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How Innovative Universities Make Distance Learning Accessible and Engaging

Posted on 9/2/2019 7:00:00 PM by Legrand AV Team

Having the option to take classes from anywhere, make up your own schedule and learn at your own pace sounds like a dream to some. That’s why more than 6 million students are supplementing their course schedules with at least one online class. Year after year, more students opt to take online classes because of the flexibility, accessibility and affordability that it grants over more traditional higher education programs.

With advances in classroom technology and some universities building a culture around their online curricula, distance learning has caught on around the world and many universities are making their programs both accessible and engaging to students.

Creating a Culture Around Distance Learning

The University of Leicester (England) is one of the leading universities in the world, and it has a number of awards, accreditations and achievements that prove it. A top research institution, the University of Leicester first admitted students in 1921. Today, the university has built a culture and community around distance learning that enables students from all over to continue their education while remaining connected to their existing lives.

The university has one of the largest distance learning programs in the world, offering various degrees and programs that are updated constantly. Over the course of time, the university has made it so that students taking courses through the distance learning program are getting the same experience as their peers who are on campus as full-time students.

That means people who are retired or working toward their master’s in a distance learning program get the same treatment as those in a more traditional classroom setting.

Now how does that work?

Since the university is a research institution, students, including those in distance learning programs, take part in leading the academic world in finding out new information and then ultimately applying it to the outside world.

With this in mind, there is always new material cycling through the university as new research findings emerge. Distance learning students have access to those findings and developments in real time -- just as any other student would. This material is updated online, including on the university’s website. This commitment to keeping material fresh and up to date is something staff at the university work toward relentlessly. They’re always looking for new ways to leverage classroom technology to enhance students’ experiences.

Interested in hearing more about creating AV spaces that work with distance learning? Check out our free guide, “Integration Guide to Active Learning Spaces in Higher Education.”

Distance Learning that Fosters Growth

Ranked number 8 in the United States, the University of Florida boasts a staggering number of achievements and awards. The 160-year-old research institution has an exceptionally high retention rate, and more than half of all students graduate without student loan debt. The benefits of attaining an education at UF go on and on, rippling out to communities around the world.

University of Florida student Jonathan Gordon has been teaching newspaper design in south Florida for over 15 years. He joined the Web Design Online Master’s Program at the University of Florida to gain new skills and bring them back to his high school students. Because of the program, Gordon directly attributes better end results seen from his high school students. In this case, his education is helping foster better education for others, including those in the greater community by way of news media produced by his students.

This specialty, two-year master’s degree in the College of Journalism is one of more than 200 completely online programs at the university. The University of Florida offers programs to students seeking to earn certificates all the way up to a doctorate degree — all online. Students don’t have to relocate, and they don’t have to make sweeping life changes. Once admitted, students at the university can do their course work when it makes sense for them, where it makes sense for them. And they’re still a part of Gator Nation, a point of pride that the university seeks to instill in all of its students.

Laptop with hands at the keyboard. On the screen is a teacher at another location.

The Web Design Online Master’s Program is a portfolio-builder that gives students the chance to walk away with a full line of material to show prospective employers immediately after graduation. And while that can be very beneficial when finding a job post-graduation, what about those students working during the program?

All classes take place during non-business hours, which means that students can work normal hours at a full-time job, and then attend classes in the evening. This was done intentionally to make it easier for students.

Classes are taught live at a designated time in the evening, but they’re recorded and made available to students online. Logging on, an instructor and the students take advantage of a web-based program, Adobe Connect, that allows students to have multiple applications running, including design programs. Through Adobe Connect, students can signal to the instructor that they have a question, need more help, or like an idea by simply clicking a button.

For students, web-based applications like this afford them a great deal of flexibility because all that’s needed to get to class is an internet connection and maybe a few simple accessories. The same is true on the opposite end. However, a typical setup for an instructor might have up to four computer monitors that allow him or her to have many windows up and in clear view at the same time. The instructor can have design programs running, Adobe Connect in plain sight, and additional applications up as needed because the bandwidth and tools allow for it. It’s a relatively robust setup.

Vaddio has many USB capable cameras with pan-tilt-zoom functionality that work great in lectures. Using lecture capture as well as pre-programmed switch controls can create visually interesting lectures that keep students engaged.

This program, like many others, was built to meet a need in communities across the nation by teaching people the appropriate skills and apply them. Emily Davis, another student in the program, said in a video that she’s been able to apply what she learns in class almost immediately.

“One of the things that I liked about the program is that I am able to take something I did in class last night, and apply it to what I’m doing the next day at work,” she said in a video. “It’s definitely a unique experience.”

Much like Davis and Gordon, students who belong to the University of Florida’s distance learning programs rave about their experiences and the opportunities they have afforded them.

Speaking of distance, here's a chart about cable distance limits

Image chart showing the various lengths for cable limitations

Making Education Available Everywhere

Distance learning programs have made it so that students of all kinds can work toward a better life, a higher paying job, or simply take classes that interest them -- all without needing to relocate or drastically alter their daily lives to do so.

Programs like the ones offered by the University of Florida and Leicester grant students around the world a chance to continue their education and earn a degree from a high-ranking research institution that’ll carry serious weight when it comes to competing in the job market. And while some may be skeptical of the distance itself, institutions like these have built communities and cultures around bringing campus life and high-quality education to all of its students no matter where they are. But it couldn’t have been done without the right tools in place.

Institutions like these are equipped with the technology and infrastructure that make these remote connections possible. High-speed network access, audio, video, and more make connecting students with instructors possible.

For more on AV and education, visit Legrand | AV's Education Solutions page, your one-stop-shop for resources from across the brands of Legrand | AV to help guide design and suggest solutions to enhance learning environments.

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