Prestigious Grant to Help Columbus State Develop More Online Courses

COLUMBUS, Ga. -- Columbus State University will participate in a prestigious $250,000 grant that could help professors develop more courses that are online or partly online in an attempt to enable more struggling college students to remain in school.

Gary Shouppe

The amount Columbus State will receive as one of 23 schools chosen to share the Next Generation Learning Challenges grant is secondary to the potential for further funding and the opportunities to collaborate with other universities ramping up to offer more distance learning, university officials said Thursday.

“It’s not a tremendous amount, but it will allow us to expand training and opportunities for professors to extend blended learning and create (more effective) models of instruction,” said Gary Shouppe, CSU professor of educational leadership.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation helped design and fund the Next Generation Learning Challenges,

  which is described as a multi-year, collaborative initiative focused on identifying and accelerating the growth of effective education technology that can help improve college readiness and completion in the United States — especially among low-income individuals.

“One of our targets in this effort is underprivileged students,” Shouppe said. “We’re trying to help them with their struggle to stay in college.”

Shouppe, a distance learning leader at Columbus State, frequently teaches working educators graduate courses that are either completely online or blended, combining online with face-to-face classroom time. He began pursuing a role for CSU in the grant last summer, when he, several other professors and President Tim Mescon traveled to the University of Central Florida, which launched the initiative. Collaborating with UCF is the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, which represents 420 public college and universities, including CSU.

CSU’s grant group, led by Orlando-based UCF and Washington-based AASCU, is one of 29 entities receiving a total of $10.6 million in this first wave of grants, Next Generation Learning Challenges officials announced Thursday in Seattle. Those were selected from more than 600 applicants. An additional $5.4 million may be awarded later to some of the most promising projects.

One goal of the grant that Columbus State will participate in is to prepare and test a “Blended Learning Toolkit” based on proven “best practices” that will make it easier for professors to develop proven, effective methods for delivering instruction online.

Columbus State is apparently the only Georgia college or university participating in one of the Next Generation grants.

Online instruction takes many forms at Columbus State. For about a decade, CSU has offered students access to a password-protected online instructional platform that allows professors to offer content in many forms. These can range from accessible-anytime audio and video lectures to interactive, self-guided tutorials to low-tech PDF handouts. More professors are using the platform, now Blackboard Vista Enterprise System, as tools become simpler to use to move all or part of their instruction efforts online. In most cases, CSU professors use online content as a supplement rather than a replacement for classroom sessions.

But the number of online courses offered at Columbus State has grown dramatically, from 167 in 2006 to more than 450 in 2011. Nineteen departments or programs will offer more than 100 fully online courses developed by CSU professors next fall. Three undergraduate degrees and nine graduate degrees can be earned via distance learning at Columbus State. For more information on what’s offered, visit