SPP Program Is Successful Distance Learning Model

Posted: December 8, 2000 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Elena Barbre

The 18 students enrolled in George Mason’s M.S. in Professional Studies in Transportation Policy, Operations, and Logistics have at least one thing in common–they all attend class in Virginia. Only six of them meet on the Arlington Campus for their weekly courses; the others report to their respective classrooms in Richmond’s Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and in the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon. This unlikely arrangement is being carried off with flair, thanks to the efforts of the School of Public Policy (SPP) and the support of the entire university.

Launched this fall, the program has demonstrated how well technology works to bring students together for real-time interaction, says Jonathan Gifford, associate professor of public management and policy and creator of the program. “This program does something we couldn’t otherwise do,” says Gifford, who teaches the classes with public policy professor Ken Button. “We have students in the state capital, in the D.C. area, and in Appalachia, a very remote and rural corner of the state, all interacting. This is new for George Mason.”

Gifford meets the local students in Arlington, where special equipment connects them to a video bridge at Virginia Tech. A similar connection from each of the other two locations allows all students to connect to the bridge, so when a student in Abingdon speaks, all eyes can be on him or her, and when a student from Richmond chimes in, the view shifts to Richmond.

The program’s success also highlights the resourcefulness of the university as various offices have risen to the logistical challenges of providing services for these off-site students. Issues raised and resolved have ranged from developing systems for borrowing library books and creating student IDs to providing technical and financial support for the courses themselves. “It reflects well on us that we carried it off–people at VDOT were blown away,” says Gifford. “We were able to pull resources together from all different areas of the university on very short notice, and the only feedback I got from George Mason staff and administration was ‘Yeah, we can manage that.'”

The program is now accepting applications for the spring semester. Contact Gifford at x31395 for more information.

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