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Saturday, January 26, 2008

College Awarded Grant to Demonstrate Effective Blending of Classroom, Online Learning

Simmons College in Boston recently became the first private college in the United States to be awarded a grant from the prestigious Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to demonstrate that small colleges can offer high quality courses that combine classroom and online learning, while still maintaining close student/faculty relationships.

The Sloan Foundation awarded Simmons $225,000 to support two innovative "blended learning" initiatives that combine classroom and online student/teacher interactions in the Simmons School for Health Studies, and the Graduate School of Library and Information Science.

The goal of the Sloan program is to make high quality education available "anytime, anywhere, for those motivated to seek it." Course participants can access their courses at all times, from any location, through the Internet. The online and face-to-face course components are
designed as an integrated learning experience: each mode of learning is an extension of the other. The Sloan Foundation selected Simmons College for the award to demonstrate the viability of blended learning at small private institutions, to help dispel misconceptions about the level of faculty/student attentiveness the format can support.

"Private institutions have lagged behind public institutions in embracing blended and online learning," says Simmons College President Susan Scrimshaw. "Some fear that blended learning will compromise the 'high touch' faculty and student rapport for which our schools are known.

"Simmons is not dissuaded by this rationale. We intend to lead the way as a model for small private schools, to show the best of both worlds -- a college that can maintain a strong sense of community and also meet students where they are, in the workplace and homes distant from campus."

In one Simmons initiative, the grant will support blended learning in the Doctoral Program in Nursing Practice in the School of Health Studies. Academic administrators believe that blended
classroom and online courses will help decrease the shortage of nursing faculty, by making course offerings available to a wider geographic location, and with schedules that can better accommodate working professionals seeking a doctoral degree.

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