By Bridget McCrea04/27/11
To say that the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges' distance learning program is growing would be an understatement. For years, the board's number of online learners has grown by anywhere from 25 percent to 35 percent annually, greater than some of the top institutions for online enrollment and outpacing overall annual online student enrollment growth figures. More recently, the number of "hybrid" students who take some courses online and others in the classroom pushed that percentage up even higher.
"We are up 67 percent in one year, thanks to the growing number of hybrid students," said Cable Green, director of e-learning and open education for the Olympia, WA-based college system, which provides leadership and coordination for Washington's public system of 34 community and technical colleges.
To ensure that new distance learning technologies are applicable across all of those campuses, Green and his team turned to an established, strategic technology plan focused on leveraging funds and resources at all 34 locations.
Technologies for Learning
"Our strategic plan centers around making sure that all students, faculty, and staff have equal and equitable access to a suite of teaching and learning tools," Green said. "That's our primary goal when we buy and implement new technologies."
He said the college system also factors student success and completion into the equation and uses a "student achievement initiative" that ties student success and completion into a system-wide funding policy. "Our colleges are paid to help students succeed," said Green. "We always keep that in mind when deploying new technologies for teaching and learning."
Green's department used that criterion when it put out an RFP for a lecture capture platform in 2010. A few colleges in the system were already using lecture capture solutions, but the technology wasn't readily available--or in use by--the entire grid.
Around the same time, Green started hearing about other institutions that were successfully using lecture capture to record live presentations and make them available online. "The colleges using the technology seemed to be quite happy with their investments and the fact that students could go back and review lectures," said Green. "And professors like it because if a student missed a class, they could just say, 'Hey don't worry, it was recorded. Go review it online.'"
Interested, Green saw lecture capture as the perfect adjunct for a 13-year-old distance learning program whose IT infrastructure was traditionally centered on a single learning management system. New additions since 2008 include a Webinar solution, e-tutoring support, and a 24/7 virtual reference library service.
After issuing an RFP and reviewing several bids, the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges selected a campus-wide system from Tegrity, an ed tech developer acquired late last year by McGraw-Hill Education. Green said the fact that the solution is cloud-based and required no additional hardware investment, made it particularly attractive.
"Had we gone with a hardware based solution, which is what most lecture capture used to be, we'd be setting up five rooms at each college and leaving it up to the professors to schedule time in those rooms," said Green. "Because everything is stored in the cloud, lecture capture is available in every classroom."
The solution is also available off campus--an important point for a college system that relies on a high number of adjunct faculty members and a few who like to work from home on the weekends. "Our faculty members are all over the [nation]," said Green. "Had we gone with a hardware-based solution, the teacher located outside of Washington and unable to physically be here wouldn't have been able to use it."
Faculty members also like being able to record lectures in advance and upload them for student review. That way, face-to-face class time can be used for more productive activities, such as small seminar discussions, debates, Q&A sessions and problem solving. "Instead of just having a professor lecturing in front of the class for an hour," said Green, "the time can be allocated to two-way conversations and other activities."
Technical Concerns, Lessons Learned
Before the lecture capture system was rolled out, Green said, the IT team had concerns about the amount of bandwidth it would require. After all, large, hour-long video files would be uploaded and accessed via the hosted system.
"People were worried," said Green. To avert the problem, he said users take advantage of the system's ability to delay uploads to times (such as very early in the morning) when more Internet bandwidth is available.
Bandwidth wasn't the only challenge for the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges during the lecture capture implementation.
Green said he regrets not involving the individual colleges' IT directors earlier in the game. "Even though it was just a matter of creating a file and pushing out the image to all of the PCs on campus, that process is a highly regulated one among IT groups," Green explained.
"When we told them we were ready to deploy the hosted solution, they wanted to know what it was, what the risks were, and how much space it would take up," continued Green, who added he advises other colleges to learn from the oversight. "When you're dealing with software-based applications that will be housed on all machines, be sure to roll out a communication campaign for your IT directors."
About the Author
Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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