Vol. 4 Issue 12 / Apr 5, 2004

Distance Learning Comes to Campus

By Mika Ono

Second-year graduate student Wendelien Oswald of The Scripps Research Institute's Kellogg School of Science and Technology was the first to arrive for the "Essentials of Glycobiology" class on Tuesday, March 30. Four of her fellow students soon joined her, taking their places around a table in a conference room in the Scripps Research administrative building. At 1 PM sharp, the professor started speaking—in a classroom about a mile away.

A case of mistaken location? No, the students were exactly where they wanted to be—attending the first distance learning class to be taken as an elective in the Kellogg School program.

For her part, Wendelien (who preferred that her first name be used in this article) was thrilled. "It went really well," she commented after the class. "All indications are this class is going to be first-rate."

Wendelien was the moving force behind the distance learning venture, initially intending to attend the class on the University of California San Diego (UCSD) campus, but then learning the class was oversubscribed. The instructor, UCSD Professor Ajit Varki, suggested that Wendelien connect to the class remotely from the Scripps Research campus, joining distance learning students from the University of California Berkeley and the University of California Davis.

Wendelien approached Marylyn Rinaldi, administrative director of the graduate program, about attending the class via distance learning from the Scripps Research campus. Rinaldi met the suggestion with enthusiasm.

"Distance learning opens up a whole new range of possibilities for students," comments Rinaldi. "I believe we'll see more and more of this kind of arrangement in the future."

Wendelien notes that Ruth Stewart of the Office of Technology Development was also helpful, setting up and testing the equipment for the class. Technology Development had previously purchased the video conferencing equipment for meetings with industry representatives. Upon request, the office makes the equipment available to faculty and staff from other departments at the institute.

The most prominent pieces of the video conferencing equipment are two large monitors. For the distance learning class, one monitor showed an image of students in the conference room at Scripps Research (complete with panning, zoom, and volume control). The other projected the image of one or more other locations for the class—UC San Diego, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, or Scripps Research. For most of the class, an image of Varki and his visual aids dominated this screen.

The "Essentials of Glycobiology" class will be particularly useful to Wendelien, as her thesis project in the Burton lab focuses on the structure and immunogenicity of the Ebola virus, which causes a rare but deadly infection that kills from 50 to 90 percent of its victims.

Citing a recent collaboration between Scripps Research Professors Ian Wilson and Dennis Burton, Wendelien says, "Work with the HIV virus has shown that foreign patterns of sugars can elicit a human immune response. I am interested in whether the arrangement of sugars on the Ebola virus glycoprotein can be used to elicit or evade neutralizing antibodies. This information can then be used to pave the way for specific vaccines and/or antibody therapies."

Other graduate students attending the class from the Scripps Research campus include: Joon Youb Lee, Bao Duong, Rena Astronomo, Erin Scherer, and Chris Scanlan.

The success of the distance learning technology bodes well for expanding educational opportunities not only for existing Kellogg School graduate students, but also for future students, both at the Scripps Research La Jolla and Palm Beach County campuses. Scripps Florida is slated to open a graduate education program component in the next five years.

"This technology has the potential to offer Scripps Florida students access to the tremendous intellectual resources we have in La Jolla, and vice versa," says Rinaldi. "It may eventually enhance the quality of programs on both coasts."


Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu



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Video conferencing technology now makes it possible for Kellogg School students to attend classes held on another campus. Photo by Kevin Fung.