Online learning is transforming education. According to one estimate by the Babson Survey Research Group, 5.3 million students are enrolled in online classes. Higher education itself is in the midst of disruption enabled by online education technology. This year at SXSWedu there were 22 sessions and panels dealing with creating and delivering online classes. The proportion of chief academic leaders reporting that online learning is critical to their long-term strategy has reached a new high of 71%.
What about the educational value of online courses? At one level the student experience with an online class is not that different attending a lecture delivered in a large lecture hall in terms of personal interaction. Online content can be enhanced and perfected to a level not possible with a live lecture. In terms of interactive participation, there are now online techniques that enhance the experience above that of the large lecture hall class. Noted venture capitalist and innovator Marc Andreesen makes a strong case that the world will be a better place when every kid on the planet receives a world class education delivered online.
Higher education CIOs have an important role to play in the move to online education. Our just-completed Extreme Networks Survey of CIO Emerging Priorities found that 74% of colleges are moderately involved with online teaching and 15% have not yet implemented any online teaching. While 16% of college IT staffs are not associated with their school’s online programs, 68% provide some or all of the technology for the online courses, and 30% advise in the creation of the online content.
The time has come for your school get involved in online teaching, if you have not already done so. But how do you get started? At Extreme Networks, we got our feet wet when we developed a series of online courses to teach networking basics. Based on our experiences and working with our customers, here is a quick guide to getting started with online education.
What About the Online Course Content?
The first question is, where will the content for the online classes come from? Often the subject matter will be drawn from the core curriculum that sets your school apart from your competition; subject matter that your school has been constantly tuning and updating. Another possibilities is to experiment with new subject matter, so there is no overlap between on-campus and online subjects. Online courses, especially MOOCs are excellent means to gain feedback, tapping in to the collective intelligence of a large student base. As another source of new content, be sure to keep up with open educational resources. Our recent OER survey shows how valuable this source of content has become, with content available across multiple media and formats.
Converting the subject matter to online format can be as easy as recording a lecture on an iPhone to as complex and costly as incorporating Hollywood production techniques. If your budget can handle it, one of the advantages of going online is the ability to bring highly professional production values to the content. One of the panels at this year’s SXSW described how to Put the Hollywood in MOOCs. A good example of a school that has invested heavily in polished content is HBX.
Technology Infrastructure For Online Classes
Once you have the core subject content, here are the steps and resources to take it online. These are the technology components needed to produce and deliver online courses. You may find that some of the systems necessary are already available on campus.
- Content presentation and assessment system
- Content storage and web hosting
- Student online interaction
- Student management
Additional topics to consider for degree or certification courses
- Tracking and verifying students. Example, Proctertrack by Verificient
- Certification of successful completion. Example, digital badges
Content Presentation and Assessment System
A system to deliver or present the subject matter, along with a means to assess how well the content is being understood, learned and retained, is a fundamental requirement for online courses. One example is Brainshark, a training and content management system that simplifies creating and managing the course content and also tests the students on the subject matter. Platforms like On24, MeetMe, and GoToMeeting also provide the means to simultaneously deliver content to a group.
The full range of solutions to content presentation starts at simply posting class videos on YouTube to working with experienced online education providers such as EdX, Coursera, and Udacity.
Content Storage and Web Hosting
If your content presentation system is not online and web-accessible, you will need the means to post it on the web. Since all schools have web sites, one route is simply to use your school’s web host. Alternatively, there is an easily-accessible, wide range of independent web hosts and cloud services such as Amazon Web Services who provide robust, highly-available, low cost capabilities.
Student Registration and Online Interaction
Providing a means for students to register and interact can be as simple as using existing social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn and using their social login. Another approach is to use a community solution, such as The Hub provided by Get Satisfaction. Discussion boards and forums are also a means to manage student interaction. The tracking and authenticating does not need to start out as a formal environment, but can easily be an application that the students are already comfortable using. It is important to choose a system that students can easily access from any location.
A customer relationship management system is needed to track students and their progress. While this can be as simple as a spreadsheet, the task is much easier with a full CRM system such as Salesforce.com or whichever CRM system your college may already have deployed.
Other Routes For Implementing Online Courses
Another possibility is to outsource the entire process of converting campus-based classes to online. Companies like 2U and Pearson Embanet provide complete turnkey solutions to moving courses online. Companies like Blackboard have set up web sites that will walk you through the process of setting up an online course, from creating it to inviting the students.
Here are some additional examples of how others have implemented online classes.
- Coursera partners with universities around the world to provide online education for students anywhere. They offer courses on everything from public speaking to cloud computing applications. Some are free, others are at a cost. These are accredited classes.
- Codecademy is a site where students learn to code. Courses are free and you sign in with Facebook.
- Extreme Networks University offers a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) dedicated to teaching technical networking-related classes at no cost. Courses on wired and wireless standards and solutions are taught by industry certified instructors.
Remember that one of the most critical aspects for successful online courses is the network infrastructure. The connections must be flawless to deliver the best possible class experience. Network bandwidth is important to deliver the rich video course content and network responsiveness is critical for interactivity and online testing.