E-Learning | Feature

6 Ways Campuses Are Scaling Up E-Learning in 2013

Three higher education CIOs discuss their e-learning agendas and wish lists for the year ahead.

For administrators in higher education, each new year presents a clean slate that they can use to consider, test out, and implement new technology projects. In 2013, campus technology leaders are focusing more of their efforts on academic computing. Some initiatives are small in scale and limited to a handful of classrooms or departments while others permeate entire campuses. Regardless of size and scope, each of these projects comes together to contribute to the institution's educational mission.

At Rollins College in Winter Park, FL, for example, CIO Pat Schoknecht is currently knee-deep in a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) rollout that started in 2012 and that will carry well into 2013. Once in place, the VDI setup will house all of the college's necessary software on a server that can be accessed via laptop, desktop, or tablet.  "We are planning a proof of concept test this spring," said Schoknecht. "If all goes well, we'll deploy it in our new science building over the summer."

Schoknecht said he anticipates significant return from the VDI implementation based on the fact that devices armed with very little computing power will use the server-based programs to work efficiently. Students or faculty will be able to access the server from anywhere (including from home, a residence hall, the library, or even abroad), she added, which means specialized software will no longer be tied to a specific location. "By giving students greater access to the software, our faculty--which will no longer have to worry about logistics--will be free to create even better assignments," she concluded.

In reviewing her agenda for the coming year, Schoknecht said she is also eyeing the new crop of affordable 3D printers that allows users to make 3D solid objects from digital models. "This technology has dropped in cost sufficiently that purchasing one is now a real possibility for our school this year," she said, noting that Rollins' art and physics departments are both interested in using the 3D printers for instruction.

Making Global Connections with Technology
With an overarching goal of helping students navigate a global world, St. Edward's University in Austin, TX, is always on the prowl for technology that will help both faculty and students connect to far-off places. This year, David Waldron, vice president for IT, said the school is installing advanced videoconferencing equipment and building a new library and media center to help it make those global connections. The project is "budgeted for and underway," according to Waldron, who sees the AV technology as a key component in reaching the university's global goals.

"More and more of our students are studying abroad and participating from satellite campuses," said Waldron. "To accommodate them, we'll be installing videoconferencing equipment in multiple spaces throughout the new library and creating an environment where global connections can take place using Internet, video, and multimedia devices."

Another goal on Waldron's agenda for 2013 may be a bit more difficult to attain. Like many administrators in higher education, he's looking for a more effective way to harness social media both in and out of the classroom. Singling out Google+ Hangouts as a viable model to emulate, Waldron said he wants a "powerful social media platform" that can integrate with St. Edward's University's student information system (SIS) and create a more streamlined, interactive course enrollment process.

Waldron has yet to find a viable social media platform to work with, but he said  he's not giving up hope. "We're not sure yet who will be able to provide service and integration along these lines," said Waldron, "but we're definitely keeping an eye out."

Expanding Initiatives
Every year a growing number of institutions take an interest in 1:1 laptop programs that put computing power directly in the hands of freshmen as they arrive on campus. Now, schools like Bryant University of Smithfield, RI, are taking those initiatives to a different level with 1:1 tablet programs. Chuck LoCurto, vice president and CIO, said the university piloted a tablet initiative in 2012 and is looking to expand that program this year.

LoCurto said the tablet's portability and mobility make it especially attractive for college students who need to "learn, capture, and figure things out" without being tied to a desktop or laptop. "A good amount of learning takes place outside of the classroom these days," said LoCurto, "and we want to support that movement." Bryant University hasn't committed to a specific device yet and is currently exploring its options.

Also on the mobility front, the university has developed a number of mobile Web sites centered on student life--including dining menus, bus routes, and library resources. "Now we're looking at how to enable all constituents on campus to make use of the apps in conjunction with their mobile devices and tablets," said LoCurto, whose team is now developing new apps that are focused on prospective students and on improving operational efficiencies on campus.

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