Published Online: June 19, 2002
Published in Print: June 19, 2002, as Rural Education

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Degree From the Outback

A university in Australia is now offering what may be the first education degree of its kind in the world: an online master's degree in rural education.

And thanks to some folks in Alabama, it's available to rural teachers here in the United States, no matter where they live.

James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland, in partnership with Malaspina University College in the Canadian province of British Columbia, are to begin offering classes in the program July 1. Students must enroll before then.

The Master of Education degree offered by James Cook University is a two-year program that focuses on education, along with rural community development—two efforts that often go hand in hand in rural places.

The degree program is aimed primarily at rural teachers, said Jack Shelton, a Tuscaloosa, Ala.-based faculty member in the online program. He is the founder and retired director of the Program for Rural Services and Research at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

Students in the online program will take classes to learn more about how technology and online teaching will affect rural schools, and how education in smaller communities relates to community survival.

Plus, with all the classes on the Web for the first time, teachers and others who enroll in the program can get to know classmates from around the world—without ever leaving their homes. That's a big advantage for some rural educators whose nearest university might be hours away by car, or who might feel isolated otherwise, Mr. Shelton said.

In his class, for instance, classmates will be assigned partners with whom they'll stay in touch and work on projects.

Tuition totals about $8,400 for the two-year program.

Organizers aren't sure exactly how many people will enroll at first. The beginning cohort, a group that will stay together in the same classes over the two years, may be small, with perhaps about 20 people enrolled.

But Mr. Shelton sees the program growing substantially, and believes it will be a model for others. The degree encompasses six different courses of four months each.

"I don't know of a comparable degree offered anywhere," Mr. Shelton said, noting its special emphasis on rural studies.

For more information, call the University of Alabama rural-services department at (205) 348-6432 or visit www.tld.jcu.edu.au/course/rural ed/.

—Alan Richard arichard@epe.org

Vol. 21, Issue 41, Page 6

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