The first Virtual University was piloted in the Fall semester by six major universities across the U.S., including the University of Nevada, Reno.
Undergraduate students have access to a wide-range of in-person and online courses, but graduate students have few to no online options. This is especially the case for graduate students in hydrology. To fill this void, the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Inc. (CUAHSI) stepped in and launched the CUAHSI Virtual University in Fall 2017.
College of Science professors Scott Tyler and Wendy Calvin led the effort at the University of Nevada, Reno.
"The driving rationale for the course is that most hydrology programs have a limited number of faculty and expertise, and by combining multiple universities, we can offer concepts and topics that many universities cannot provide due to limited staff," Tyler said. "The University of Nevada, Reno is one of the few schools using drones for hydrology, so we offered a module in drone remote sensing."
The CUAHSI Virtual University is a national online course, consisting of a diverse set of 4-week modules on various hydrology topics, including coastal hydrogeology, ecohydrology of groundwater dependent ecosystems, and Tyler's class on the use of drones and remote sensing applications. CUAHSI partnered with six universities for the Virtual University: Michigan State University; University at Buffalo; University of California, Santa Barbara; University of Delaware; University of Wisconsin-Madison; and the University of Nevada, Reno.
"With the virtual university model, students from each university can learn the most up-to-date content from leading faculty around the country who are developing the science they teach in their modules," Dr. Steven Loheide, an Associate Professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Director on CUAHSI's Board said. "This puts a broad array of research breakthroughs of today into the hands of the hydrologists of tomorrow much sooner than is possible with non-collaborative models of graduate education where these new and emerging ideas have to work their way into the textbooks."
Forty-five students from across the participating universities registered for the pilot course. Each student enrolled in modules of their choosing and received course credit at their home university, which facilitated collaborations between instructors and students at different universities.
"The drone module students from across the country teamed up with an existing remote sensing graduate course here at the University of Nevada, Reno, effectively doubling the number of University of Nevada, Reno students who were able to learn about this new technology," Tyler said.
"I thought it was really valuable and instructive to collaborate with and hear perspectives of other students from across the country who are working in very different systems from those we generally tend to work in at my home institution," Christine Albano, a student from the University of Nevada-Reno, said.
The Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science (CUAHSI) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit with the mission to advance water science by strengthening interdisciplinary collaboration, to empower the water-science community by providing critical infrastructure, and to promote education in the water sciences at all levels. For more information, please visit www.cuahsi.org.
Adapted from information provided by Elizabeth Tran at the CUAHSI. Elizabeth Tran is a community relations specialist at CUAHSI.