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New Tools to Offer Interactivity, Better Online Learning

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More than three million students are studying online today, according to industry reports. Online universities, like American Public University System, are experiencing steady growth in student enrollments. And even traditional “brick-and-mortar” universities are adding more and more online course options to meet increased demand.

“Many adult learners with professional careers need the flexibility of online learning,” says Dr. Karan Powell, senior vice president and academic dean at American Public University System. “They also recognize the knowledge they can gain — and the new tools available — through today’s Internet-based classrooms.” Dr. Phil Ice, an education researcher at APUS, says studies prove that online learners gain just as much as traditional learners and may even be more satisfied with their learning experience. “Acquisition of meaningful and applicable knowledge comes not from memorization, but from a concept called ‘scaffolding’,’’ says Ice. “This means students learn best from interacting with instructors and fellow peers and building on each other’s knowledge.”
Powell agrees, adding that the students at APUS bring vast real-world experience into the classroom, as do the professors. She says online students will have the most success if they take advantage of all the tools a university offers.
 Virtual Campus

The online student’s launching pad for learning and interaction is the virtual classroom. Courses at APUS are taught an asynchronous format, so students log in to the classroom when and where it’s convenient for them. There, they see course content, learning activities, supplemental resources and more.
 Typically, students and professors use online discussion boards as primary sources of interaction. The professor posts a question or problem statement and students post responses and solutions. Subsequent postings are then made to emulate what one finds a traditional classroom discussion environment. Powell says that students often feel freer to voice their opinions in the online forum. Peer interaction is encouraged, and students often e-mail outside the campus, even meeting to socialize and network.
 APUS further supports higher learning through its online library. Students have access to more than 80,000 electronic books and more than 27,000 leading journals and databases, as well as research tutorials and writing support. Academic department portals provide tailored links to advanced research sites and other information.
 The library even has librarians available 18 hours a day, seven days a week to help with research or answer questions. The librarians bring specialized industry knowledge as well. For example, one librarian led the National Security Agency’s library. Others offer expertise in military research, business, and public health.
More Ways to Interact

Powell says that APUS has incorporated other ways for learning and interaction outside the online classroom. For example, APUS shares more than 400 video and audio links on its iTunes University site.
APUS students are building online communities in such online social networking sites as Facebook and LinkedIn.  APUS even hosts a “students-only” discussion lounge in its virtual university commons.
APUS reaches out to potential students through its online open houses, during which faculty and admissions team members dialogue with prospective students about the university’s more than 70 online undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

Continuing the Community

Students have a unique way to connect in person as well. Graduation ceremonies are held each year in the Washington, D.C., area. The APUS alumni group continues the “community” through its various professional networking opportunities and its own online social network.

“Our goal is to prepare students for successful careers in a global and diverse society,” says Powell. “We’re committed to finding new ways to accomplish that, while ensuring academic excellence.”
By Online Learning Tips Staff

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