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Our History

Officially founded in 2000, the Dutton Institute has a rich history as the College of Earth and Mineral Science's learning design unit. Follow our journey through the timeline below.

Dutton Institute Timeline


Humble Beginnings

In 1997, Roger Downs had an idea. According to a newsletter article written by then Dutton Institute Director David DiBiase in a 2007 Department of Geography newsletter,

It was Roger’s idea. Roger, and his friend and Geography alum (1980) James Meyer. Jim was then one of the people at Penn State Outreach who were responsible for identifying the best prospects for new online certificate and degree programs to be offered through the new World Campus. Jim was aware that the demand for skillful and knowledgeable GIS practitioners was strong, and that the Department of Geography was well-regarded in the field. The University had recently attracted a $1.3 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to help start up the World Campus. Jim met with Roger, who seized upon the opportunity to attract investment in the Department and the Deasy Lab. Sometime in Spring 1997, Roger invited me to design and manage a new distance education program in GIS. I could hardly imagine the impact that opportunity would have on my career, and on the Department. (Read the PDF article.)

David DiBiase in 2007 (Dutton Institute Director 2000-2010)

According to Downs, “DiBiase’s position as director of the Deasy GeoGraphics Laboratory, predecessor to the Peter R. Gould Center, gave him the expertise to develop GIS courses,” Downs said, “and he insisted that the courses be instructor-led with a real person available. That was a key to our success.” The initial course that DiBiase developed, Geography 482 (at the time called The Nature of Geographic Information), was launched in January 1999. Fifty-one students enrolled in what became the first in a four-course graduate certificate program in GIS. To date, over two decades later, that successful online program has graduated almost 3,000 students and formed the basis for an equally successful online Master of GIS program.


The Birth of an Institute

With this initial course in hand and a new certificate program in GIS launched, plans followed for the creation of a learning design unit for the College of EMS that could provide needed support in the development, delivery, and administration of additional online courses and programs for Penn State World Campus. In 2000, DiBiase was named the founding director of the “e-Education Institute” under the leadership and unwavering support of Dean John A. Dutton. Upon Dean Dutton’s retirement in 2002, the e-Education Institute was renamed the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute in honor of his leadership, forward thinking, and his commitment to teaching, learning, and innovation.


Expanding the College’s Reach through Online Programs

By 2022, more than 150 fully online, asynchronous EMS courses have been created in collaboration with the Dutton Institute and 22 undergraduate- and graduate-level EMS minor, certificate, and degree programs have been developed for delivery through Penn State World Campus.

1999 – Post-baccalaureate Certificate in GIS (originally offered as a non-credit certificate program)  
2001 – Undergraduate Certificate in Weather Forecasting  
2003 – Master of Oil and Gas Engineering Management (program later discontinued)  
2004 – Master of Geographic Information Systems (with options in GEOINT and Geodesign)  
2006 – Graduate Certificate in Geospatial Intelligence Analytics  
2008 – Master of Education in Earth Sciences (program later discontinued)  
2009 – Geospatial Intelligence option in the Intercollege Master of Professional Studies in Homeland Security  
2010 – Bachelor of Arts in Energy & Sustainability Policy  
2012 – Minor in Energy Business and Finance  
2013 – Graduate Certificate in Solar Energy  
2013 – Graduate Certificate in Sustainability Management & Policy  
2013 – Master of Professional Studies in Renewable Energy & Sustainability Systems  
2014 – Graduate Certificate in Earth Science Education (program later discontinued)  
2014 – Minor in Geography  
2014 – Post-baccalaureate Certificate in Geospatial Intelligence Applications  
2015 – Undergraduate Certificate in Earth Sustainability  
2015 – Undergraduate Minor in Earth and Sustainability  
2016 – Bachelor of Science in Energy & Sustainability Policy  
2016 – Graduate Certificate in Remote Sensing and Earth Observation  
2018 – Graduate Certificate in Geospatial Programming and Web Map Development  
2018 – Graduate Certificate in Weather and Climate Analytics  
2020 – Master of Science in Spatial Data Science  

Participation in these programs continues to be strong. In 2021-22, the college’s residential student population totaled 1,533. In that same year, the number of EMS students enrolled in its World Campus-delivered minor, certificate, and degree programs totaled 1,326 active students, almost doubling the size of EMS!


Adding Resident Instruction Support

The pandemic and rapid move to more flexible modes of residential instruction in March 2020 brought approximately 90 EMS instructors to the Dutton Institute for support in transitioning face-to-face courses to an online environment that spring, summer, and fall. It was a wonderful opportunity to introduce many individuals who had not worked with us before to the Institute’s services. The impact of this support has resulted in a permanent college-level commitment to extend the Institute’s learning design support to all college instructors, regardless of course delivery mode.

As a result of the pandemic, we saw an even greater impact on resident instruction in the online space. The number of online courses the college makes available to the University’s resident instruction students has grown tremendously, from 7 online course offerings in 2009 to 310 sections of 77 EMS online courses in 2022, reaching 9,221 unique undergraduate and graduate resident instruction students who generated 32,881 student credit hours.

World Campus (2021-22)Resident Instruction (2022)
95 unique courses77 unique courses
255 course sections310 course sections
1,326 students9,221 students
14,202 Student Credit Hours32,881 Student Credit Hours

To support this growth, the Dutton community has grown likewise. By the Spring of 2020, there were more than 100 faculty and staff working with the Institute. The vast majority of these individuals are full and part-time faculty who teach and advise online learners.

Our Learning Design Team has also grown substantially since the Institute’s inception. Our team now includes:

  • Director and Assistant Dean for Distance Learning
  • Director of Learning Design
  • Administrative support staff
  • Learning designers
  • Project manager
  • Programmers
  • Multimedia specialists
  • Writer/Editor

More information about our team can be found in the “About” section of our website!


Enriching All through Open Educational Resources 

Through the work of the Dutton Institute, the college began sharing much of its online educational content in 2007 through a website formerly located at By 2020, the College was sharing over 80 resources—most full online course content—freely through the website in order to make these resources available to those who are not able to afford formal education. Providing OER is akin to enabling one to read books in a library – visitors have access to the content, but not to the instructor or fellow students. OER does not enable one to participate in the normal give-and-take with an instructor and fellow students that is a key part of an educational experience. While making EMS content available as OER has been an important part of serving our Land Grant mission, an unintended benefit has also been the visibility the resources bring to our online efforts. Anecdotal evidence has revealed that prospective students often “stumble” across our course materials online, are impressed by the high quality they represent, and ultimately engage with us as formal learners by registering!

In 2021, the college’s OER website was adopted by the University to become ROAM, the University’s Repository for Open and Affordable Materials, supported by the University Libraries. Through ROAM, all of Penn State's departments and individual faculty are now able to provide educational resources free of charge under a Creative Commons license. As long as they adhere to the license, teachers and learners around the world are free to download, remix, translate, localize, and adapt these materials for their own purposes. 


A Continued Commitment to Service

The Dutton Institute was the first college-based learning design unit focused on online education at Penn State. Since its inception, many academic units have created similar units and functions to support their distance learning efforts. Due to the level of experience and expertise we have cultivated over the last two decades, members of our team are frequently asked to serve on committees, often in leadership roles, at the University level. To date, we collectively serve on 16 unique University-level committees!

Want to Learn More?

Reach out to our Director, Annie Taylor,