Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A New Era of Online Education: Taking Distantly Delivered Water Resource Curriculum Out of Doors.

Suzanna Carrithers, Montana State Univ, 601 Leon Johnson Hall, Bozeman, MT 59717-3120 and James Bauder, Montana State Univ., 806 Leon Johnson Hall, Bozeman, MT 59717-3120.

Online education has taken the forefront of non traditional, degree seeking opportunities across the United States.  Nationally, more and more accredited institutions of higher education are incorporating online and distantly delivered curriculum.  At Montana State University, the Extension Water Quality program plays an active role in curriculum development and design of such distance education programs.  As of 2005, the program offered three graduate level environmental education courses in the area of soil and water quality science. In the fall of 2005, the MSU Extension Water Quality program was awarded a Higher Education Challenge Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop new, innovative online curriculum in the form of a summer graduate field course.  This course, Stream Side Science, expands on current water quality online curriculum offered by the MSU Extension Water Quality program, as well as recent curriculum developed through Utah State University. However, this course goes beyond traditional online environments and takes students independently into the field to actively experience a hands-on, field based course in the area of water quality monitoring. The initial offering of Stream Side Science took place in the summer of 2006 in which extensive evaluation efforts were performed to assess the successes and limitations to a field based, distantly delivered course.  These evaluations have guided course designers and curriculum developers toward improving Stream Side Science for the next offering in summer of 2007.  Likewise, this course sets the stage to broaden the scope of the traditional online classroom setting, as wells use natural resource sciences as a base for more field oriented online instruction.