As students and administrators seek anytime, anywhere access to the cloud, higher ed IT teams must face their fears and get to work.
Two recent surveys from The Learning House, an e-learning services provider, report that nearly half of all state colleges in the United States offer at least five degrees online, while only 15 percent of private colleges offer the same. Why?
There are no clear-cut answers to that question. But there are a few key differences between public and private institutions when it comes to philosophy and support of online learning. A majority of the private institutions surveyed reported charging a similar or lower tuition amount for online courses as charged for residential courses, and nearly a third charge a lower tuition amount. On the public side, about a quarter of institutions surveyed charge a higher tuition amount for online courses, and more than half add a technology fee. For the future, public respondents' top three plans include adding online certificates, increasing international enrollment and using massive open online course (MOOC) content in regular courses. Most private respondents seek to add hybrid graduate programs and increase international enrollments.
The surveys reveal another interesting bit of information: Successful online and even hybrid online and on-campus courses resulted in pedagogic improvements (46 percent at private schools; 58 percent at public ones) as well as new technology for on-campus courses (77 percent, private; 85 percent, public). It would seem, then, that the new classroom technology and modes of instruction introduced through online programs also benefit residential students and non-online faculty.
As the dividing lines between online and residential students continue to melt away, truly the only question that should remain is what technology is best suited to enable student and faculty success?
Beyond collaboration tools and telepresence technology that support online student engagement, institutions looking to introduce or improve their online learning offerings should take a hard look at their networks.
As technology evolves and more classroom tools are brought into the mix, the amount of packets and data moved through online and distance learning initiatives will continue to grow. Is the network future-proofed, or is there capacity to accommodate data growth expectations over the next year? The next five years?
On-campus students and network customers also continue to add more devices to the network, straining available bandwidth. When planning future network capacity, be sure to investigate and include plans for future online course offerings. Are any other systems connected — VoIP or security cameras, for instance? All of those add to the network's burden, as well as the need for redundancy in case of failure. How old is the current equipment? As the support lifecycle for some older network servers and other technology draws to a close, that equipment is more likely to fail. Is core network equipment standardized on a single supplier, or a mix of vendor equipment cobbled together over time?
While there are differences in adoption of online learning, the fact is that it's here to stay. Ensuring those initiatives are built on a solid, reliable infrastructure is the first step to making them successful.