AmeriCorps VISTA members who enroll in free online courses administered through Education Northwest will continue receiving college credit through 2017 after the two core courses on grant writing/fundraising and volunteer mobilization were recently reaccredited by the American Council on Education.
The project, known as the VISTA Blend, shows another side of Education Northwest’s work: designing and conducting college-credit courses that mix online learning, personalized guidance from course facilitators, and access to online forums for community building. Students receive three transferable hours of semester credit after successful completion of a course.
For the VISTA program, the courses have proven to be a cost-effective way to provide national service members with much needed training to support their antipoverty work across the nation. The VISTA member students, often recent college graduates looking to gain career experience or boost their graduate school applications, sign up for the courses in droves. Driven by demand, the project has doubled its numbers during the last year. If the program continues the same rate of growth, one quarter of all current VISTAs will have taken a VISTA Blend course by the end of 2014.
Some VISTAs haven’t gone to college, so these courses provide them with free college credits they can use to start a college careers. Students with degrees get experience in fields they don’t necessarily have backgrounds in and can add the courses to their résumés and portfolios. The accreditation validates and professionalizes service learning in an educationally valid and rigorous way.
—Jil Freeman, VISTA Blend team leader
In addition to the set curriculum, facilitators provide coaching, such as feedback on actual grant applications the students are writing. One student wrote an email thanking her facilitator and added, “I just found out this week that I received funding for two grants that I wrote for my program.”
Freeman notes that there are other contexts in which this course format could also flourish. “The format is scalable for teaching large audiences across geographic boundaries that would benefit from instructor feedback and community building. This is a good vehicle for that,” she says.
For more information on the services we provide to national service and e-learning clients, contact Nancy Henry.