Distance Learning Upgrades Expand Learning Opportunities and Create Cost Savings

Technology is an integral component of education in today’s digital world, but maintaining modern technology systems can be expensive and require significant expertise. For Oklahoma’s higher education institutions, a new vendor contract is addressing this challenge, and the cost savings and efficiencies are having rippling effects for students of all ages.

Distance learning is a critical component of the education system for many colleges and universities in Oklahoma. Distance learning allows students at remote campuses to connect to a classroom or to a teacher through videoconferencing systems. This provides educational opportunities for students who might find it difficult to travel to the nearest college to pursue a degree.

Students using computerAt Carl Albert State College (CASC), distance learning is not only valuable for college students, but also for high schools that participate in concurrent enrollment programs. For many high school students, the closest college campus is often not easily accessible because of driving distance or access to transportation. Distance learning allows students to earn college credit while sitting in a classroom in their hometown.

While videoconferencing services are critical for offering distance learning courses, traditional videoconferencing rooms are tremendously expensive and must be updated as technology evolves. To help alleviate this financial burden for Oklahoma’s higher education institutions, OneNet began searching for a cost-effective alternative to traditional videoconferencing systems.

In 2017 OneNet was able to negotiate a contract with Zoom, a cloud-based videoconferencing software that provides an alternative to traditional videoconferencing services. To participate in Zoom, a school only needs a subscription to the software and an internet connection. Compared to prior conferencing systems, Zoom can save schools up to 90 percent in both installation and maintenance.

Von Royal, OneNet’s executive director, sees initiatives like the new Zoom contract as an extension of OneNet’s mission.

“OneNet’s role in higher education is to always search for ways to provide exceptional technological services in a cost-effective manner,” he said. “The new Zoom contract exemplifies this.”

For leaders at CASC, Zoom software and equipment became a viable alternative to their aging distance learning systems. They quickly took advantage of the new software, and in 2017 created a Zoom room equipped to manage videoconferencing and distance learning. With OneNet’s help, CASC was able to create significant cost savings while improving education for their students.

Michael Martin, chief information officer at CASC, credits OneNet’s videoconferencing technician, Skyler Donahue, with going above and beyond to ensure the new systems were set up efficiently. To aid CASC through the software and equipment installation, Donahue made the trip to Poteau and walked staff members through the entire process.

“OneNet not only assisted us in building our new Zoom room solution, but Skyler also drove to the high school to ensure their connection to our new Zoom systems was stable,” Martin said.  “We could not have been successful without OneNet’s assistance.”

Zoom Room TV

Zoom software allows students to participate in distance learning classes

In addition to benefitting students at CASC, Zoom software is incredibly beneficial to concurrent students who take college courses via videoconferencing setups at their high schools. Prior to installation of the new Zoom systems, these students were reliant upon their high school for affording the expensive setup and licensing costs of traditional videoconferencing systems. Often, technical difficulties kept students from being fully engaged with the instructor on the other side of the video screen.

Now, high school students need only an internet-connected device, such as a laptop, cell phone or TV, to receive high quality education from any college that participates in Zoom. This expands opportunities for more high schools to participate in concurrent programming.

Zoom rooms provide a simplified alternative to traditional distance learning setups and can easily be operated by those without a technical background, making education even more accessible to all Oklahomans. Martin anticipates Zoom rooms providing significant opportunities for CASC to reach more students.

“The Zoom rooms have brought reliability and consistent educational interaction back for both our instructors and students,” he said. “This technology education experience helps us provide an exceptional education experience at Carl Albert State College.”

Photos courtesy of Carl Albert State College.

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