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New technology enhances student online experience

When Derek and Camila VanDyke recently traveled to Brazil to visit family, they knew it would mean missing their evening graduate class. In years past, that might mean packing heavy textbooks, missing important lectures or struggling to catch up; but in this case, it merely meant logging onto the Internet and participating in class a continent away.

Minot State University's College of Business is piloting the Online Student Integrated Classroom that combines online students and on-campus students in a real-time class setting. All it takes is a computer, web cam and Internet access. Nine classes currently offer this technology.

Whether in class or online, students can listen to the professors' lectures, view displays placed on the interactive white board and participate in conversations and small group activities. Each class is also recorded and offered through a virtual classroom, giving students later access if they were not able to attend in real time.

"Usually online classes are delivered in text form," said Gary Ross, business administration department chair. "But the integrated classroom setting allows online students to participate actively in a live class and demonstrably enhances their online learning experience."

For over 20 years, MSU used the state's interactive video network to offer distance education classes, requiring students and professors to travel to locations that offer IVN studios. However, students taking a class using the online student integrated classroom can access the class from anywhere in the world. The same is also true for professors. For example, an MSU instructor on the Bismarck State College campus recently relocated to another state. Rather than hire another instructor, MSU allowed her to teach classes from her new location.

Mark Timbrook, instructional design coordinator for the Office of Instructional Technology, said the method of offering flexibility between online and campus courses was developed by Brian Beatty from San Francisco State University. Timbrook and his team used the concept to design an innovative way to deliver classes to students in both worlds. He believes that only a handful of universities around the country currently offer it.

"It is not uncommon to see technology like this used in corporate boardrooms," Timbrook said. "But those systems can cost $250,000 to $300,000. We were able to create ours for under $3,000."

Although the new delivery method is less expensive, Ross is quick to point out it is more efficient and offers greater flexibility for both MSU and the students.