When students arrive at Norwich University, they see a familiar and beautiful campus (Figure 1) with 185 years of history visible in everything from beautiful buildings, lovely stonework (Figure 2), and memorabilia such as World War II tanks driven by illustrious alumni (Figure 3). There are clubs such as the Special Interest Group on Security Audit and Control (Figure 3) and daily opportunities to interact with professors, staff, and other students. There are championship-winning sports teams. All these facilities and activities provide opportunities for friendship, teamwork, and a sense of belonging to something very old, very deep, and very proud.
|Figure 1. Norwich University lower campus in autumn.||Figure 2. Alumni Steps.|
|Figure 3. CAPT Burt's WWII Tank.||Figure 4. NU SIGSAC (security club).|
The So how do students of Norwich University's online graduate programs develop a sense of involvement with each other, with their professors, and with the University? One way is the Norwich University Virtual Campus, a Web site dedicated to encouraging a sense of community among all of the participants in our online graduate programs.
Norwich University currently has four graduate programs:
- Master of Business Administration;
- Master of Arts in Diplomacy;
- Master of Justice Administration;
- Master of Science in Information Assurance.
Full information about these programs is available at http://www3.norwich.edu/grad/
In this article, I'd like to give you a little tour of our graduate portal.The Home Page
Let's start with our homepage, grad.norwich.edu. I suggested that you get your browser running and actually look at the current version of the page. I'll just describe the version as it was on the second of May 2004 but the details are minor.
At the top of the page you will see icons representing the four programs available at the time of writing of this article (a fifth program was under active consideration). On the left side of the page, you'll see a standard menu of links; following good Web design strategy, these links are available throughout the Web site. The first link, "WebCT classroom," is used by students, faculty and staff to enter the teaching platform through which our online courses are delivered. This is a secured facility, and so visitors will find only the "Courses" and the "WebCT Tutorial" sections available for browsing.
Next in line are the "Articles & News" items. Dr Fred Snow, Dean of Online Graduate Programs, has a regular feature in which he writes about anything that strikes his fancy. Fred has written about his philosophy of education, his personal background, his work as an assistant high school baseball coach, and even his experiences shopping for linens in huge superstores.
"Grad Announcements" provide a place where OGP administrators can post urgent messages concerning administrative for academic issues such as registration for the graduation week.
The next link, "@NU," is the online publication of the Norwich University Alumni Association. Our first graduating class was from the MBA program in June 2003; we expect to see graduate alumni contributing to the Alumni Association in years to come.
"Campus News" opens a new window for the Norwich University news, sports and events page. From there, one can navigate anywhere else on the University web site.
The next block is dedicated to the residency. Because our students live all over the world, they do not come to the Norwich campus for their studies during the 18 months of the online programs. However, as part of their graduation week, they are required to travel to our campus in Northfield, Vermont for eight to 10 days depending on the program. The "Residency" link provides detailed information about the residency for each of our four programs. Readers unfamiliar with Norwich will find a wealth of information and pictures about our university and the local area that might interest you. Perhaps we can convince you to come and visit us.
The links under "Alumni" referred to alumni of the graduate programs. "Alumni Home" has a welcome message from the Dean; "Alumni News" presents recent items and pictures of interest to our alumni; the "MBA Gallery" opens a new window that has collections of pictures from the 2003 Residency. We will be adding new galleries for the additional programs. Finally, the "MBA Feedback" link provides detailed results of the evaluations filled out by students at the end of their residency. Similar sections will be available for the Diplomacy, Justice Administration, and Information Assurance programs. Readers interested in the improvement of online programs may be interested in the results of our research, which are available in the PDF files linked from the Feedback page.
The "Agora" link describes the discussion areas available to students, faculty and staff; however, the agoras themselves are restricted to participants in the online graduate programs.
The last link, "Library via CLiC," brings registered participants into the general Norwich University portal for e-mail, grades, and access to Library resources.The Program Home Pages
As I mentioned earlier, the icons at the top of each page linked directly to each program's home page. Generally, program-specific news can be posted there; there are also usually two links to interesting articles. We have a biographical essay from a student in our program in which people are encouraged to shaft informally about their history, their families, interests, hobbies, hopes and even fears. There are usually charming pictures of our students and their families here. The other link is to a weekly essay by the director of each program. These essays discuss a wide range of topics; for example, several of us publish articles about recent news in our field and comment on the implications. Sometimes we publish homilies that express values. In a way, this is an opportunity to do for our graduate students what we naturally do for our undergraduates we serve as mentors and establish personal relationships with them. One of us recently published a moving tribute to his beloved dog who had died during that week. Several of us have written about our families and shown pictures of them. Anyone interested in these articles can click on the link for the current item and then find the link to archives in the upper right hand corner of the page.Conclusion
I hope you will visit our site and look around; there's a lot of interesting material even if you're not part of the Norwich community. More generally, perhaps our experience will stimulate others to develop their own versions of this virtual campus to encourage a sense of community among online students.