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CAS Lifelong Learning Series receives funding from COTA

By Sally Harris

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 10 - October 31, 1996

The Lifelong Learning Series of the College of Arts and Sciences at Virginia Tech has received $60,000 from Virginia Tech's Center for Organizational and Technological Advancement (COTA).

In keeping with the goal of COTA to develop new outreach and continuing-education programs, the Lifelong Learning Series will target alumni of the College of Arts and Sciences who want to learn about the advances in computer-mediated-communications technologies and about life in the digital age.

"Distinguished alumni from Arts and Sciences have already determined that there is a need to introduce graduates of Virginia Tech and the general public to the new technologies that are radically altering the communication landscape," said Lucinda Roy, associate dean for curriculum, outreach, and diversity.

The Lifelong Learning Series will be conducted by distinguished COTA fellows who have experience working on the college's cyberschool project: Len Hatfield of English and Information Systems, Timothy Luke of political science, John Husser of music, and Mary Beth Oliver of communication studies, as well as Burks Oakley, distance-learning expert from the University of Illinois. Program offerings will vary according to data collected by the needs-assessment team and faculty members and will range from introductory, refresher, or update workshops to specialty workshops focusing on such things as electronic conferencing tools for small businesses or K-12 writing tools.

The faculty team will be assisted in the planning of the series by members of the Dean's Roundtable of alumni advisors, who met with faculty members at Hotel Roanoke in September to determine the direction of the program. Luke describes the program as "an informal literacy training to help people become comfortable at using the information resources on the World Wide Web."

"We are approaching the World Wide Web as a new set of data archives, a knowledge bank, an information center where one can get facts and ideas," Luke said, adding that many people are apprehensive about such information resources. The program, he said, will be aimed at middle-to-upper-level business executives who are uncomfortable with new digital technologies even though their support staffs may be technologically savvy.

The program is designed with dual purposes, Hatfield said. First, it will reconnect alumni with the things that are going on in the College of Arts and Sciences. "We hope, initially, it will give them a chance to see what's happening with digital technology in teaching and learning in the college," he said.

The program also will form a gateway through which alumni can begin to take courses at Virginia Tech again, Hatfield said. The purpose, he said, is "first to inform and then to enrich the college, because we will learn what alumni are interested in and it will lead to their becoming life-long learners with us."

The program will begin with two sessions on "Living Well in the Digital Age," one in May 1997 and one in July, to be offered to 25-50 people each session. The series will begin with basic instruction in the digital culture-the World Wide Web, e-mail, developing Web pages-to give participants the navigational skills they need to ask useful questions about what it means to live in a digital culture, Hatfield said.

Roy said Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center has the potential to become a communication-technologies hub, attracting small businesses, corporations, and community members who are eager to enter the new learning environment. Data collected from the Lifelong Learning Series during its initial proposal period will be made available to the Academic Council for Continuing Education so that other programs can be developed to take advantage of the hotel's potential.

The Lifelong Learning project is unique in two ways, Roy said. It will use the technology before, during, and after the series to develop learning communities among participants via the Internet in WebChat forums and electronic conferencing sessions. Also, the technology will be used to assess the program as participants continue the discussions started in the two-and-a-half-day workshop and help shape the next offerings in the series.

The Lifelong Learning Series, Luke said, ultimately will be about the moral, political, or cultural implications of living in a society where so much vital information is stored and used by means of computer technology.