A guest blog from Holly Rebel, a full time employee at For Hays State University and graduate student pursuing a master's degree in Higher Education Student Affairs.
Can you imagine a world without internet? Can you imagine being a high school or college student without technology? As I think about my high school and undergraduate days as a student, I realize the vast evolution of technology in the last fifteen years. It is crazy to think that I had to use dial up internet to get online and my first cell phone was only used to make phone calls. Now fast forward fifteen years and everywhere you look, people are connected with their cell phones, tablets, or computers. Many young adults and even children do not know a world without internet and technology. As an online graduate student and an employee in the Virtual College, technology plays a large role in my regular day, and it is for this reason that I choose to join the technology knowledge community within the NASPA organization.
An online learner is vastly different than a traditional on-campus student. Many online students are non-traditional, average age between 33-36, and a full-time employee with a family at home. Sometimes the student is going back to school to finish a bachelor’s degree or they are coming back to pursue a master’s degree. There are many reasons students become online learners, but the goal of the university is still the same, provide a foundation for success.
Online students need an interactive, user friendly learning management system. Many online students have busy schedules with their job, children, or spouse so ease and convenience are important when accessing the online classroom. Technology makes this possible! Students can access course materials at any time of day, view lectures when it’s convenient for them, and submit assignments at any time. Because technology makes online learning possible, military students can still take classes while deployed, international students can earn a degree without being in the United States, and working parents can do homework late at night. None of this would be possible without technology.
Keeping online students engaged is a challenge for university professionals, but definitely not impossible. Providing an online orientation for potential and new students will help them understand how online learning works and basic items such as ordering books, submitting assignments, and checking grades. Knowing how to navigate around the online classroom provides a sense of confidence which will help the student be successful in their course work. Tutoring for online students is also very important, there are many third-party companies that partner with colleges to provide this service, much like on-campus students, this service enhances the academic experience. Providing online library services for virtual students is highly important. This gives the online students access to many of the “student only” opportunities that the on-campus students receive. As an online student, having a connection to the college is a critical piece to achievement; by providing online students with an advisor in their chosen degree, they get a sense of belonging to campus. Meetings with the advisors can happen in many ways such as email, phone, or video conference.
Social media is an excellent way to keep all students engaged with campus happenings. For example, university professionals can use Snapchat to capture highlights from a basketball game and use Facebook to promote the upcoming play by the theatre department. Social media can reach anyone, anywhere, at any time and can have a positive impact on the user. Social media can also be used for group messaging which is a great option for communication while working with groups in an online class.
Recruiting and marketing online students is vastly different than marketing to traditional aged students. Recruiting efforts have improved tremendously with the use of digital marketing. Colleges are able to target a specific geographical region with a simple Facebook ad. Digital advertising is easy, affordable, and effective.
The technology department is responsible for keeping the university website compliant and accessible for all users. This includes dictation for all text and transcription on videos to name a few. Failure to keep the website in compliance will result in a violation of civil rights which could ultimately have a negative effect on the institutions reputation.
As you can see, technology has had an incredible influence on higher education. Virtual learning has evolved rapidly from ITV courses, to recorded lectures on VHS and DVD, to embedded links in the learning management system. Each upgrade has made online learning more efficient and attainable for those who cannot commit to on-campus classes. As it stands now, a student can obtain a degree from virtually anywhere in the world, on their own time, without stepping foot on campus, all because of the rapid advances of technology. Some online students choose to come to campus for the commencement ceremonies, sometimes this is the first time they have ever been to campus. Listening to their journey about how they made it, the challenges, and the triumphs they had along the way, make my job worth it. To know that I played a small part in someone’s educational success is rewarding! Some question the quality of a degree obtained online, I say, what are you waiting for?