ccDaily > Commentary: Using technology to improve access, success

Commentary: Using technology to improve access, success

Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series by members of the American Association of Community Colleges’ Corporate Council.
Community colleges are at the forefront of providing workers with the training necessary to lead the new economy. The nation is watching how two-year colleges assume the additional responsibility of ensuring more Americans have a postsecondary degree at a time when the economy is recovering slowly and resources are dwindling.
To meet this challenge of accomplishing more with less, community colleges must depend on technology to help increase capacity and retention while supporting student success.
Through innovative programs, colleges are improving student access to higher education and enhancing the learning process. Here are three examples of innovative approaches undertaken at some community colleges:
Enhanced learning with "microlecture." Can a one-minute video clip replace an hour’s worth of lecture? No, but such Web-based summaries can provide an introduction to programs and help students get a better understanding of the topics. That has been the experience at New Mexico’s San Juan College (SJC), where "microlectures" are supplementing what is taught online and in the classroom.
SJC serves a unique and diverse community. Energy is a primary industry in the region, and at least a quarter of the more than 18,000 students attending the institution each year are Native American, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college.
David Penrose, manager of online services and senior instructional designer at SJC, helped instructors develop a series of 60-second microlectures to introduce basic concepts to students in a new occupational safety course. The online summaries proved popular with students, and enrollment in the course increased to 449 by the second semester. The microlecture concept has since been expanded to other subjects, including English, cultural heritage, literature, business law and veterinary studies.
The recorded microlectures, which last from one to three minutes, introduce the students to key concepts and terms. The online introductions are followed up with lesson assignments and offer students access to available online resources. And with the help of a flexible course management system and standardized lesson plans, instructors are able to develop courses quickly. The initial occupational safety program, for example, had four courses online and available to students in less than two months.
Because the content is presented in digestible amounts, Penrose said students tend to view the microlectures more than once. Based on the access statistics, he said students typically access each lecture at least five times in any given week. The microlectures also can be downloaded onto iPods and other mobile devices either as videos or audio MP3 files.
Nursing programs expanded through hybrid and online learning. Five years ago, Ocean County College (OCC) in New Jersey was flooded with more applicants for its nursing program than the college could accept. Enrollment consistently hovered between 250 and 300 students with no room for expansion and a waiting list of up to 800 students.
OCC introduced a hybrid One Day program that allowed students to attend courses one day at a clinical site and the remaining days each week using a Web-based format. Twenty students were enrolled in the demonstration program with another 40 students added the following semester. Since 2007, the college has admitted an additional 60 new students each spring.
In addition to increasing enrollment in the program, the hybrid program has also enhanced learning outcomes. Surveys indicate students like the One Day program and appreciate the opportunity to learn online. Students also appear to retain more information than those enrolled in traditional classes. A recent survey found that all of the college’s online students passed their licensure exams, compared with 90 percent of those enrolled in the traditional classroom program.
Meeting increased demands with technology. Serving more than 40,000 students annually at its three campuses and five regional learning centers, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) enjoys one of the lowest cost-per-full-time-enrollment ratios in the state and has not yet experienced a year in which it has outspent its budget. A primary way the institution continues to operate efficiently while improving learning outcomes is by leveraging technology.
Continued growth in online and blended learning is a strategic objective for NWTC. Enrollments in technology-supported courses have increased from less than 500 in 2000 to more than 10,000 today. Upwards of 90 percent of the college’s faculty uses some sort of technology in the classroom.
NWTC has also successfully moved other services online, from registering for classes and making online payments to bookstore purchases and the blending of interactive television and video conferencing to allow for more interactive learning at NWTC’s remote campuses.
A priority of the college is to better measure its performance, particularly those factors affecting enrollment, retention and student intent. NWTC is implementing a data warehousing application and analytical tool, and employees are going through "culture of evidence" training in order to promote an environment at the college in which data and evidence are instrumental in making decisions.
DeCastro, general manager of client and association programs for SunGard Higher Education, serves as chair of AACC’s Corporate Council.