In a time where enterprises across all industries, from retail to finance, are evaluating their business processes and offerings to meet the technology advancements occurring every day, higher education is tasked with keeping up. Since the first Intranet was created for students at University of Illinois in 1960, and Electronic University Network offered its first online course in 1986, universities all across the country, and world, have worked to meet the growing demand of the online world and meet the student experience.

Gen Z-ers and beyond have grown up with technology, and many students today expect their education to be delivered in a similarly technical manner. Both students and professors are increasingly taking a modern approach to learning with hands-on experiences and access to the latest technologies, using interactive whiteboards in classrooms and educational games on tablets.

According to the NCES, 74 percent of Pre-K to grade 12 teachers say technology enables them to reinforce and expand on content and 65 percent say technology allows them to demonstrate something they cannot show any other way.

Not only are more traditional colleges and universities tasked with updating their own processes, but they also must update the types of courses offered. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 13 percent from 2016 to 2026–faster than the average for all occupations. It is incredibly important for colleges to offer the types of courses necessary to bridge the skills gaps in the technology workforce including areas such as DevOps, AI, data analytics and more.

Upgrading the student experience

With these opportunities and the dedication to our students in mind, Indian River State College (IRSC), a state college based in Fort Pierce, FL, approached the challenge head on. IRSC provides students with a variety of educational choices including bachelor’s and upper-division studies as well as shorter-term associate’s and technical certificate programs. The variety of options available to students presents challenges. To broaden our appeal to a larger online-based learning audience and enhance the education and student experience for all of our modern learners, we decided a software partner was needed.

When looking for a partner, we wanted to make sure that progressing the educational, cultural, career training, workforce and economic development of our community was at the center of the deployment. It was important that our partner was able to propel our offering to the next level through innovative online learning programs and the opportunity for hands-on practice with the latest technologies for our students. With all of this checked off, we wanted the solution to be easily scaled to support our swiftly growing online programs without the difficultly of replacing hardware and maintenance costs.

When vetting providers, Skillsoft’s Technology and Developer solution was a perfect fit. Using the solution, our students are equipped with 24/7 access to high-quality multi-modal learning content and resources that augment classroom learning. We’re able to embed Skillsoft resources into several of our STEM and computer science programs, including some of our most popular content subjects such as Certified Ethical Hacker, network technologies and Windows server, to enhance our student’s experience. The management and updating of the resources are completely handled by Skillsoft, therefore allowing IRSC professors to focus on fostering student growth, and also saving us time and money.

In addition to learning content, virtual practice labs are offered for everything from DevOps and Agile to coding and infrastructure scenarios. The labs allow students to apply what they are learning and reinforce both the student experience and their skills. This has resulted in higher student engagement, improved test scores and eventually amplified job prospects. We received overwhelmingly positive student feedback that has led to us tripling the virtual practice labs we offer. We’d also estimate more than $500,000 in value from the Skillsoft deployment.

As a result of our new technology initiatives, the university has been designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Two-Year Education. Additionally, the Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C., awarded its highest honor, the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, to IRSC. The award is the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance among America’s community colleges.

As a proponent of educational advancement and student success, we knew it was time to respond to the institutional push for online learning programs and re-dedicate ourselves to always improving the learning environment we provide. Universities will continue to be the building blocks and drivers of our future workforce through every technological advancement and evolution, and technology itself will get us there.

About the Author:

Clifford Kemp is a professor of Computer Science at Indian River State College. He has more than 15 years’ experience as an instructor teaching computer science courses, industry certifications, and cyber security at IRSC.

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