once for a weeklong orientation period in the beginning of the course and then again at the end of the semester to wrap everything up. The rest of the time, they participate in classes and homework assignments via the Web.

“The feeling was, even if you’re coming from California, to come across for one weekend in a semester, that’s not necessarily a limitation,” Bowden said. “Also, it might be an attractive program to people who would not consider driving on a regular basis — not with gas at $4 a gallon.”

The online EMTM program makes use of two conferencing Web platforms: Blackboard (known on campus as WebCampus) and AT&T Connect (formerly Interwise). Blackboard allows students and faculty to create internal discussion groups, as well as post readings and assignments. AT&T Connect enables faculty to conduct classes on the Web to be viewed in real time or recorded for later.

“[For example,] students can be attending [the session] in real time from their desktop; they can see the slides that are presented and they can raise their hand. They can ask questions,” Bowden explained.

“And if they can’t make that session for whatever reason, they can go back and subsequently view it. Or else I, as an instructor, could record a segment of that presentation that I wanted everyone to listen to, post it onto Blackboard, and then students in their own time frame, at their own leisure, could go and listen to that particular presentation.”

Though the program is designed for experienced professionals, if you’re a junior IT pro interested in pursuing a management path someday, it’s important to start budgeting now: The EMTM program costs nearly $60,000.

Even if you think you won’t want to move from the technical side of IT one day, studies show IT pros increasingly need business knowledge to progress. Stevens took this into consideration and formulated the EMTM curriculum in a way that students in the program can get an MBA with only five additional courses.

– Agatha Gilmore, agilmore@certmag.com

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