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Community college enrollment has exploded over the past few years, prompting two-year colleges to invest in more technology to handle the bigger workload born from more students on campus.
"There's been a boom in the community college enrollment that I've seen over the last three years, which has put a bit of competitiveness into the community colleges now — to where students are now looking at community colleges maybe more than they would a four-year school," said Rob Morris, an account manager at CCS Mid-Atlantic, which supplies A/V technology. "So there is this thought that they need to have classrooms up to a certain standard because they may be competing with students from other counties."
From fall 2007 to fall 2010, community college enrollment jumped by more than 20 percent and reached a total of about 8.2 million students, according to a 2011 American Association of Community Colleges survey of 268 community colleges. That's an increase of 1.4 million students. Nearly 17 percent of the growth came between fall 2007 and fall 2009.
At Howard Community College in Columbia, Md., the higher enrollment is putting a strain on its campuses.
"What we're seeing is that there's such a huge rise in population in community colleges right now that we don't necessarily have the on-campus infrastructure to support the influx of students, so space is a huge concern," said Amy Chase Martin, director of instructional media at Howard Community College. "That's a concern for us. But time is also a huge concern for our student population."
As college costs increase, students are juggling school, multiple jobs and their families. Because they often live farther away from campus than they would at a four-year university, anything that reduces their commute time helps, Chase Martin said.
Howard Community College and The Community College of Baltimore County have found a few ways to address both of these concerns.
By installing A/V technology in the culinary lab this school year, Howard Community College can now record chef lessons as well as live stream guest lecturers.The recordings allow students to watch demonstrations again online to reinforce what they learned. Students also watch the recordings ahead of time and spend class time doing hands-on projects in the lab.
"If I can reduce your commute by letting you do some of your learning from home, that allows me to free up classroom space for more active engagement and allows the students to be able to participate at a distance on their own schedule," Chase Martin said. "And I do think that's the nature of how higher education is evolving."
The culinary lab's technology will give students who couldn't take a specific class an opportunity to benefit from a guest chef. And if a guest chef packs the house, students who couldn't squeeze into the room could go to an adjacent classroom and watch the live stream of the event. In that room, a faculty member could give feedback and tell students what to look for as the chef creates a dish.
Along similar lines, a nursing simulation lab at The Community College of Baltimore County allows the college to live stream and record simulations. In the lab students work on a "SimMan," which gives them an opportunity to learn skills without harming a real person, said Carol Eustis, academic dean of the college's School of Health Professions.
Because so many two- and four-year colleges in Baltimore have nursing programs, clinical sites in the city are at a premium. If students have a hard time getting into a hospital or doctor's office to observe, they can see what they need to in the lab at The Community College of Baltimore.
Even at a clinical site, they may not see something like a nasogastric tube insertion (inserting a plastic tube through the nose that ultimately reaches the stomach). But they can see someone do that procedure in the lab.
After each simulation, students participate in a debriefing session. In that session, other classrooms can go over the video stream of the simulation so a larger group of students can observe it. Soon, students at another college campus will be able to watch the simulations at the same time from 20 miles away.
"If you're doing it at one location, you don't necessarily have to replicate that in the more distant location," Eustis said. "In other words, all of the work of setting up the simulation and accomplishing it, the debriefing session, can be shared by all the students in the nursing program regardless of their location."
That saves the college time and space.
Speaking of space, Howard Community College designed a Learning Studio to take better advantage of the space it already has. Picture this: The tables and chairs from furniture company Herman Miller rest on wheels so they can be easily moved. Laptops sit on a cart, waiting for students to use them.
Whiteboards line the walls so students can write on them and so instructors can project notes long enough for students to copy them. A landing pad allows instructors to move freely around the room.
Because the classroom has several points from where instructors to project their notes, the classroom doesn't have a front or back. And that means students who like sitting in the back of a classroom don't have anywhere to hide, which is resulting in more engaged students and more access to them for faculty, Chase Martin said.
With such a flexible design, the room can support a variety of disciplines, such as science, business and English. That's helpful for class scheduling because any class could meet in the room.
The college is testing the prototype room this year to see if it does a better job of meeting the needs of students and faculty.
"A lot of times you go into a space and you have to teach to the room because of the way the room was designed, " Chase Martin said. "We're really trying to make it at HCC that the rooms reflect the pedagogical needs, not where we had to put an outlet."
Every classroom at The Community College of Baltimore County is a smart classroom, and that's unusual for a community college or even a four-year university, Eustis said. It's an expensive endeavor to have an instructor station with a computer and audiovisual equipment in every room, but the college is committed to it.
With a lecture capture system called Tegrity, instructors can record their class sessions. Then students can watch it electronically. That way, they can review the session if they need to. Or in the case of a week-long snowstorm, instructors could have students watch recorded lectures at home so they don't miss any class time.
Along with the lecture capture technology, the college is using iPads in a number of ways. In a radiography classroom a pilot study of 30 iPads is under way. At clinical sites, instructors record clinical experiences and evaluate them using a tool on their tablet. And in four- to five-week internships, students in the Veterinary Technology program take the tablets with them, record their experience using a clinical evaluation tool from the Typhon Group, and send it back to the college electronically.
These tools enhance instruction and student learning, Eustis said.
"People sometimes tend to think that the reliance on technology really doesn't hit to the core of the teaching-learning process, but it can be used very effectively to augment instruction and to reach out to the different learning styles of students," Eustis said.
While higher education is feeling the pressure to catch up with the expectations of students, colleges are investigating how technology can fuel student learning and retention, rather than just buying gadgets for the sake of buying gadgets, Chase Martin said.
"Every decision we make about a piece of technology starts with: 'How will the choice that we're making impact student learning and how will it support the students and student retention?'" Chase Martin said. "That would be the same if we were going to introduce a piece of chalk; it really starts there.
"We don't start with the technology, we start with how can we better serve our students and then the technology will reveal itself as appropriate for that."
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