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Access &

Innovation A Publication of the Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning

Spring 2013

Insight into the people and progress behind distance learning at Virginia Tech

Feature: Faculty mentor program fuels innovative, online engineering courses


Access &


News 3 Message from the Director 3 IDDL Research Fellowship Fosters Student Response Insight

Feature 4  Faculty Mentor Program Enjoys First-Year Momentum

World 6 Innovative Teaching and Learning Approach to Animal Breeding and Genetics Course


8 R  isk Management Graduates Share Program’s Impact on Career


10 N  ationally Ranked VTMIT Program Outfitted with New Website 11 Math Department and IDDL Go the Distance for Transfer Students

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IDDL Research Fellowship Fosters Student Response Insight

Message from the Director

Hannah Scherer, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural & Extension Education, recently received a distance learning research fellowship through IDDL to evaluate how student ideas about the nature of science changed over the course of the spring 2013 semester. “This research fellowship will allow me to analyze student responses in much more detail than I would typically be able to in a semester,” notes Scherer.

It is undeniable that distance learning has become an integral part of teaching and learning at Virginia Tech. With more than 800 course offerings at all academic levels, there are ample opportunities for students to attend classes that may have otherwise been unavailable. The volume of course offerings and enrollment is tremendous, but growth is not everything. It is essential that special attention is made to ensure that all courses are designed and delivered to provide an effective learning environment. I am proud to be a part of the Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning (IDDL) as we work collaboratively across the university community serving as advocates for high quality teaching and learning at a distance, validated through applied research of advanced technologies, and empowering faculty through professional development and instructional design support. By identifying and addressing the needs of our students, we are better able to serve the university community in a pursuit of lifelong learning. Please join me in celebrating the featured accomplishments—just a few of many stories of the high quality distance education at Virginia Tech.

Peter Macedo

Scherer’s research proposal, ‘Assessing Changes in Views of the Nature of Science Using Online Course Design Tools’, is centered on her online, graduate-level course, STEM Integration in Agricultural Education.

Goal Setting The goal of the proposed project is to assess how course participant’s conceptions of the nature of science change as a result of course activities, which includes conducting a pre- and post-test during the first and last weeks of the semester. Using research-based design strategies, the course is designed to provide meaningful interaction and collaboration. “The results of faculty research fellowships, such as this one, benefit anyone engaged in teaching and learning online as they provide insights into effective practice that apply to those who teach or support teaching in any online environment,” remarks Todd Ogle, IDDL’s senior associate director of applied research and planning. Contact Todd Ogle at to learn more about IDDL’s research fellowships.

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Faculty Mentor Program Enjoys First-Year Momentum In its inaugural year, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering faculty member Bryan Katz is energized by the faculty mentor program being piloted in the College of Engineering. Having taught his first online class at Virginia Tech in the summer 2012, Katz said he was ready for the next big challenge. The challenge presented itself when he was selected by Lujean Baab, associate director of instructional design, development, and support for IDDL, to serve as the faculty mentor for the faculty mentor outreach program. The faculty mentor project was developed as a partnership to promote and support the investigation of online learning for the College of Engineering and to facilitate the development of online courses in the 2012-2013 academic year. Community of Practice The faculty mentor project proposed by IDDL is based upon the concepts and processes of a Community of Practice.

Faculty mentor Bryan Katz, (left), credits Sam Easterling, civil and environmental engineering department head, for championing the faculty mentor program.

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The practical purpose of the faculty mentor project is to continue communication beyond the instructional design of distance learning courses in order to identify issues as well as exemplary practices and innovative methods to expand the resources, knowledge base, and research opportunities for faculty involved in distance learning.

Leading the Charge Katz acknowledges that Virginia Tech is at a distinct advantage to expand and develop new distance learning opportunities, especially within the College of Engineering. “We need to take the university’s strong identity and shift more toward an online focus,“ he notes. He is credited with teaching the first undergraduate course, transportation engineering, online in his department and would love to see this trend continue at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Katz is intrigued with creating greater interaction with students in his courses, and saw that this is achievable in online and blended courses. In his mentor role, Katz enjoys the one-on-one opportunity to speak to his colleagues in the College of Engineering who are considering teaching online, as well as those who have not considered it a possibility, with the latter being of particular interest. Some of the key accomplishments of the faculty mentor program include: n A survey of civil engineering faculty was conducted to investigate attitudes and perceptions of online teaching and learning to establish baseline data for research into the effect of the faculty mentor program on those attitudes and perceptions.

“The faculty mentor program provides communication that would not be open to us otherwise and we are having good conversations about the exciting things ahead.”—Lujean Baab

A component of the mentoring program has been a sharing of best practices amongst College of Engineering faculty, comprised of a visit from Wayne Pferdehirt (left), faculty associate and program director in the Department of Engineering Professional Development at the University of Wisconsin Madison. n A faculty inquiry group was established to discuss topics such as best practices in teaching online and managing group work online. n Consultation with faculty developing or considering developing online courses to provide information, support, and serve as liaison with IDDL for assurance of quality in online courses beyond initial design and development. This resulted in four civil engineering faculty submitting applications for IDDL’s Provost Course Development Fund and receiving funds to initiate online course development. —Jenise Jacques

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Innovative Teaching and Learning Approach to Animal Breeding and Genetics Course Virginia Tech coalesces its history as a land-grant university and its presence as a highly innovative institution with programs like Cybersheep, which encompass elements of livestock breeding with an interactive, online web interface.

CyberSh Cybersheep is a virtual genetic simulation game serving as one component of both undergraduate and graduate coursework in animal breeding and genetics. Its development at Virginia Tech had been funded by the United States Department of Agriculture. The primary goal of Cybersheep is to provide students with the opportunity to see the consequences of their decisions while experiencing the (chance) elements that so often occur in breeding programs.


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Ron Lewis, professor of genetics in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at Virginia Tech, developed the Cybersheep concept from prior research he conducted in the United Kingdom with the aim of giving students “hands-on” experience with selection and mating decisions in real-time. Lewis partnered with Barbara Lockee, professor and associate director in the School of Education at Virginia Tech, to develop and assess the effectiveness of Cybersheep as an instructional approach. Hands-On Experiences Cybersheep serves as a supporting laboratory for animal breeding and genetics courses, just like an anatomy and physiology course would be supported by an anatomy laboratory—in both cases, students learn material from a standard textbook and lecture format, then apply this knowledge in a hands-on way.

In the past, students gained knowledge of animal breeding and genetics in a classroom setting, but there was no pragmatic way to apply these concepts into real-world practice. “It is not possible for students to see the entire breeding process in a semester because of the length of the mating and birth cycle,” notes Lewis. Let the Games Begin Cybersheep is played in teams in order to teach students the significance of working together. “It is intended to be a fun way to learn; it’s meant to be an enjoyable experience that allows students to take risks without real life costs [to breeding programs],”says Lewis.

2013 XCaliber Award for Excellence Virginia Tech’s Center for Innovation in Learning has conferred the 2013 XCaliber Award for excellence as an interdisciplinary team making outstanding contributions to technology-enriched learning activities to Ron Lewis (center), professor of animal genetics, and IDDL’s Eric Gilmore (left), systems integration web development, and Odie Hestnes (right), web application developer. “We salute your efforts to integrate and use technology effectively to benefit student learning,” cites the award committee. In a supporting statement of Cybersheep, Barbara Lockee, professor and associate director in the School of Education, asserts, “I believe that this innovative game-based program deserves to be recognized for the manner in which it leverages distance learning technologies to create an authentic, engaging educational experience not otherwise possible within the context of a face-toface classroom.” The trio will be recognized with a commemorative plaque and a cash award of $500 each at the Faculty/Staff Awards Ceremony at the end of the spring semester.

Although it can be difficult for students to adequately demonstrate teamwork in an online-only setting, the interaction is still vital for success in the game as it helps students balance responsibilities and share ideas. Instructors using Cybersheep can also choose to add a competitive component for their students in which teams compete for the greatest net earnings and the greatest amount of genetic progress in live weight of the sheep by the end of the semester. Lewis remarks, “In the real world, you must balance competition with cooperation among other breeders.” Cybersheep on the National Stage IDDL’s programming and development team comprised of Eric Gilmore and Odie Hestnes have undertaken a complete revision to Cybersheep’s student and instructor interface, making the simulation more stable and easy to use. Cybersheep has been used in undergraduate instruction at Virginia Tech and several other institutions, including the University of Wyoming, North Carolina State University, Michigan State University, and The Ohio State University. Cybersheep also has been played by graduate students at 33 universities as part of an online graduate curriculum in animal genetics. With across-institutional teams, students gain more insight into various perspectives of students from different universities, providing them with the opportunity to learn from each other. —Jenise Jacques and Amy Shaffron

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Risk Management Graduates Share Program’s Impact on Career Virginia Tech’s online Health Product Risk Management (HPRM) graduate program is designed to educate students to assess risks associated with process and products, devise strategies to mitigate risks, and bring the safest, most innovative products to the market in the pharmaceutical, medical device, biologics, and food arenas. Launched in 2008, the HPRM program is offered completely online by the Department of Food Science & Technology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech. This 30 credit-hour program was designed with the working professional in mind and allows for the transfer of up to 12 graduate credit hours, provided the courses were taken from an accredited institution as part of a graduate program. Karla Dickerson and Pete Panagis, both of whom work for Bayer HealthCare, are two recent graduates of the HPRM program. As staff quality engineer for Bayer’s Interventional Fluid Delivery business unit, Dickerson’s main responsibilities are life cycle safety risk management activities for product design and manufacture.

George Flick, HPRM program director, attributes the success of the program to the student and faculty engagement.

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As engineering director in Bayer’s New Product Development, Panagis manages a team of engineers and technicians devoted to ensuring new product development and quality activities are strategically developed,

appropriately staffed, and effectively executed for all Bayer interventional programs. Because the Virginia Tech Online HPRM program offered specificity in the medical device and pharmaceutical fields, it allowed Dickerson and Panagis to focus their course selections to best suit their individual needs. Looking back on the three years I spent in the program, I can see how I have grown in my understanding of risk management”, says Dickerson. “The knowledge gained has provided me with a foundation that I have used and continue to use in strengthening our Interventional Fluid

Given the advanced degree in HPRM, Panagis is considered one of Bayer HealthCare’s experts in this area.

Because the Virginia Tech Online HPRM program offered specificity in the medical device and pharmaceutical fields, it allowed Dickerson and Panagis to focus their course selections to best suit their individual needs. Delivery risk management process. I would highly recommend that those who work in either [the pharmaceutical or medical device] fields explore this opportunity because the program provides a great opportunity for those working in risk management to learn from some of the industry leaders.” Dickerson and Panagis both feel they have much to give back to their company as a result of the program, as well as the preparedness to undertake new opportunities. “In the future we will be developing new processes where risk management will be a key focus,” notes Panagis. “My experience and education will serve me well in this role/opportunity.” Given the advanced degree in HPRM, Panagis is considered one of Bayer HealthCare’s experts in this area. “The greatest value of the HPRM program is the improvements that we are able to make to our processes that result in benefits to our patients and users”, says Panagis. “We design, develop, manufacture, and distribute relatively high risk medical devices. I am convinced that the rigor we implement in risk management [as an industry] has a direct impact on our patients and users.” —Makaravine Duong

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Nationally Ranked VTMIT Program Outfitted with New Website The Virginia Tech online master’s in Information Technology, ranked third in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, has recently launched a redesign of its website located at The site is designed to be more user-friendly and includes new multimedia content, to create a stronger online (recruitment) presence for the program. The layout comprises the Virginia Tech brand tenets reflecting the world class quality of education offered, online and face-to-face, by the university. This project was a collaborative effort between Pamplin College of Business, College of Engineering, and the Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning. —Tracey Allen

“Ease of navigation, improved organization of content, and making the site universally accessible, were all primary goals of this project. “—Charles Layman, IDDL developer The redesigned VTMIT website

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Equation for Success:

Students Speak on Course Experience

Math Department and IDDL Go the Distance for Transfer Students

“The math module was very user friendly. The information was presented in a very clear manner and I found I had plenty of time to complete all of the sections while balancing a full schedule.”—Gail Seidemann

Virginia Tech enjoys a longstanding history of serving the educational needs of its citizens. As such, distance learning is proving to be another conduit for educational access, in particular with students interested in transferring to Virginia Tech from the Virginia Community College System (VCCS). At Virginia Tech, the Transfer Guide, a database of course equivalencies, helps transfer students tailor their existing program of study to fit their future Virginia Tech curriculum.

“The use of videos showing me steps of how to solve a problem was extremely helpful when I did not understand the problem. This course had many examples that helped me understand the course material.”—Claire Yamada Watson

One course equivalency that has proven difficult in the past is Virginia Tech’s MATH 1526 (Calculus with Matrices). When students transfer from a VCCS institution to Virginia Tech, they don’t receive credit for MATH 1526 unless they have taken both community college math courses – MTH 177 (Introduction to Linear Algebra) and MTH 272 (Applied Calculus II) – so as to receive the matrix algebra component missing in MTH 272.

“The course was easy to follow and the course material was thorough and appropriately reinforced.”—Brandon Yi

To help students earn this missing component, IDDL and the Math Department teamed up to develop Complimentary Matrix Unit for MTH 272, or CMUM, which is an online, non-credit course module. To date, the course has been very well received by students and proven to be a useful tool for those needing to obtain their complete transfer credits. As students transfer in math courses from the VCCS, they will have the opportunity to earn credit for Virginia Tech’s MATH 1526 by completing the CMUM in addition to receiving their transfer credits from MTH 272.

“The module was very thorough in all of the steps and formulas for each problem. I had no trouble at all and I liked that I could complete it on my own time.”—Marcella Krzywicki

In addition, transfer students who have completed MTH 272 with a C or better will be offered the opportunity to take CMUM free of charge, saving them the current tuition cost of $1,148.25 for the three credit-hour course at Virginia Tech. —Jenise Jacques

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Distance Learning Video on a Mission The Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning has a mission to make online teaching and learning a reality for students and faculty in every major at Virginia Tech. IDDL partnered with University Relations to produce a video to showcase faculty members’ achievements in teaching at a distance.

Watch the video:

About Us

IDDL, a unit within the Division of Undergraduate Education, serves as the university-wide coordinator for online and distance learning courses and programs of study, provides dedicated student and faculty support. Website: Virginia Tech eLearning Faculty (IDDL) @VTeLearnFaculty Virginia Tech Online (VTO), the portal to the university’s distance academic portfolio, features undergraduate courses and a graduate portfolio comprised of master’s programs and graduate certificates. Website: Virginia Tech Online @VTOnline

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Access & Innovation Spring 2013 Volume IV, Number II Director Peter Macedo Editor Jenise Jacques Graphic Designer Peter Means Editorial Board Tracey Allen Makaravine Duong Tammie Smith Angie Starr Daron Williams Access & Innovation is published two times a year (fall and spring). Reader comments and requests to reproduce any material in the newsletter should be directed to Information on IDDL is available at Virginia Tech does not discriminate against employees, students, or applicants on the basis of age, color, disability, gender, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status. Anyone having questions concerning discrimination or accessibility should contact the Office for Equity and Access. ©2013 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Photography provided by University Relations Printed by Virginia Tech Printing Services

Access & Innovation, Spring 2013  

Insight into the people and progress behind distance learning at Virginia Tech