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Technology in Online Learning Today

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Thousands of students worldwide are using technologies and tools created or adapted for online college studies. Discussion boards, direct e-mail between students and professor, and web-enabled “student lounges” are important tools in learning online. Other tools include access to deep research through online libraries, and software developed for online learning, or created for just one school.

Today, progressive online schools like American Military University and American Public University – under the umbrella of American Public University System (APUS) – continue seeking new technologies and tools to further enhance student learning.

“Distance learning has come a long way in the past 10 years,” says APUS vice president Phil McNair. “In the very early days, it was kind of like a correspondence course, plus e-mail.

“Today there is so much expertise from developers that specialize in adult learning applications and services,” McNair says. Several of these tools are in use now at APUS.

Software for education

There has been an explosion of new tools to help both educators and students to share enhanced learning experiences.

Elluminate offers several software packages for educators – including specialized web, video and telephone conferencing. A virtual classroom application enables professors to host a lecture or class. Other products help teachers prepare for virtual classroom presentations, record audio and organize lecture notes.

Free and open source software like Moodle and Sakai provide creative platforms for custom application development, collaboration and more. And gaming tools and theory can also be useful teaching tools, especially for the many students who have grown up with them.

A new kind of library

Electronic books not only save paper, but also incorporate features that students 10 years ago could only dream about.  E-books can be read on a computer, an iPhone or devices like the Sony Reader, Apple’s iPad, Amazon’s Kindle or the Barnes & Noble’s Nook.  Electronic textbooks and other resource materials not only save paper, but are usually immediately available for download.  They can incorporate dictionaries, resource links, suggested additional readings and study aids.  Many offer multimedia features, and chances are that others will soon offer video, audio and color images.

Virtual classrooms and social networks

Second Life allows anyone, anywhere, to create an avatar and become part of a virtual world. APUS has a Second Life island at American Military Univ. It features a campus theatre for lectures, and virtual libraries and classrooms.

“One of the biggest values of Second Life bringing students and professors together across time zones — sometimes across the world,” says McNair.

Faculty members can post a message to students, for example, for a “meeting” in Classroom 101 at 7 p.m. There, they can chat, have side conversations, share ideas or even step back in time. ”One of our history faculty wanted space on our island to build a medieval castle,” he says.

SL can also be used for fieldwork. Students can interact with others in SL, conducting interviews and surveys, observing activity and behaviors.

Social networking sites and groups, such as the emergency and disaster management groupwithin LinkedIn enable myriad discussions between faculty and students, and keep students up-to-date on current, job opportunities and more.

Technology is a tool, not a solution

APUS is looking for additional virtual community options, along with monitoring dozens, if not hundreds, of other technology applications.

“Teachers are becoming more comfortable with online learning and technology, and there are more resources out there all the time,” says McNair. “Witness the explosion of products being marketed at education conferences these days. Companies are springing up all the time, and I get emails from vendors every single day trying to sell me the latest widget.”

Technology alone, however, can’t deliver a college course. A prime example, says McNair, is the teaching of languages using Rosetta Stone — highly sophisticated software that can even measure a student’s pronunciation against that of a native speaker. Before such software was developed, students outside a traditional college classroom might learn to read and write a language, but speaking it was another matter.

“Rosetta Stone is a tool we use in teaching languages — particularly for correct pronunciation – but it can’t convey idioms, dialects, nor the geography, culture and demographics of a nation,” says McNair. “And it can’t answer your questions.”

“Great professors, the right technology, carefully designed courses and relevant degree programs are all critical for an outstanding online college experience.”

By Online Learning Tips Staff

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