Soon, online students at Thomas Edison State College won’t even have to be online to complete their course work.
Beginning this fall, students at the Trenton-based distance-education institution will have the option of using a 2GB flash drive instead of a course-management system to prepare for and complete their classes.
The flash drives are part of the college’s Mobile Learning Initiative, developed after it discovered many of its students — who were stationed with the military or frequently traveling — couldn’t access a course-management system on a regular basis.
“When you have students who are constantly on the go, online courses can be a challenge,” said Matt C. Cooper, an instructional-technology specialist at the college and one of the course designers. “We tried experimenting with a CD-ROM, but it didn’t work. They break, they get lost — it’s static media. That offers a lot of problems.”
Instead, the college piloted the flash drives this spring in 15 “FlashTrack” courses, which include the “Science of Nutrition,” “Social Gerontology,” and “Principles of Finance.” Each flash drive contained Open Office versions of word processing, spreadsheet and presentation programs; media players; and folders containing course material. At the end of the class, students took a high-stakes test — as they would in any other online course — to complete the course, Mr. Cooper said.
The college has combined both of those technologies to offer the flash drives they will distribute to all students this fall. Mr. Cooper said in this generation of flash drives, the college hopes to install technology that will allow the flash drive to automatically connect to a folder hosted by the college, so students can submit assignments whenever the flash drive detects an Internet connection.
Mr. Cooper said the college will also look to add communication and technical-support devices in future versions of the flash drive.
Until then, a student could theoretically take and complete a course at the college while deployed on a submarine under water, Mr. Cooper said — that is, if he or she could reach an Internet connection.