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UMPI announces innovative online learning project

Thursday, 16 August 2012

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Effort will allow learners to take specific online courses for free

The University of Maine at Presque Isle has taken a bold, new step into the world of online learning with its UMPI OpenU project, an innovative effort to allow learners of all ages to participate in online college courses for free, as long as they aren't seeking college credit.

"At the heart of UMPI OpenU is the idea of learning for learning's sake," Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Sonntag said. "There are many people out there who would love to learn the things that are taught in a college course, but may not necessarily be interested in earning college credit toward a degree in order to gain that knowledge. Our OpenU project gives people that opportunity – to learn alongside our matriculated students in an online course setting and be enriched by the experience."

Everyone – community members and people throughout the state, nation, and the world – will be able to take part in UMPI OpenU courses. Each participant will have full access to the designated online courses and all of the materials related to them, including direct interaction with the instructors responsible for designing and delivering the courses.

One of the most exciting components of UMPI OpenU is the fact that participants will be able to take part in specific UMPI online courses at no cost for either the class or the books. UMPI officials were able to provide this unique opportunity by doing two things.

First, they selected the courses that initially will be offered through the project. Each course remains a for-credit class that UMPI students can take and also is available to OpenU learners; both will have access to Blackboard, the system UMPI uses to deliver online courses. This special access for OpenU participants will allow them to engage in Blackboard's discussion boards, UMPI's email system, and other asynchronous and synchronous activities with enrolled students and the instructor (such as written or recorded lectures).

Second, they are requiring that all materials used as part of these courses are either public domain works (such as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens), copyright free, or created and delivered by the instructor through Blackboard. Public domain works will be available to participants either as PDF files through Blackboard, or personally downloaded as digital copies (through devices like a Kindle or Nook).

Initially, the project will involve a slate of English courses: English 151 Introduction to Literature; English 211 Introduction to Creative Writing; English 300 Major Authors including Austen, the Brontes, and Dickens; English 309 The British Novel, and The Pastoral Novel; English 358 Studies in American Literature before 1900; and English 360 Literature of the Sea.

UMPI OpenU learners will have the option during UMPI's add/drop period to enroll in the course for credit, but the course may not be added for credit once the add/drop period is over. Either way, participants walk away at the end of the semester with a much deeper knowledge of the subject area they have been studying.

"The OpenU project allows UMPI instructors to make their expertise, knowledge, and love of their subject matter available to interested individuals everywhere," said Dr. Ray Rice, Chair of UMPI's College of Arts and Sciences and coordinator of UMPI OpenU. "And you don't simply watch a recorded lecture or listen to a podcast, you get the opportunity to interact directly with the instructor and matriculated students, to ask questions, engage in conversation, and be fully involved in the course. This is not a passive or "canned" experience, and it comes at absolutely no cost to the individual – a principle to which every instructor involved in this project is dedicated."

To learn more about UMPI OpenU, please visit www.umpi.edu/openU or call 207-768-9416. The first UMPI OpenU classes will be offered starting Fall 2012. There are limited slots, so individuals interested in this opportunity are encouraged to register early.