A new project at Kodiak College is allowing students to use laboratories around the world without leaving the island.

The Consortium for Healthcare Education Online (CHEO) project allows colleges to develop distance-delivered certificate programs in the health care field.

Kodiak College was recently awarded around a $500,000 Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant from the U.S. Department of Labor for the Consortium.

Kodiak College director Barbara Bolson said the CHEO project director approached her about participating in the project. Bolson thought it would be a good idea since the college didn’t have a distance health care certification program. After further research, she decided to do the medical coding program because it is a field where people can work from anywhere.

Kodiak College is one of eight participants in five states. Community colleges in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota are also participating.

The grants for the entire project total around $14.2 million. Of that, $2 million is being invested into the North American Network of Science Labs Online (NANSLO) to give distance students an opportunity to use high-tech microscopes from their computers at home.

NANSLO labs will give Kodiak College students the opportunity to use software and a robot via the computer to remotely control lab equipment and perform lab exercises.

“Students operate a microscope remotely (from a computer), which they would if they were sitting in a lab today,” said CHEO program director Maria Fieth. “Today’s microscopes that run between $60,000 and $150,000 are run by computers. The premise is that if you can run it sitting by a computer there, you can run it by a computer in Kodiak.”

In a demonstration Friday, Bolson and three other Alaska participants learned how to use the robotic microscope from the NANSLO lab in British Columbia.

Bolson piloted the virtual robotic microscope to look at slides in a class designed by Kodiak College biology professor Suzanne Buie.

Buie is teaching a biology class that uses the technology provided for by the grant. She developed the lab activities and programs associated with the medical coding certificate and recruited 23 people to join the Kodiak College medical coding program.

A benefit of using the distance program is that students will have access to slides that they wouldn’t be able to access unless they were part of a major medical facility or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The database these agencies have is much richer than anything we could provide on a college campus,” Bolson said.

The lab also has a lab technician on hand to allow for some interaction and accountability. If a student signs into a lab and decides to sign off before the class is over, the technician stores that information and sends it to the instructor.

Most of the funding from the grant goes toward paying for staff time. The grant calls for a student success coordinator at Kodiak College who will work with distance students to develop online resources.

“The exciting thing for me is that this allows people in remote locations to have the same advantages as those living next to major universities,” Bolson said. “People in Uyak that have a computer can take the entire program from where they are. In terms of access to education and educational opportunities, it really opens the door. “

The grant ends in September 2016, but the idea is that the program will live on

“The grant is structured so that support and administrative staff start to phase out and the college is sustained,” Fieth said. “We’re creating sustainability plans so that all the work that is going in will stay in.”

Contact Mirror writer Nicole Klauss at nklauss@kodiakdailymirror.com.

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