Expanding course programming through streaming video conferencing

Students at Arkansas’ Hendrix College attend a weekly theater class at Rollins College, nearly a thousand miles away in Florida, without leaving their campus. It’s part of the Associated Colleges of the South’s New Paradigm Initiative that uses remote video conferencing to pool teaching resources. Now students at any of the 16 ACS member campuses can take advantage of faculty expertise at another member school.

“Even though, individually, we are all quite small, if you look at the collective size of our faculty, the ACS is equivalent to a very large university,” says Carol Bresnahan, the provost at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. “That’s the thinking behind the NPI.”

ACS Chinese language instructors have begun collaborating to stream class sessions across campuses. “Going forward, individual ACS colleges will not be limited by which language instructors are housed at a specific campus,” Bresnahan says. “Instead, we can specialize and share our faculty.”

And last Spring, Rollins piloted the first fully streamed NPI course, a popular theater class broadcast live once a week to a class of students at Hendrix University, a 1,400-student ACS college in Conway, Ark. The class was offered again in the fall semester and has attracted significant student interest at both Rollins and Hendrix.

Based on the success of the theater course, Bresnahan predicts that the NPI will significantly boost teaching capacity over the long-term. Video-streamed courses could potentially pick up the slack when professors go on sabbatical. “Instead of hiring a temporary teacher, we could stream-in a tenured professor from an ACS partner,” she says.

To expand streamed courses, ACS colleges will have to invest in expensive hardware. High-quality classroom video conferencing cannot be done over Skype, says Pat Schoknecht, the CIO at Rollins. So far, Rollins has outfitted two classrooms with state-of-the art video conferencing equipment from Polycom. Schoknecht estimates that it costs between $150,000 and $200,000 to equip a classroom.

Over the next year, Rollins will evaluate the success of the theater course. “We want to see how the faculty are taking to the technology,” says Schoknecht, noting that “adding courses in the future will proceed on an as-needed basis.”

Getting faculty to support the program is especially important. “There’s no doubt that some professors do feel their positions are threatened by this,” says Bresnahan. “That is why we need to slowly build credibility and buy-in for the program. We aren’t rushing anything.”


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