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Columbia Video Network Is Among Top Distance Learning Programs; Named 'Best of the Web' by Forbes

By Kristin Sterling

Production manager Sofia Yagaeva ensures the audio and visual quality of CVN's classes.

The first time Ikuya Izumi (SEAS '02) set foot on Columbia's campus was for his graduation ceremony in May. Living in Japan, and travelling frequently for work, Izumi never thought it was possible for him to earn a degree from an Ivy League university without a significant life-style change. But an Internet search led him to the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science's Columbia Video Network (CVN) program, and through this distance learning program, Izumi received his Master of Science degree in Computer Science.

CVN was established in 1986 to meet a growing need within the engineering community to offer working professionals a program that fits their schedules. Students who participate through CVN take the same courses and exams and earn the same degrees from the Engineering School as on-campus students, making it possible for geographically distant students like Izumi to get an Ivy League education.

Since its inception, CVN has grown to include 60 distance learning courses per semester, with nearly 1,300 students a year participating across the United States and in 21 countries, including China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Egypt, Lebanon and Jamaica.

"I started out with videos [to view the classes]," says Izumi, "but soon CVN moved to online courses available through the Internet. It is really very easy now. I take my laptop computer and books with me [when I travel] and submit my homework by email."

Izumi isn't the only one who thinks CVN is user-friendly. For the third consecutive year Forbes has included CVN in its "Best of the Web" listing, describing it as: "a top-notch program, with the bonus of a prestigious name. The quality of offerings on Columbia University's Video Network is higher than the usual fare. Targeting engineers, CVN offers six MS degrees and certificate programs in several graduate specialties of engineering. Lectures, course materials, class notes, homework assignments and syllabi are all available online."

"Being included on Forbes 'Best of the Web' list is a great success and is due to the dedication of our faculty and staff," says Zvi Galil, dean of the Engineering School. "CVN is one of the gems in our crown."

According to CVN staff, technology is what separates CVN from other distance learning programs. Students can receive videotapes of classes, participate in videoconferences, or -- as 70 percent students prefer -- view lectures online.

CVN's tri-screen system allows viewers not only to see the professor talking, but also to view any slides, images or course notes that the professor shares with the on-campus students. A table of contents allows the student to access quickly desired slides from a particular class. Because actual classes are videotaped, distance learning students also hear questions posed by students on-campus as well as the professor's response.

Online classes are the most expedient and convenient way for CVN students to view the lectures. Students can view classes from home, the office, even from the road. This is ideal for those, like Izumi, whose home or travel schedule precludes them from participating in a more traditional program.

"CVN students tell us that they like the online classes," says Grace Chung, executive director of CVN. "They have the ability to go back to a lecture and replay a part they missed or did not understand the first time. With the excellent level of customer service that we offer, these students feel their needs are fully met."

Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Zvi Galil, left, with CVN Executive Director Grace Chung.

The online option has also helped distance learning students surmount unusual hurdles. For example, one of the first CVN students to participate in the online version of the program was an oil company employee in Egypt who did not have overnight postal delivery service to obtain the videotaped classes but did have the Internet access needed to view the web videos.

"CVN offers flexibility without academic compromise," says Chung. "People are impressed by the 'Columbia' name and the possibility of receiving an Ivy League education without relocating their family or interrupting their career. In this day you can't hold on to the 'blackboard' -- you must think progressively. Every semester we make changes - improvements -- to the program."

The programs can change to meet needs of industry, and consequently see growth in areas where there is growth in the industry. For example, there is now a certificate program in the rapidly evolving field of genomic engineering. The program is a multidisciplinary track within the Engineering School that trains engineers and computer scientists in the development and application of techniques for identifying and understanding genomic information and their interactions with other cellular components.

With Master of Science and Professional Degrees offered in computer science, electrical engineering, engineering and management systems, materials science, earth and environmental engineering and mechanical engineering, 90 percent of CVN students are employed in high-tech, software and telecommunications fields, and most are sponsored by their employers.

"Companies appreciate the value our program offers," says Evan Jacobs, CVN manager. "They want productivity and a high rate of return. They do not want their employees leaving work early or missing meetings to attend classes."

In addition to the high-tech program offerings and the rigorous standards, customer service and cooperation of the faculty are critical to CVN's success.

"Our Engineering School faculty understands the needs of remote students. The technology exists to run a distance learning program, but it can not be successful without good, cooperative faculty," says Jacobs.

While participation is labor-intensive for faculty, most enjoy the opportunity to interact with students from around the world. CVN prides itself on quick turn-around time on student queries. Responses within 24 hours are expected.

The students appreciate the extra effort.

"Before signing on to become a distance education graduate student with Columbia I had checked nearly every single distance degree program in the country," says student Randy McKinley. "... I can definitely affirm that Columbia has one of the best distance programs in the country and by far the largest variety of course offerings."

Published: Sep 05, 2002
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

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