The Payson Center for International Development offers a variety of graduate level courses that can be completed anywhere in the world. A graduate student in the Master’s program can complete a significant portion (up to 50%) of his or her program in a distance learning format. Updated every semester, our core courses focus on sustainable human development, (SHD), economics, and conflict and disaster management, and are available on Tulane's Learning Management System (LMS), Blackboard. Faculty uses a variety of other technologies and approaches to ensure effective material delivery and easy faculty and student interaction.
Blackboard (BB) is one of those technologies. BB is used as the main tool to post general instructions, notes, homework, exams, substantial research paper (SRP) material and any other information related to courses. Discussion forums within BB permit students to interact with each other. These discussions are of two types: open ended and topic specific.
For open ended discussions, students use the BB “Student Forum” to post any question, comment or idea that they wish to discuss. The Instructor makes an occasional comment, but mostly it is the students who exchange ideas.
For topic specific communications, students will be asked to post contributions to the discussion board, email, or other area within BB. Topics will be based upon specific questions and themes, and will count towards a portion of the grade. Normally the discussion is time bound. The instructor actively participates in the discussion. Responses are posted to BB, and available for class member and instructor comment. Graded materials are transmitted via email to ensure privacy.
Not limited to BB, several professors hold weekly class discussions with the use of the web conferencing platforms, Skype or GoToMeeting. After consultation with class participants, faculty and students meet for a real-time distance classes. Participation is not compulsory; however, most participate regularly and enjoy the discussion opportunities therein. The usual agenda for web conferences is homework, readings, SRP, exams, and other issues that the instructor or students wish to raise that relate to the course.
Students who for various reasons are unable to attend classes on the Tulane campus have to rely on the distance format. Even those who are in New Orleans appreciate the flexibility this format provides. Continuing education and students seeking career enhancement find it possible to continue a full time career while pursuing a graduate degree.
While software challenges have been reported, students who are able handle the usual software packages such as Excel find it easier to cope with the distance format. For example, drawing graphs for the Economics class require these basic skills. Of course, those with emerging skills are provided ample opportunity to gain experience and skill. The distance method provides even more scope than conventional classes to develop writing, because much of the “discussion” takes place via the written word.
For those students participating in courses via distance format, Skype/GoTo Meeting and BB class forums help to overcome the absence of face-to-face interaction with instructor. Given the unconventional classroom setting, students must be self-starters and motivated to complete work in a timely manner.