Defense college's CIO course draws feds governmentwide

Defense college's CIO course draws feds governmentwide

By Bill Murray

GCN Staff

After establishing a certificate program for chief information officers three years ago, the National Defense University has seen the program take off.

So far, it has graduated 300 federal employees from the program. And, the university's CIO courses are attracting not only Defense Department personnel but also employees from throughout the government.

In the next year, the school expects that nearly 30 percent of CIO program students will come from civilian agencies.

'Civilian agencies used to come on a space-available basis,' said Bob Childs, director of the university's Information Resources Management College. 'During the past two years, we formed agreements with the Treasury Department, Environmental Protection Agency and General Services Administration, where they are guaranteed seats in classes a year in advance.'

To attend the college, a student must be either at the lieutenant colonel or commander rank in the military or a civil servant at the GS-13 grade.

About 30 percent of the IRM College's students are military personnel.

Currently, the university at Fort McNair in Washington has 615 students in its CIO program, which requires that students complete eight courses within four years.

College officials last year decided not to participate in the General Services Administration's CIO training initiative, the CIO University, because the program targets only top-level managers [GCN, Aug. 30, 1999, Page 1].

The IRM College focuses on midlevel systems managers, Childs said. 'We think they're the future' of federal IT leadership, he said.

'Our position with the CIO University is that there's room for both of us,' Childs said.

Bolstered by agreements with Carnegie Mellon University, George Mason University, George Washington University and the University of Maryland's University College, CIO University has as many as 2,000 students, he said.

To accommodate its students' schedules, the IRM College this year began making CIO program courses available through the Web, Childs said. Instead of taking eight one-week, in-class courses, students can receive online instruction over 12 to 14 weeks.

About 90 students'or 15 percent of the college's student body'are taking courses over the Web. The figure includes some students who are taking a mix of classroom and online courses, Childs said.

One Senior Executive Service official in DOD's CIO office has taken four classes online, while an Army student in Europe soon will be the first to complete the program exclusively through the Web, he said.

For its online courses, the college uses Blackboard 5, an educational portal package from Blackboard Inc. of Washington. The software 'provides a good template and outside control at a reasonable price, including 24-by-7 firewalls,' Childs said.

The software lets students engage in threaded discussions and form teams to solve problems, just as classroom students do, he said.

'Our faculty has told us that online students are more engaged' than classroom students, he said, concentrating on their work when they're logged on.

Pleased with the online courses, the IRM College now is deploying a second portal through which CIOs will be able to contact professors who are authorities in particular disciplines, Childs said.

'We want to be the portal for IRM education for CIOs,' he said.

To encourage further study, the college has agreements with Syracuse University, the University of Maryland and East Carolina University. CIO certificate graduates can transfer 15 graduate credit hours, which is roughly half of a master's degree in Syracuse's government information management or East Carolina's technology programs.

Although part of DOD, the IRM College has academic freedom in the classroom to examine the pros and cons of decisions that DOD officials make, Childs said. 'We encourage people to think out of the box,' he said. 'I don't want to say we're rebels; that's not the case. But nothing is sacred here; we're not directed to say this or not to say that.'

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