AUSTIN, Texas—When Dr. Paul Resta of The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education created an online version of his course, Instructional Technology Planning and Management, he wanted to engage his distance learning students in an exciting way.
He designed a virtual school district, which he named the Mustang Independent School District, using virtual reality software that allows students to "enter" and explore the campus as a way to better understand their jobs as educators and trainers.
Mustang Independent School District has computer hardware, software, classrooms, budgets, principals and everything you would expect to find in any school district, with one exception. It exists strictly on the Internet.
Recently, the two largest distance education organizations in the United States recognized Resta’s innovative instructional design by granting him two top honors. The U.S. Distance Learning Association awarded Resta first place for Excellence in Distance Learning Teaching. The University Continuing Education Association gave his online course first place in the category of Distance Education Course Award — Higher Education.
Resta’s course is taught via the UT TeleCampus, the online support center for distance education among The University of Texas System’s 15 component campuses. The M.Ed. program Resta collaborates on includes coursework and expert faculty from UT Austin, UT Brownsville, UT El Paso and the UT Permian Basin.
All of the online courses in the UT TeleCampus-based programs have the same requirements and challenging curriculum as their onsite counterparts, but allow students the flexibility to access their course online whenever they wish.
UT TeleCampus Director Dr. Darcy Hardy echoes the applause for Resta’s course. "Dr. Resta has a national reputation for innovation in the field of technology and education," she said. "We were delighted he chose to participate in, and contribute courses toward, the M.Ed. we’re facilitating via the TeleCampus.
"His teaching and his insight into learning and measurement have made him an expert in this field," Hardy said. "What he has created in the online environment is the perfect culmination of his work with multimedia technologies in dozens of national projects and initiatives. From start to finish, his course and his teaching methodologies represent the standards of excellence we are striving to achieve for students who cannot access the traditional, onsite classroom."
Students earning their master of education degree in educational technology online via the UT TeleCampus find the authentic context of Resta’s online classroom both challenging and stimulating. The course is divided into nine modules and requires students to perform a variety of tasks from needs assessment to grant writing and identifying possible funding sources to support their school’s needs.
From chat rooms to Webcasts to streaming audio and video, the student is engaged in the creation of a technology strategic plan — from an organization phase through an analysis phase to a formulation phase — while being led by Resta and his team of graduate student assistants. Students are kept abreast of changes and activities "within" Mustang ISD via the Mustang ISD Newsletter, posted on the opening Web pages of the course. This communication piece serves as a constant point of contact between faculty and students.
"I think there is a misconception about online learning," said Resta. "Students are perceived as isolated, sitting alone in front of a computer. The reality is online students are part of a dynamic, supportive learning community that engages them and exposes them to multiple perspectives, in part due to the depth of their Web-based conversations. As an instructor, I know my students in the online courses to a far greater degree than if we met three hours a week."
Resta said one of the powers of the online learning community is that while students are learning from their professors, they also are learning from each other. "If you look at my course, there are thousands of entries and contributions. The sophistication and level of discourse is rich because in the online course there’s time for everyone to participate, not just a few."
Projects in the course are as creative as the content. Many projects involve multi-media and may pair distance learners in group projects. They then explore and demonstrate principles and strategies for technology planning in a context that most closely mirrors the challenges they will face as technology planners after course completion. Students represent both the corporate and educational environment.
No stranger to technology planning or distance education, Resta serves on multiple national advisory committees and projects. He is the founder of ENAN, the Educational Native American Network, a national telecommunications network funded by the U.S. Department of the Interior. He directs the Four Directions project team at UT Austin — a national project involving 19 rural Indian schools across the country. Together, they explore the use of telecommunications and multimedia technologies to enhance the quality of education in schools in remote areas.
He holds the Ruth Knight Millikan Centennial Professorship in Instructional Technology and is the director of the Learning Technology Center at UT Austin. His work continues to focus on enhancing learning opportunities for students in rural isolated areas through the use of telecommunications and multimedia technologies.
Resta serves on the Academic Advisory Committee for the TeleCampus-based M.Ed. in educational technology, along with leaders from partner institutions in the collaborative degree program.
For more information on the program, browse the TeleCampus site at: <http://www.telecampus.utsystem.edu>, call toll-free 1-888-TEXAS-16, or contact Jennifer Rees at (512) 499-4323. The email address is: <firstname.lastname@example.org>. To arrange an interview with Dr. Paul Resta, contact Jody Owens at (512) 471-3610.