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Distance Education at New Mexico Tech

Distance Education at New Mexico Tech has seen tremendous growth in enrollments and technology in the last five years. In 2004, lecture videos were recorded onto VHS tapes and mailed to students. Today, lectures being held in Distance Education’s four classrooms in Cramer Hall and two classrooms in its Albuquerque studio at 2445 Alamo Avenue SE can be watched live from anywhere in the world by anyone with a computer and a broadband Internet connection. Students participate live using an integrated text chat application or, if they have a microphone and/or webcam, by audio and video.

These changes in delivery appear to have been popular.

According to Dr. Iver Davidson, Director of Educational Outreach and Distance Instruction, “this Fall Semester saw 248 enrollments in 48 DE courses, a 274

percent increase since 2004. And many more students than that utilize DE technology – viewing live classes from home when they’re sick or watching recordings of classes as a refresher – because most DE courses also include an on-campus, non-distance section. “

“Distance Education at Tech, says Davidson, “is unique among programs at universities in the state and even nation in that it offers live, online courses. The traditional distance education model found elsewhere uses recorded videos along with static text documents, which by necessity lacks interaction from distance students. “

New Mexico Tech’s Distance Education Department uses Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro software for its web-based video delivery. To access courses, students use the department’s proprietary Course Portal, from which they can enter live lectures, select videos of recorded lectures, email the instructor and students, and upload and download course documents and assignments. There is also a desktop version of the Course Portal software and an online, live help desk.

In Distance Education classrooms at Tech, instructors use electronic whiteboards to show and manipulate their course materials, including PowerPoint slides and applications running on their in-class computer.

However, according to Davidson, “the technology easily allows instruction from any place with a computer and a broadband Internet connection – including hotel rooms, as Tech instructors have discovered while on travel overseas.”

And, in the same manner, students can take over the virtual classrooms remotely to make student presentations.

Because of this “from anywhere, to anywhere” capability, last year Distance Education was called upon to use its software for putting a local author in touch with an astronaut at the International Space Station (it was part of a NASA-sponsored in-space astronaut mental health program – the astronaut was a fan of the local author).

Distance Education regularly offers courses attended jointly by students at Tech and the University of New Mexico and/or New Mexico State University, utilizing Tech’s distance education technology. Physics Professor Dr. David Westpfahl is teaching an Orbital Mechanics course this semester that is attended by NMSU students who are in that university’s Aerospace Program.

Davidson adds that “among future innovations in Distance Education at Tech will be a Course Portal module to provide two-way video conversations (for virtual office hours) and a web site for viewing a wide range of publicly available videos, presently dubbed DE TV.”

The Tech Distance Education web site is at http://distance.nmt.edu