A school without borders

Blackboard and National Defense University team to provide training anywhere


Project: Online learning.

Agency: National Defense University.

Partners: Blackboard Inc. and NDU Information Technology.

Goal: To enable students to continue their education no matter where
they are deployed and no matter how long they are deployed.

Obstacles: The distance learning experience had to deliver the same
quality found in traditional classrooms, and the scheduling had to be
flexible for students.

Solution: Courses are built on Blackboard's technology, which
enables online students to get the same content as students in a

Payoff: Deployed students are able to continue their educations while
performing other duties.

Michael Miller used Blackboard technology to improve online learning at the National Defense University.

Rick Steele

Whether stationed in
Washington or deployed in the
Middle East, students at the
National Defense University
need class times that are flexible
and courses that can be
delivered anywhere.

Online learning is the only
solution for the university's
mission, and it is a big reason
NDU is a trailblazer with the
technology, which it has used
since 1994.

Now, rather than focusing on
online distance learning, the
university is moving to a blended
learning model that supplements
or replaces traditional
classroom instruction by using
a Web-based solution from
Washington-based Blackboard

"For the last three or four
years, the resident students
have enjoyed using Blackboard
to access our online library
resources," said Michael Miller,
NDU's chief information offi-
cer. "Now all the resident courses
are going to move into having
online course sites, not just to
support the classroom teaching
but in the case of a continuity-of-operations situation. When,
for whatever reasons, students
might not be able to come to the
university, we would use the
online system to continue to
support learning."

Blackboard is an e-learning
technology that focuses on
course management, content
distribution and community.
Organizations use it to put
courses online,
measure outcomes,
and manage massive
amounts of the
content typical in any kind of
learning environment.

Online learning has been
available for years, but the
newer versions of the technology
better integrate with a wider
array of file formats, such as
streaming video, interactive 3-D
modeling and gaming technology.
Blackboard manages that
content, so much of it is off-line
and does not clog an institution's

NDU is a graduate institution
that is part of the Defense
Department. Its students cover
a spectrum of the federal government,
including both DOD
military and civilian
employees, as well as students
from other federal
agencies, countries and the
private sector.

As is the case at most
universities, the courses
and curriculum at NDU
have focused on classroom
learning for years. To meet
the needs of its students, the
organization is quickly shifting
from its physical classroom

"The federal government has
seen it makes a lot more sense to
deliver that instruction, that
certification, that training via
courses online," said Tim Hill,
Blackboard's president of professional
education solutions.
"So our technology allows the
instructor to put
her syllabus,
course content,
tests, discussion
boards, projects, streaming
media and all kinds of other
content online."

Blackboard enables students
to work at their own pace, within
the prescribed limits of the

Various DOD entities are
using it for officer training, war
strategy training and training
for specific pieces of equipment,
for example.

Blackboard is Web-based for
both instructors and students.
When an instructor builds an
online course, it's all done with a
drag-and-drop interface.

"It can be a syllabus in
Microsoft Word, photographs
of charts in Adobe Photoshop,
or you could author something
yourself right on the system,"
Hill said. "Instructors can drag
in a streaming video clip from
the DOD, or you can also
incorporate textbook content
that you would use to teach a
class if you were in front of

Military and intelligence
agencies continue to adopt the
technology because it allows
them to augment the classroom
experience with an online component.
That is especially helpful
for people in the armed
forces and intelligence officials,
because their jobs do not allow
them to be in a classroom 100
percent of the time.

"A good example is if somebody
is stationed in Iraq and
she's an officer continuing her
training, she can still continue
that coursework while they're in
the field serving the country
because they can do it online,"
Hill said. "And then when she
comes back to her regular post in
the United States, she can go
right back to the classroom."

Blackboard offers online
learning technology via an
application service provider
platform. The company will also
host the applications, or institutions
can host it themselves.

"Some prefer to host it themselves
because they get better
integration with their back-office
systems," Hill said.
"Others don't want to be in the
IT business, so they'd rather
have someone else host it."

NDU's Information Resources
Management College and the
Joint Forces Staff College are
two of the major adopters of
online learning. In both of those
cases, there are many students
who cannot come to the
Washington area for classes.
Some students are civilians
assigned worldwide or service
members who are in
reserve units living in their
home areas. Others are
deployed soldiers.

"We have people that cannot
come to the campus who
need the benefit of the educational
experiences that we
provide," Miller said. "Some
students have taken the entire
program for the Chief
Information Officer and information
assurance [certificates]
and they have never had to step
foot in the university. They've
been able to do that online."

The biggest challenge in making
the transition to online
learning has been determining
what elements make for a good

"The online learning wave has
challenged us to examine our
teaching and learning model,
and it's helping us improve
what's in the classroom as well
as what's online," Miller said. "So
introducing this at the university
has really made us sit back
and [ask], 'What does quality
teaching and learning mean,
regardless of where it is?'"

Staff Writer Doug Beizer can be reached at dbeizer@1105govinfo.com.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Washington Technology.

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