A new USDA grant of approximately $389,000 will enable the new Northern Vermont University (the official name of Johnson State College and Lyndon State College as of July 1, 2018) to develop a distance-learning network that will increase live course offerings and delivery methods for students throughout Vermont and the country.

With both mobile and fixed videoconferencing technology, the one-year grant will fund delivery of a range of courses and connect NVU and its two campuses, Johnson and Lyndon, to Vermont Technical College, and Vermont high schools and adult learners around the U.S. The grant, from the USDA Rural Utilities Service office, was awarded in January to Johnson State College, and is given through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program, which supports broadband to help communities access education and health care.

By the fall, the grant will support real-time, online courses through Northern Vermont University Online, NVU’s distance-learning division. The grant will support distance-learning classes for adult learners, campus-based videoconferencing courses shared by the Johnson and Lyndon campuses, dual-enrollment courses for high school students, and Vermont Tech nursing classes.

“We’re increasing the variety of courses and providing that synchronous delivery mode that a lot of students want and don’t currently have access to,” NVU Associate Dean of Distance Education Programs Bobbi Jo Carter says.

The grant will help the Vermont State Colleges System and the state meet goals of increasing higher education access, college degree completion rates and workforce development opportunities for Vermonters.

“One of the major pieces people are really excited about is the partnership we have with Vermont Tech,” Carter says.

The grant will fund the restoration of a dedicated classroom for Vermont Tech to deliver nursing courses to students in Lamoille County, an option that was discontinued in 2013.

In addition to the Vermont Tech courses, classes for adult learners will be available through desktop conferencing, so students can interact with a live class from anywhere they have an internet connection. And 28 Vermont high schools will receive new technology so dual-enrollment students can take college courses for credit while they’re at school.

“The grant allows us to expand our offerings through different partnerships with different institutions. It allows us to serve that section of the population that really needs that live aspect but is geographically located so they can’t easily get to the places where they can take the course. And we will be able to coordinate with workforce development groups throughout the state,” Carter says.

Trainings, conferences and informational sessions could be offered to groups like first responders in a videoconferencing room at NVU-Johnson or NVU-Lyndon.

The new videoconferencing network will allow efficiencies such as course-sharing between Johnson and Lyndon after the transition to NVU.

“With unification, we can potentially offer our students so many more opportunities,” Carter says. “But it isn’t feasible to expect students to travel back and forth between the two campuses…Now we’ll be able to connect them.”

The grant also will support a connection between the NVU campuses and Sinte Gleska University, located on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. In addition to increasing course options for students at both universities, the partnership could lead to cross-cultural, hands-on learning experiences for students.

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