Army studies online lessons

eArmyU

After taking the past three months off to design evaluation materials, the Army's largest e-learning virtual university program, eArmyU, has reopened to new student registration and will launch its first internal evaluation as it prepares to increase enrollment.

Diane Stoskopf, director of the Army Continuing Education System, said the eArmyU program was put on hold — except for continuing students — to assess the program's value.

"It was very healthy to take a hiatus because we've been on a dead run for two years and never looked back, or even ahead," she said.

So far, eArmyU has proven popular. It has provided online degree opportunities to more than 30,500 enlisted soldiers since its inception in January 2001 and will enroll approximately 80,000 soldiers by 2005 worldwide, said Jill Kidwell, a partner at IBM Corp.'s Business Consulting Services, the program's prime contractor.

The five-year, $453 million contract was originally awarded to PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting in December 2000. IBM recently bought PwC Consulting.

"We'll be conducting an evaluation to get our arms around where we are and where we want to go," Stoskopf said. "People say, 'How do you measure success?' We want to take the time to figure it out."

The evaluation will begin Jan. 27 at the 11 established eArmyU sites and at three new locations: Fort Sill, Okla.; Fort Bliss, Texas; and Fort Knox, Ky., she said, adding that the process should be completed by the end of March. During those months, the Army is prepared to enroll up to 12,500 more students in the program.

Lloyd Korhonen, professor and director of the Center for Distance Learning Research at Texas A&M University, explained the three-month hiatus as the Army "pausing to look ahead."

"This doesn't hurt anybody," because the break was for a short period of time and "won't affect anyone in a [negative] way in the future," he said. "I wish other [programs] would do the same thing."

Once enrolled in eArmyU, soldiers receive up to 100 percent funding for tuition, books and course fees, as well as a personal laptop computer, printer, e-mail account and Internet service provider account. Other features include 24-hour technical support and assistance in determining a program of study, registering for courses and transferring credits.

Late last year, IBM announced a slew of new academic program offerings and the expansion of participating colleges and universities in eArmyU. Those institutions will offer more than 3,000 courses and more than 150 academic degree programs, which is triple the number of degree programs available when the program began, Kidwell said.

To date, 94 soldiers have completed their degrees through eArmyU, and regardless of where they are stationed, students can log on and continue their studies as long as they do not interfere with their primary mission, Stoskopf said.

The goal is for soldiers to find what they need through the eArmyU portal in about three clicks, which requires aligning the Army system with the schools' computer systems, she said. IBM identified colleges and universities to provide online degree programs for eArmyU through a competitive process.

In order to participate in eArmyU, schools must be a member of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges, a consortium of more than 150 colleges and universities that provide courses and degrees for service members and their families, Kidwell said.

To help soldiers in remote locations, eArmyU allows students to work off-line by downloading courses or class notes in advance, study and then sync up at a later time, when that work will be incorporated into the online learning environment, Kidwell said.

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Degrees online

The number of colleges and universities participating in eArmyU will increase to 32 in 19 states during 2003. The program also will expand to include 12 new undergraduate and graduate schools and at least 68 additional degree programs during the next six to nine months.

Courses are offered in various technology- and nontechnology-related areas including chemistry, computer programming, computer operating systems, management information systems, telecommunications and aeronautics.

Soldier-students can earn numerous degrees, including associate of applied science in business management, bachelor of science in computer science, master of business administration, master of science in computer information systems and master of science management information systems.

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