SUNY-ESF receives $190,000 grant to fund online learning program

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The SUNY Investment Fund will go toward a new online learning program, expanding upon the university's dedication to online education.

SUNY-ESF recently received a SUNY Investment Fund award in support of its development of online programs, furthering the university’s dedication to distance learning.

State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher announced on Jan. 11 during her annual State of the University Address that the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry would receive $190,000 to fund the ESF Open Academy. SUNY-ESF has a history of engaging in a variety of distance learning methods, including video conferences and the use of satellite technology, said Chuck Spuches, associate provost for outreach at SUNY-ESF.

We have a record of success in online learning, and we are up to the challenge of working to better those programs to serve all of our constituents.
Chuck Spuches

The ESF Open Academy will further institutionalize online learning at SUNY-ESF, expanding the number and range of undergraduate and graduate courses offered online. Additional certificates will also be made available for online completion, Spuches said.

The ESF Open Academy will also include the ESF Teaching and Learning Collaboratory, which is a mechanism to help faculty prepare to engage in additional online teaching and learning, Spuches said.

Although it is not yet possible to earn a complete degree from SUNY-ESF online, Spuches said the investment will allow SUNY-ESF to assess and strengthen its approaches to online education, bringing the university closer to developing online degree programs.

SUNY-ESF’s commitment to online learning is consistent with what the SUNY system is doing as a whole through Open SUNY, a SUNY-wide collaboration that increases online-enabled learning, Spuches said.

“Through formal and informal science education programming … ESF can further its mission to better manage forests and resources, explore nature for sustainable solutions, increase public science literacy and provide uniquely excellent educational experiences across the environmental sciences,” said SUNY-ESF President Quentin Wheeler said in a press release on the school’s website.

In the mid-1990s, SUNY-ESF became one of the pilot schools for online learning by joining the SUNY Learning Network, but due to the specificity of the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) material SUNY-ESF offers, it was not until 2008 that the school officially branded SUNY-ESF online, Spuches said.

Before, information that we offered was limited and specific. Now, we are able to offer a greater variety of courses and certificates.
Chuck Spuches

Spuches added that the funding will also serve high school students and educators across the state and beyond. The SUNY-ESF high school program began in 1999, and SUNY-ESF courses are being taught to more than 600 high school students, he said. Portions of the funding will contribute to an increase in online professional development for teachers who participate in this program, Spuches said.

“The grant allows us to reach a larger group, and through the Open Academy, it gives us the opportunity to bring together all of the research our faculty does and place it in an online, educational setting,” Spuches said.

SUNY-ESF research programs are not restricted to central New York; research takes place throughout the globe. Spuches said he likens the increase in online education to catching up with the geographical width of the research programs.

“This is an evolutionary process,” Spuches said. “We are examining and assessing what we have done so far, and then we will regroup and launch in the fall.”

SUNY-ESF hopes to have the ESF Open Academy readily available for the 2016-17 academic year, Spuches said.


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