Mar 16 2017

3 Innovations Borne Out of Virtual Classrooms Expand Higher Education’s Reach

Efforts to increase online collaboration spark cutting edge solutions.

For college students, taking classes virtually offers the opportunity to learn flexibly — whenever and wherever they want. Though lack of social interaction has been a concern, online education has helped to foster some big innovations in collaboration at universities.

Since 2010, Duke University has used Cisco TelePresence as a means to connect students in the Fuqua School of Business to experts from around world. These telepresence tools have since expanded into the university’s medical schools, like the Duke Eye Center, which has deployed full Cisco video conferencing systems throughout.

Other schools have taken to this trend, sparking innovations that run the gamut from robotic telepresence to international online classes.

1. Video Conferencing Brings Expert Voices Anywhere

Like Duke, San Jose State University has used Cisco collaboration technology to create virtual classes and found that the tools have “brought in experts to enrich learning, extended the reach of its programs and helped traveling faculty stay connected,” a case study reports.

In SJSU’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, students now have access to advertising agencies across the globe and have been able to pitch them ideas.

“Collaboration has enriched our advertising program by opening the real world up to students,” says SJSU advertising professor John Delacruz in the case study.

The collaboration tools have also expanded the reach of experts at SJSU to other countries. According to the case study, the university’s Social Work Education Enhancement Program, an initiative to improve schooling in Vietnam, uses Cisco WebEx regularly as a means to facilitate two-way communication.

“The ability to conduct video meetings and build strategic partnerships with Vietnamese universities is contributing to the development of social work in Vietnam,” says Debra Faires, the director of online learning at SJSU’s School of Information, in the case study. “Our partners can connect to video meetings via Cisco WebEx on their mobile devices, making participation very easy for them.”

2. Telepresence Creates Flexibility for All Majors

Allowing students to attend class via video conferencing is one thing, but some universities have taken this a step further.

“Enter robotic telepresence, which allows remote students to truly have a seat at the table, both physically and metaphorically speaking,” writes John Bell of Michigan State University on EdTech. “The technology has demonstrated its power to enhance remote learners’ educational experience in very important ways.”

In addition to helping boost the social experience of distance learners, robots have also been found to be useful in helping with more hands-on majors.

Online students seeking a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) at Duke can use robotic telepresence to get the onsite clinical experience they need.

3. Collaboration Tools Remake Traditional Online Classes

When it comes to success in online classes, studies have indicated that building rapport with other students and the professors themselves is a key component. One way has been through chatbot-facilitated discussions.

For online students at Harvard Business School, the virtual classroom has become a whole production. The HBX Live classroom is located in a Boston public television station and professors work with a production crew to facilitate class, Campus Technology reports.

But the teacher isn’t the only star of the show. The article indicates that the studio is equipped with a semi-circular video wall that displays 60 students simultaneously, facilitating face-to-face interaction.

“[Students] enjoy the opportunity to ask faculty questions and to hear from them directly,” HBX Live’s senior managing director Elizabeth Hess tells Campus Technology. “It’s really trying to replicate the [classroom] experience as much as possibly visually to get them engaged and participating.”


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