Thomas Edison State College, one of New Jersey’s 12 senior public institutions of higher education, offers associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in more than 100 areas of study for self-directed adults.
On 10 November, 2009, it announced that it will develop 40 courses over the next two years that will be delivered entirely via flash drives that contain similar structure and functionality to the college’s typical 12-week, asynchronous online courses but without the need for a constant online connection. For these new courses, students will need an Internet connection only to submit assignments and participate in online discussions. The remainder of course work can be completed offline.
For example, through the new system, a course like Introduction to Entrepreneurship would have the same content, general structure and materials, regardless of whether a student:
- takes it as an asynchronous online course with discussion boards and class interactions
- takes it as an independent study course or examination program, where students have no interaction with other learners
- has the course delivered entirely on a flash drive, secure digital (SD) card or other removable storage device
- has the course delivered to a smartphone or other Web-enabled device.
At the same time, the college will be deploying a new course delivery system that utilizes cloud computing technologies and is designed to increase access and minimize technical issues for adults earning a college degree. Tthe platform-independent system is expected to help eliminate most of the technical glitches that students taking online courses experience, such as those caused by upgrades to learning management systems and software compatibility issues. The new system will be “operating system agnostic” and will work as well with PCs as it does with Apples, regardless of the computers’ operating systems.
Although this is an interesting development for a city like New Jersey, with excellent Internet infrastructure and with relatively small commuting distances to campus, it is even more significant for developing countries with poor Internet infrastructure. Flash drives are so cheap now that they are often given away as free gifts at conferences and to visitors. Bought in bulk and provided free to students in developing countries, this would reduce enormously the cost and inconvenience of poor Internet infrastructure. I think using flash drives is perhaps one of the most important technology developments for online learning for developing countries in several years.
How appropriate that this comes from a college named after the inventor of mass electricity and light bulbs (with apologies to Russian readers, who have their own inventor of light bulbs) – also New Jersey is the home of the inventors of computer mediated communications, Murray Turoff and Roxanne Hiltz. Must be something in the water.