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Feb. 2, 2012 Volume 33, No. 18

Distance learning with the help of Mizzou

A $1.3 million gift jump-started a new program that uses technology to further Mizzou’s land-grant mission to improve the quality of life for Missouri residents.

Mizzou and many of the state’s community colleges have recently partnered to develop an occupational therapy assistant program that is administered at community colleges, but taught by MU professors. Mizzou also is assisting Linn State Technical College in expanding its existing physical therapist assistant program to accommodate other partnering colleges.

Rather than taking an online course, students gather at one of several community colleges throughout the state and tune in to an interactive television broadcast class, led by a Mizzou professor, at MU.

The professor can see the students on his or her own screen, and answer any questions they may have throughout the lecture. The professor meets with the students once a week at one of the campuses to complete a lab assignment. 

Because of a need for these professionals throughout the state, RehabCare, the corporate donor affiliated with health professions, challenged MU to help deliver courses to as many occupational and physical therapy practitioners as possible, in the shortest amount of time. The partnerships reached out to place-bound students in Missouri cities such as Sedalia and Moberly in hopes that the courses would produce workers qualified to fill the open positions in these rural areas.

“We found there was a market niche out there,” said Terry Barnes, assistant provost for community college partnerships. “The purpose was to leverage the existing distance education technology that Mizzou already owned and to figure out a way that we could provide [it to obtain] more certified health professionals.”

Barnes said that the system is expensive to operate, so any one community college would be unable to provide the courses on its own.

“They would have to have so many students each year that it would saturate the market with too many graduates,” he said. “[Collaboration is] a way to control the output.”

Barnes said so far, the programs have produced impressive results. The first OTA class graduated in 2010, and all 27 graduates received job offers.  Additionally, most received sign-on bonuses that helped pay for the cost of tuition. “That was a total surprise,” Barnes said.

Program Director Lea Brandt said there are plans to expand the OTA program to other community college partners in 2013.

“It helps meet our land-grant mission,” she said. “The program also aligns with the service region mission of each of the participating colleges, intended to help improve the lives and enhance the health of people in the state.”