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Online higher education company gains popularity

Carnegie Mellon may not have its own online teaching program, but a new online company, 2tor Inc., hopes to fill this gap all the way from California. 2tor has partnered up with the University of Southern California (USC) to offer the first online Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree program for students at Carnegie Mellon and around the world. Through the use of Web 2.0, streaming video, and animation, 2tor hopes to revolutionize the online classroom experience.

Jennifer Hanlon, 2tor’s marketing director, explained the reasoning behind the program.

“The country is suffering from a shortage of teachers that are qualified and rigorously trained to effect real change in high-need school districts,” Hanlon said. “MAT@USC can produce more of these teachers by enabling students to attend the school’s prestigious program without having to relocate to Southern California.”

The program offers a chance to specialize in language arts, mathematics, science, and history, or to get a general certification in all of them.

The curriculum includes online courses, field-based teaching assistant experiences in the area where the student resides, and even job placement, mentorship, and tuition reimbursements upon graduation.

While Carnegie Mellon does not have a teaching program, it has a partnership with Chatham College. Chatham offers teaching certifications to Carnegie Mellon students; yet, to make this happen, students must know in their first year that they want to pursue this route, and it is rarely used.

“What sets [2tor] apart is quality, flexibility, and selectivity,” said Hillary Smith, a junior business major and 2tor’s college representative at Carnegie Mellon.

Smith noted that the program is a part of USC in that all lectures, exams, assignments, and course materials are made by USC professors. The technology adds to the classroom experience, Smith said. She mentioned such instances as multiple cameras in a lecture room. The disbursement of video cameras makes for a unique and realistic classroom experience.

As for flexibility, Smith said that professors are available for help at all times, despite any time differences. With a full course load, the program can be completed in a year, and with part-time, it can take up to three years.

Smith brought up the fact that unlike other online competitors, such as University of Phoenix, all 2tor student applicants will have to meet USC standards to enter the program.

Hanlon mentioned the advantage of such a unique online experience.

“MAT@USC utilizes innovative, interactive technology and leverages a custom-tailored curriculum created specifically for the program, which enables students to receive the same degree as those attending the brick-and-mortar USC masters program,” she said.

Hanlon said that the advantages go beyond a USC caliber education.

“In today’s current economic environment, creating less financial freedom for students to relocate to their university of choice as well as adults leaving the workforce and turning to higher education, ... online learning has become a compelling alternative,” she said.

Christopher Jones, a modern languages professor at Carnegie Mellon, teaches a hybrid language course, which is a mix of face-to-face and online interaction.

“We did a three-year study comparing classroom and our hybrid course and found no significant difference in either achievement or satisfaction,” Jones said.

Jones even mentioned some advantages of online over classroom education.

“Our online language classes actually have better teacher-student relationships than standard classroom because of regular one-on-one meetings and electronic contact,” he said.

Jones shared his feelings on 2tor’s marketing plan.

“They’re right to consider the human-to-human as the crucial element in any instructional environment,” he said. “People like the Open University and Horizon Wimba, among others, have been working on developing toolkits to support these interactions virtually, in the case of the Open University using open source software foundations.”

Jones brought up the challenge of separating their Web 2.0 technology from that of others, as this is not a new area of technology.

“In my domain, people have been using these tools, including companies making money teaching languages in Second Life, and outsourcing native speaker tutoring to Costa Rica,for a long time,” Jones said.

Hanlon mentioned that 2tor goes far beyond Web 2.0 technology.

“In addition to combining online learning with carefully selected field-based experiences, MAT@USC also provides ongoing support for new teachers, including job placement assistance and significant tuition reimbursement opportunities,” she said.

Smith summarized it all in just a few words.

“It’s the real deal, just online,” she said.

Students interested can contact Smith at hes@andrew.cmu.edu.