Distance learning is not a new idea, and online learning is becoming more common. However, some institutions deliver higher-quality products and experiences than others. Likewise, some programs carry more weight and credibility, largely due to the reputation of their associated institutions.

One such example is California State University, East Bay. The online division is housed under CSUEB's Department of Continuing Education and covers disciplines from computing to education to forestry. There is a certificate and degree (M.S.) in online teaching and learning (OTL) which might be a model that the W&M SOE could offer.

Both the overall OTL degree program and the individual courses are well-constructed, well-facilitated, and engaging. Part of the reason may be that all the professors understand the dynamics of the online environment and how to create a sense of "place and presence" for the students. Anyone at William and Mary who wants to deliver a course through an online platform should really take at least a basic course (four to six weeks in length), teaching instructors how to build an engaging course and facilitate it effectively. This could fall under professional development. Our SOE could think about offering the four-course Online Teaching and Learning (OTL) certificate in the near future. This could be offered, as CSUEB's is, to anyone globally, whether teachers or instructors in K12, higher education, military, or corporate training.

Another, much more comprehensive model, is the University of Maryland University College. UMUC was established in 1947 and has built a strong program on military bases worldwide. However, if you read their Strategic Plan (see especially page 5 of the PDF document), you'll see that the military is simply a logical component of their overall global approach. The college is actually considered to be a separate entity within the state university system. Its campus is virtual in the sense that it is widely dispersed and has no central "anchor." However, many of the courses are offered in a traditional face-to-face setting (e.g., on US military bases with qualified professors). There is also a strong online learning component in the UMUC model.

One way William and Mary could benefit from studying the UMUC strategic plan is in the development of long-range goals, including fiscal growth and viability. We might begin with SOE courses, certificates, and degrees but write our strategy and mission broadly enough to eventually grow into a College-wide program. Graduate-level degrees tend to come before undergraduate degrees in the world of online program development.

We should be careful to protect the William and Mary reputation for excellence as we consider growth in online and distance learning. As we can see from both the CSUEB and UMUC models, the requirements for their distance learning instructors and students are just as rigorous as for those in residence. Even a program offered entirely online (i.e., without any requirement for a face-to-face orientation or introductory class) will retain credibility if the institution offering it maintains high academic and professional standards.