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Merit Completes First Multi-Site Distance Learning Course with Attendance in Three Virtual Locations

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Merit Network, Inc. is proud to announce the success of their first Professional Distance Learning course that enabled participants to receive training in three virtual locations. Linux Security: Practical Tools and Methods, taught December 14-16, 2010 at Merit’s offices in Ann Arbor, reached gatherings of students in Escanaba, Flint and Grand Rapids.

Offering the course virtually in multiple locations throughout Michigan is part of a greater effort to remove the distance barrier for IT professionals in Michigan. Merit Professional Learning will continue to expand the number of training, events and professional development offerings made available in multiple locations around the state.
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“Michigan is a very large state, and we know that budgets and staffing are stretched,” explained Andy Rosenzweig, manager of professional learning for Merit Network. “If we can find ways to allow people to achieve their professional development goals without the cost of travel and extended time out of the office, that will be a great benefit for our Members and for Michigan.”

Each virtual site offered a fully interactive learning experience. Participating Merit Members were able to interact with the instructor, asking questions and providing feedback through the video connection over Merit’s fiber-optic network. The use of desktop collaboration software brought course content and presentations directly to each student.

The course was taught by Dr. Charles Antonelli, a research computing capacity specialist at the University of Michigan. Dr. Antonelli has taught Merit Professional Learning courses in the past on a number of topics, and this was the first class in which he served as a distance learning instructor for multiple classrooms.

“The presence of high-quality audio and video in my classroom made my job easier as an instructor,” Dr. Antonelli said. “I could concentrate on teaching my course as though we all were in a single classroom—and using Merit’s network made the laboratory resources as accessible to students in the virtual classrooms as they were to students in my own.”

Through virtual attendance, Merit Members were able to save time and money. In the Escanaba location, participants from Marquette-Alger Intermediate School District, Delta County Government, Bay de Noc Community College and others avoided 14 hours of travel time and saved on lodging expenses.

“Not everyone has the budgets or opportunities to travel downstate,” said Jim Lundberg, director of technical services and information and technology services for Bay de Noc Community College. “Having to go downstate would have prohibited some of Bay’s staff from attending.”

“Overall, I felt the course was an excellent experience,” he said. “We need more of these in the UP.”

A significant part of the value of attending Merit Professional Learning courses like Linux Security in a classroom setting is found in gathering with other IT staff to form relationships, connect with peers and establish collaborations. Participants found that experiencing the course in a virtual classroom still provided this aspect of interaction.

William Purdy, a faculty member in the Computer Network Systems and Security department of Bay de Noc Community College, was pleased to be able to discuss the material with colleagues during the class and breaks. That interaction will lead to the application of the material in Bay de Noc’s Linux courses, he said.

“I truly believe that this type of training is going to be the future, as budgets become tighter and expenses to go onsite for training grow,” Purdy added.

A total of 32 participants attended Linux Security: 7 in Escanaba, 4 in Flint, 4 in Grand Rapids, and 17 participants in Ann Arbor.

Merit Professional Learning will continue to provide opportunities for Merit Members to participate in educational opportunities that meet their professional development goals without hindering their organization’s ongoing operations.

Merit’s next online distance learning opportunity will take place on January 19 and 26, 2011. Hands-on SELinux: A Practical Introduction, a short course on the essentials of SELinux. The short course, taught in two three-hour sessions, is designed as an intensive, hands-on introduction to SELinux–a technology that adds mandatory access controls to the Linux kernel and can stop buffer overflow and other malicious attacks in their tracks. Participants may attend from the comfort of their own home or office.

For more information, please contact [email protected].