GUEST COLUMN | By Andy Lausch
College students have high expectations for technology, digital content, and connectivity inside the classroom – not surprising given their access to technology outside of the classroom. It’s this environment that is driving institutions to consider virtual learning and how to make it an essential component of the educational experience.
Virtual learning, which enables instruction to be delivered to students who are not physically in the same location as the professor and/or other students, is both efficient and cost-effective – two important factors at a time when higher education budgets and students’ personal finances are tight. Once viewed as an alternative to traditional instruction, virtual learning is becoming an essential component and preferred learning model.
Critically, the barriers that once separated virtual learning from the traditional educational experience are falling away. CDW-G’s 21st-Century Campus Report found that 22 percent of college administrators said using technology to enhance student learning was a top priority for the 2011-2012 school year. The survey of 1,200 college students, faculty, administrators, and IT professionals found that interactive technology offerings, including virtual learning, are not only more important to the modern campus, they are being used on campuses at an ever increasing rate, with 31 percent of students saying they use technology in the classroom every day.
So why is virtual learning gaining ground? Students noted that it gives them more control of their own learning. They can go at their own pace, moving on when they master material or spend more time on concepts they find difficult. Students surveyed in the 21st-Century Campus Report confirmed, “It puts me more in charge of my own learning and enables better interaction with my classmates,” said one student.
The future of virtual learning is taking shape across the country. Daytona State College in Florida offers more than 5,000 online courses to its 18,000 students. A large number of the college’s student work full time, which makes online courses even more attractive.
Moraine Park Technical College in Wisconsin has six campuses that are situated 30 miles apart from each other, making it difficult for students that need to take classes at other campuses. To alleviate the problem, Moraine Park worked with CDW-G to select and implement a telepresence solution. Today, the institution has more than 20 rooms with telepresence capabilities, and these rooms are booked 65 percent of the day. Additionally, Moraine Park’s students can take classes with other professors at other campuses or at other institutions. Professors also note that they are able to develop digital material with their students, resulting in better interaction for students and professors.
Based on work with institutions creating end-to-end solutions, recommended are several ways to select and implement a virtual learning solution:
- Consider the students and consider types of technology that these students have grown up with and how they use it to absorb information
- Rethink your approach to teaching them while integrating technology
- Build a road-map for implementation with a defined a timeline, a plan support the solution, and a plan for potential challenges
Tools come and go, but technology in the classroom is here to stay, just as it is in almost all other aspects of modern life. Technology is already shifting the paradigm of education toward an increased emphasis on collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. The benefits of that evolution will emerge as educators take advantage of training opportunities, collaborate on new strategies and continue to mentor and coach one another.
Andy Lausch is the Vice President for Higher Education at CDW-G. Andy is responsible for the performance, strategic direction, talent development and customer advocacy of CDW-G’s higher education division.