How COVID shift to virtual is helping Idaho reimagine online learning

Digital campus should expand access to students and reduce costs
By: | September 3, 2021
(AdobeStock)(AdobeStock)

The sudden shift to remote learning kicked into high gear the creation of a statewide digital course sharing network by Idaho’s eight public colleges and universities.

Higher ed officials in the state had in recent years discovered extensive duplication in both the programming and hardware behind their online learning efforts, said Jonathan Lashley, the Idaho State Board of Education’ associate chief academic officer.

Inspired by course-sharing models in California and the State University of New York system, officials moved quickly to begin consolidating not only online classes but professional development, student support and other services.

Long-term, the digital campus should expand access to students, particularly those in rural parts of the large state. The initiative should also reduce costs for both students and the institutions, Lashley says.

“It’s about bringing digital learning opportunities up to the same level of prioritization and investment as the on-ground learning experiences that are taking place on our campuses,” he says.

The Idaho college system’s small size meant most of the stakeholders already had existing relationships and could adapt quickly. Officials have launched an online portal for the program and are now integrating each institution’s student information systems.

Students can browse course catalogs and will soon have access to advising around each class’s relevance to their majors and academic pathways, Lashley says. Students will also register and pay for courses through the statewide digital campus, which was developed by the sharing platform Quottly.

Eventually, other entities, such as state libraries, the K-12 system and workforce development agencies, will have access to the digital campus.

“By next summer, we’ll be making this a standard part of Idaho’s college-going experience,” Lashley says. “If you can’t access a section or course you need at a given campus, these courses will work just like a course at your home institution.”