UMA Rockland Celebrates 30 Years of Distance Education While Joining Statewide Activities
University of Maine at Augusta President Rebecca Wyke announces UMA will mark 30 years of distance education and welcome those who helped develop Maine’s largest distance education network to a statewide celebration, including at UMA Rockland.
UMA students, faculty, alumni, friends, and supporters will gather at locations across the state to celebrate the 30th anniversary of this revolutionary educational concept. Attendees will also learn how the technologies for distance education have evolved and how UMA is again leading the way in fulfilling its mission of making education accessible to all.
Joining the celebration at the Augusta Campus will be Dr. George Connick, former UMA President and pioneer of distance education in Maine and Pam MacBrayne, former UMA Executive Director of Distance Education.
“We are pleased that Dr. Connick will be joining us to celebrate this milestone,” stated UMA President Wyke. “UMA takes its mission of providing access to education very seriously. Dr. Connick was instrumental in setting this standard and UMA continues to be an institution transforming the lives of students of every age and background across the State of Maine. As the technology has evolved, UMA has also evolved to provide the highest quality distance education.”
For many, it is hard to remember a time when information could not be accessed, literally, in the palm of your hand. A time before smartphones and PCs, when YouTube videos, Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram were not part of a World Wide Web connected citizenry. Thirty years ago, UMA, with University of Maine System (UMS) support, was on the cusp of this technological movement with a goal of reshaping access to higher education across the state of Maine and beyond.
Currently, UMA offers 20 different baccalaureate programs, select associate degrees in 11 different programs, and 44 certificate programs. In 1985, however, its focus was on two-year degrees and developing and hosting a telecommunications system to expand educational programming through links with existing UMS campuses, the Vocational-Technical Institutes (now the Maine Community College System), Maine Maritime Academy, numerous off-campus centers, and high schools.
From the start, the complex concept, design, and construction of a pioneering technological system put UMA on the fast track of an emerging educational delivery system. Deborah Meehan, Executive Director of UMA Centers, who oversees all of UMA’s Centers across the state now, including UMA Rockland, was part of the original team. She recalled, “At that time, the race for distance education was a national race and UMA was way out in front.”
Connick reflected on the initial implementation of electronic education, “I think most people thought of it as only technology (i.e., television classrooms, TV cameras, microwave towers, etc.). However, what was created in 1989 was the first statewide comprehensive distance-learning network in the United States. Educators came from all over the country to learn first-hand what we were doing.”
The face of ITV has certainly changed from its inception yet remains an integral part of UMA’s distance learning. Today, learning venue options include onsite, online, through video conference, Interactive Television, and at UMA Centers. UMA is again leading the way with its innovate use of web-based interactive classrooms, which improve upon the original ITV design.
“ITV is migrating actively to technician assisted Web conferencing which enables real-time collaboration between professors and students at various locations on web-enabled devices (PCs, laptops, tablets, etc.) through the use of audio, video, and content sharing (e.g., Zoom),” offered Justin Hafford, UMA Director of Advanced Media & Instructional Technologies.
“Software technologies, such as Zoom, continue UMA’s mission of providing an accessible education throughout Maine and beyond,” explained President Wyke. “While video conference improves the interaction between professors and students, the need for video conferencing equipment limits access to certain locations. By moving to web-based conferencing, classes can be accessed anywhere someone has a computer or smartphone and an internet connection.”
A web conferencing model also allows for immediate interaction by all participants during class. With this technology, students can click a box to virtually raise their hand or communicate during class in chat boxes. An added benefit, students can work on class projects outside of class time using the same technology. For those students that still need to view the class at a time more convenient to them, it is automatically recorded and available 15 minutes after the class ends.
Through a process developed with UMS, UMA provides web conferencing licenses to distance education students. This innovative approach was recently highlighted at the UBTech conference in Orlando, FL.
Last year, UMA delivered 47,119 credit hours (representing 73% of its total credit hours) via distance learning modalities, more than any other UMS campus. This includes classes delivered via ITV, online, onsite at UMA Centers, and through video conferencing.
UMA offers 13 degree programs that are available completely online, including a bachelor’s degree in Information and Library Science (ILS) which is available only online. UMA’s Provost Joseph Szakas touted, the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) ranked the ILS program as number one in terms of student engagement. “Modality does not determine quality. UMA allows you to obtain quality degrees, in a flexible format regardless of location,” added Szakas. “Distance education allows the students to find balance with competing demands on time, while being able to achieve their educational goals. It was true in 1989 and it is still true today, we bring our classrooms to the students where they are.”