The unique advantage of an online education is flexibility. As a student, you can learn at your own pace and convenience. Rather than fit your schedule around classes, you fit classes around your schedule.
Of course, there are some advantages of classes on campus too. The physical, hands-on learning under the guidance of an instructor. Interaction and mutual discovery with other students. The synergy of learning together as a collegiate community.
And a key distinction of Tribeca Flashpoint College is the high tech aspect of the educational experience. It’s clearly visible when you step on campus.
Our teachers take a hands-on approach. We take a genuine, personal interest in the success of students. Labs are plentiful throughout the campus so students have an opportunity to practice what they’ve learned. And student collaboration is highly encouraged.
As we formed an online course structure, we wanted to duplicate this learning environment. So we asked: How do we replicate this real world learning experience for a virtual learning environment?
A SIMPLE DESIGN FOR AN ONLINE LEARNING USER EXPERIENCE
We started with an online student web portal featuring a simple, user-friendly interface. We call it a studio and it is the foundation of every online course. The studio is the online classroom. The virtual gathering place of students and instructors.
All course material that is part of the class is contained within the studio. So students never have to jump around to outside websites to engage material related to the class. It’s all conveniently located in one place.
When students log onto their portal, they see a single scroll page. They start at the top on the first day of the week and slowly work their way down. When they reach the bottom they’ve finished all their assignments for the week. Simple and intuitive.
PROMOTING COLLABORATION IN ONLINE LEARNING
All class materials contained in each studio have been developed in-house. They include discussion questions, video excerpts, e-books and other assignments.
To encourage interaction and promote student collaboration in the learning experience, video chat capabilities and discussion boards are built into each class studio. This allows students to ask questions and share responses. They can use video chat to share work and join forces on projects with other students.
It’s not that discussion boards and video chat are new technology. They aren’t. The key is how they are strategically integrated into the studio in a user-friendly manner.
As these technologies are encouraged by the instructor and embraced by students to create an interactive learning experience similar to a live classroom.
DUPLICATING A LIVE CLASSROOM IN AN ONLINE ENVIRONMENT
Even though online classes are virtual, they all have a real class time—a regularly established day and time—just like classes on our physical campus.
The instructor and students all log into the studio when it’s time. For the instructor, it’s mandatory. For the students it’s optional.
The instructor then proceeds with around a 30-minute class presentation. Through an app called Collaborate, which simulates FaceTime, students can all share computer screens so they are visible to one another. And up to 30 students can participate simultaneously in this live teaching session.
Within this virtual classroom, students can ask questions, share responses and interact just like in a live classroom.
Of course, students don’t have to show up for the live presentation. That’s the beauty and flexibility of online study. Since the instructor’s presentation is recorded and archived, students can always access it later. And that includes mobile devices so they can watch the presentation on the go.
Of course the real key to our user experience—whether it’s online or on campus—is our instructors. They are the ones that establish the hands-on, mentor-like instruction we value.