Continuing education & career options
Thanks to new technology, going back to school may be easier than ever. It's certainly different from yesterday's classrooms.
CCAD senior Jackie Elise Theibert uses the college's animation lab. Photo by Tim Johnson.
Continuing education students are busy with more than just books and papers. Because they often are juggling full-time careers and families, colleges want to make learning as convenient and comprehensive as possible for them.
Students are incorporating new technology with old-school tools such as pens and paper to make the most of their time. Laptops, electronic notepads, iPads and e-readers are becoming a common sight. Ron Morgan, dean of academic technology and innovation at Franklin University, says tech continually is infiltrating the classroom.
“More and more we see students use their mobile devices as mini laptops, to check e-mail or Facebook posts, or even conduct research through the Internet,” he says.
Erin Runkle, a student at Methodist Theological School in Ohio, says electronic devices are the norm in her classes—even among those who have been out of school for a number of years and may not have grown up with computers.
“I think that new technology is for everyone,” she says. “Companies are making their devices more user-friendly, opening the doors for everyone to have access.”
The technology isn’t just for the convenience of the note taker—many instructors are fully on board as well. “I’ve had professors say, ‘Google this for me’ during class,” Runkle says. “Access to the Internet undoubtedly opens up a whole world of information that previously would have taken a significant amount of time to research.”
Changing the speed of learning
Online classes and lightning-fast access to information are creating time for students. “Education has been consumerized, and I mean that in a positive sense,” says Mary Vaughn, chairperson of integrated media and technology at Columbus State Community College. “If students can save an hour driving, or accelerate learning by combining classes, they are saving time in a broader context. It is the monetary value of time that’s driving technology in education.”
High-tech may be getting students to their degrees more rapidly, but it’s also increasing the richness of information. “Technology is a great way to show students rather than to tell them,” says Kate Carey, associate dean of the graduate school and center for continuing studies at Otterbein University.
“Technology has not only made an impact,” Morgan says. “It’s changed what we now refer to as the classroom experience. Professors have moved away from basic lectures and overhead presentations to incorporating computers that not only project PowerPoint presentations, but more importantly allow real-time access to the Internet and multimedia material to facilitate interactive teaching.”
Although many students walk onto campus fully equipped with their own tech gadgets, colleges still maintain communal resources. For instance, computer labs may not look like the ones returning students recall from previous college days. Most institutions maintain labs large and small in numerous buildings. Other lab facilities come to the students.
Bruce Massis, director of the educational resource center at Columbus State Community College, says mobile labs allow the tech staff to roll a cart with 30 computers into any classroom, preloaded with whatever content the instructor requires.
Meanwhile, technology at the Columbus College of Art & Design is becoming increasingly important in the art and design professions, says Thomas Faist, director of information technology for CCAD. “The college has more than 400 computers dedicated to academic computing, with systems available in classrooms and labs across campus,” he says. “Used by both our degree-seeking and continuing education programs, these computers are on a planned three- to four-year replacement cycle to make sure our students have access to fast, powerful, modern systems.” The machines are equipped with general-purpose art and design software, but some also have special applications for digital drawing, interior design, digital animation and more, he adds.
Virtually every corner of every Central Ohio college campus is covered by wi-fi, allowing students to pull up research while in class and remain productive between classes. Students can perform research, file assignments and stay in touch with staff and fellow students, while at the same time maintain contact with their jobs and family.
Students who don’t have a laptop to use on the quad or in the commons can borrow one. “We have 60 laptops in our library, and students check them out as they would a book,” Massis says.
Aside from the laptops, the face of libraries may look significantly different to returning students. Practically any information is accessible at a moment’s notice.
“In our library, students are no longer limited to only those books on the shelves,” says Morgan of Franklin University. “Through online databases such as OhioLINK, students now have online access to databases that contain collections of journal and magazine articles, industry profiles, country information, human resource management resources and business information, including company profiles, annual reports and financial ratios.”
Ohio Dominican University Library has been transformed by technology, says David Archibald, vice president of the LEAD adult education program. “It’s an amazing kingdom of databases and reference sources that are online and fully automated,” he says. “We have books, but this is not your grandfather’s library.”
While most of CCAD’s classes meet in person, some have morphed into online-only sessions, and the staff and student body maintain an ongoing virtual relationship. The college’s online learning management system, called GoStudio, provides a platform for information sharing and project collaboration.
A number of schools have created or subscribed to similar platforms. Ohio Dominican University uses a classroom management system called Angel. “It’s a combination of an automated syllabus, chat facilitation and paper submission,” says Archibald. “You can do just about everything with it.”
In virtually every school, some new technological application is the No. 1 tool for communication. In the case of National College, students on 29 campuses in six states follow career-oriented paths of study and technology is a key component. Joe DeLuca, campus director of National College’s Columbus campus, says administrators and instructors use text messages to communicate with students. “We have learned that communication via text message is a quick and effective way to communicate with our student body, certainly in times of class delay or cancellation,” he says.
They also use Facebook assertively and methodically. “Unlike most colleges, which are still using social media outlets as if they were a traditional broadcast medium, National College’s Facebook pages are fully interactive and are cross-linked and intertwined with our various partner organizations throughout the community,” DeLuca says. “In other words, we take full advantage of the ‘social’ and ‘media’ aspects of ‘social media.’ ”
Columbus State’s Vaughn says Facebook and Twitter have supplanted even e-mail. “It’s how students communicate, and it’s the way to get them to respond to you in a meaningful way,” she says.
In addition to various Facebook and Twitter feeds, students will need to familiarize themselves with Columbus State’s Blackboard system, which professors use to post syllabuses, assignments and grades. The system also is used for communication between staff and students—and among students, through the use of blogs and class-specific communities.
If they’ve been off campus for a while, even textbooks may look a little different to returning students. Columbus State’s Massis says about 40 percent of college classes still use traditional textbooks. About a quarter are using electronic texts, and the remainder are employing a combination of the two. Through the use of Nooks, Kindles, iPads and other e-readers, students still can cart their reading assignments wherever they go. Advantages include instant downloads and a much lighter school bag, since electronic readers weigh only a pound or two—much less than half a dozen bulky books.
Some students will find themselves creating an e-book of their own. Otterbein students in some majors create portfolios to capture their best work.
“Adult students who may be using e-portfolios at work will have the same experience with their educational work,” Carey says.
Online or hybrid classes
Students used to have to live in the town where they attended college, but this is becoming increasingly uncommon. Columbus State, for instance, has students in Iraq—members of the United States military who are studying in their free moments. The school’s design program also has students in the state of Washington who likely will never set foot on campus.
With virtual classes so common, many students are enrolled in at least one—even those who attend class on campus. “A lot of distance learning isn’t done from home,” Columbus State’s Massis says. “A student may take an online class in the library on campus, because they know they can get help.”
Otterbein offers a mix of online and face-to-face classes, Carey says. The nursing program, for instance, serves rural nurses with video classes, using a tool called Elluminate, which is a web-conferencing system, she says.
“Franklin University offers classes in a variety of delivery methods, all of which incorporate some level of technology,” Morgan says. At times, that includes students in a classroom interacting with students on another campus using the university’s FranklinLive! video-conferencing and learning system.
“Recently, we’ve even begun utilizing telepresence systems to allow students at our Indianapolis location to take classes simultaneously with students here in Central Ohio,” Morgan says. Franklin’s system and those similar to it also enable students to watch a lecture later or attend class while on a business trip or vacation.
Technology is a miraculous thing, but it will never fully replace a personal touch, educators say.
Archibald says ODU’s use of technology reflects “a very Dominican way of teaching,” which means that discussion and sharing of ideas are important.
“Because we are dialogue-based and believe that everyone can bring something important to the conversation—especially in the adult program—a lot of our instructors want people talking, thinking, sharing and then using the technology later.”
Other educators agree.
“Although Franklin offers classes and academic support services online, many students still prefer face-to-face interactions with tutors, academic and financial aid advisers, coaches et cetera,” Morgan says.
“At Otterbein, each student has a faculty adviser, and that person becomes a large part of your educational experience,” Carey says. “Faculty help students learn, find internships and jobs and write recommendations for graduate school. Faculty is the heartbeat of Otterbein.”
In short, people still need people.
Kristin Campbell is a freelance writer.