Thursday, June 21, 2012

UIS part of $450,000 Gates Foundation grant to improve access to online education

The University of Illinois Springfield is part of a national consortium of leading community colleges and universities, who are designing a plan to make higher education more accessible and affordable to low-income young adults.

The Learning First consortium plans to develop a pilot program that will increase online seat capacity and help more students learn from home. The pilot program is made possible thanks to a $450,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which was awarded to the League for Innovation in the Community College.

“We are grateful that the Gates Foundation and the Learning First consortium recognizes UIS’ leadership and expertise in online learning,” said UIS Chancellor Susan J. Koch. “We’re glad to be part of this important educational effort that will benefit so many students.”

The pilot program will be based on the UIS degree completion model, which was first developed in 2000.

“It is the same affordable and successful model that thousands of students from community colleges in Illinois and elsewhere have successfully pursued at UIS over those years,” said Ray Schroeder, UIS associate vice chancellor for online learning.

Under the current UIS model, students begin by completing 30 credit hours at an Illinois community college. The next 60 hours of the program mixes UIS and community college credit hours, most commonly with the student receiving an associate’s degree from the community college. During the transition period, students receive academic advising and support services from both the community college and UIS, creating a double safety net. Students earn their final 30 credit hours from UIS.

 “We have found that this model provides both affordability and the highest level of support for students, resulting in a timely degree completion,” said Schroeder.

The Gates Foundation grant is part of $9 million overall awarded to programs nationwide. In announcing the grant, the Gates Foundation called the program a “breakthrough learning model” for higher education.

Other schools taking part in the League for Innovation in the Community College’s Learning First consortium include Coastline Community College (CA), the University of Massachusetts Online, and Pennsylvania State World Campus.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Girl Tech teaches fun technology

The University of Illinois Springfield Computer Science Department hosted two days of fun exploring technology for middle schoolers during Girl Tech 2012.

Females entering 7th, 8th or 9th grade were invited to participate in a variety of hands-on activities, such as scrap-booking with iPad, “Scratch” programming, and more.

“Girl Tech is designed to teach them there is a lot of software out there that is tremendous fun,” said Mary Sheila Tracy, camp coordinator and UIS Computer Science instructor. “This fun software is easy enough with a little instruction they can learn to use it themselves and create all kinds of wonderful things.”

Studies show the number of women in higher education in computer science is falling drastically. Girl Tech is geared toward girls in middle school because interest seems to start decreasing around that age.

“It seems like most of the people who are inventors and create technology are men, so there do need to be more women,” said Elsie A., an eighth grade participant.

New programs this year included “Starring YOU!” where girls were able to record short videos and insert themselves into their favorite movie clips and “What’s to Eat?” where girls looked at technology in the kitchen by making snacks using molecular gastronomy.

“You get to learn new things that you probably wouldn’t do in a normal classroom,” said Katie C., a seventh grade participant.

Tracy hopes the girls leave the two-day camp with a new found respect for technology and the drive to keep learning.