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Frank Vander Valk, of Gansevoort, N.Y., a mentor/coordinator in political science and Western civilization, for the Center for Distance Learning, was the 2011 recipient of the James William and Mary Elizabeth Hall Award for Innovation. The award was presented at the 40th anniversary All College Conference last week for his Project for Online Open Learning, that gives students the opportunity to work with faculty members on problem-based or community-based learning activities by providing an open, online venue where they can explore questions that range across traditional disciplines, courses and terms of study. “It makes it easier for students to follow the learning wherever it takes them by lowering some of the barriers to truly individualized study that traditionally exist in higher education,” said Vander Valk, adding, “It is designed to capture the learning that goes on when intelligent people passionately discuss topics of great personal interest.”
Frank Vander Valk is flanked by founding President James W. Hall, for whom the award is named, and President Alan R. Davis
His project was recognized for advancing “open learning,” also the theme of this year’s All College Conference. His project invites students and faculty to work outside of the ANGEL learning environment, providing an open workspace for students to interact and collaborate with peers and faculty on self-directed learning opportunities.
“Through this new open learning model, Vander Valk has provided innovative, collaborative resources for our students, while paving the way for faculty to think about novel approaches to open learning,” said Evelyn Buchanan, vice president for external affairs and executive director of the foundation, before presenting the award. She noted that, “One individual who worked on the project had this to say about the recipient: 'Innovation requires vision, leadership, and perhaps most important of all, persistence. Frank has drawn on all three of those qualities.'
“The project is perfectly aligned with the college’s Vision 2015, specifically, the goal to support learners as active partners in their education,” Buchanan added. “Within this new system, students are able to not only design their own degrees, but also design the pace and direction of their learning. This discovery and intellectual investigation connects students to each other, to our faculty and to a community of learners that extends beyond SUNY Empire State College.”
“I am honored to receive this award for my work in online open learning,” said Vander Valk. “Empire State College, because of our focus on innovations such as the mentoring model, is a perfect place to forge ahead with new ideas for teaching and learning. This project would not have been possible without the expertise and insight of my colleagues in the Office of Integrated Technologies. They were able to take my ideas and help transform them into the Project for Online Open Learning, and for that I am very grateful.”
The Hall Award for Innovation, named for the college’s founding president and his wife, Mary Elizabeth, is given periodically to a college employee at any level and in any office of the college who has developed an innovation in teaching or services. The inaugural James William and Mary Elizabeth Hall Award for Innovation went to Metropolitan Center mentors Lucy Winner and Katt Lissard in 2008 for their Summer-Winter Theatre for Development, an arts and HIV-AIDS awareness theater the two women developed and performed in Southern Africa and the U.S.
About SUNY Empire State College
Celebrating its 40th anniversary throughout 2011, SUNY Empire State College was established in 1971 to offer adult learners the opportunity to earn associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the State University of New York. Students learn through independent studies, online courses, seminars and residencies. Learners also may earn credit for prior college-level learning from work and life experience.
The college serves more than 20,000 students worldwide at 34 locations in New York state and online. Its 60,000 alumni are active in their communities as entrepreneurs, politicians, business professionals, artists, not-for-profit agency employees, teachers, veterans and active military, union members and more.