You can get a Bachelors Degree from Brigham Young, take accounting at Cornell, or work toward your MBA at Auburn without leaving home. These and hundreds of other academic institutions throughout the world are offering distance education courses and degree programs at a variety of educational levels in widest possible range of subject areas.
The Globewide Network Academy is a clearinghouse of information relating to this growing trend in education. The academy is a volunteer collaborative effort formed to meet the information needs of this new population of students, educators and academic support providers. The GNA web site offers dynamic information resources and online communication forums as it seeks to link this new educational community. The site has received recognition and awards from several web site evaluation organizations including Magellan, Starting Point, Best of the Web, and Education World and others.
The main feature of the site is an extensive catalog of distance learning programs and courses offered throughout the world. The database contains listings, descriptions and links to over 9000 courses, 500 degree programs offered by nearly 400 institutions. The catalog can be searched by keyword and browsed by subject and institution. Each listing provides a brief description of the course or program and hyperlinks directly to the educational institution for detailed program and registration information. The creators have provided several helpful interactive features that aid in the organization, maintenance and accuracy of the resource including the ability to register new distance education programs and to securely edit and update catalog information.
For the distance educator, the GNA site provides a "Teachers Lounge" and the "World Lecture Hall." In these areas users can access a wide variety of useful materials and links including online course materials, textbooks, lectures and courseware. The lounge area also offers a valuable set of resource links to databases, periodicals, directories, mailing lists, organizations and more. Perhaps, the most impressive component of the lounge area is the "Hypernews" discussion. Hypernews is run on GNA developed software allowing users post messages and documents while providing a place for instructors to post course materials and texts. Incorporating elements of traditional listserv and usenet discussion groups, "Hypernews" captures, sorts and displays discussion message threads in a unique, useful and organized presentation. At this writing, discussion topics ranged from "Implementing a Virtual Classroom" to "Composition in Cyberspace" to "Cybercheating."
The "Support Services" area, where one might expect to find an emphasis on information and library services for distance learners, is noticeably thin. In this area the user is provided with links to a few organizations and businesses who support distance education through course development, textbooks, and virtual classroom technology. Other features on the GNA site include a listing of print guides about distance education called "The Distance Learning Bookstore," and a help wanted bulletin board of opportunities in the field called the "Personnel Center,".
The overall presentation of the site is functional but less polished and attractive than it might be. In personal correspondence, GNA president Joseph Wang noted that future plans include an improved user interface and cleaner classification of courses. Wang also notes that the organization is calling for volunteer librarians to aid in classification and to field email reference questions.
The GNA site can be a valuable resource to librarians in two significant ways. It is a comprehensive, current resource listing and guide to distance education programs and courses that outperforms similar print reference sources in its ability to collect data and deliver current information. Secondly, it serves as a online tool through which we have an opportunity to offer and share library services. As librarians faced with yet another challenge brought about by technology, we cannot we fail to appreciate the largely successful efforts of an organization whose slogan is "Helping distance learners find what they are looking for."
Mark A. Smith
Information Systems Librarian/Coordinator of College Electronic Information Services
New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University
Site reviewed: February 2, 1997