NCC’s Virtual Campus

Online learning gets a new look and feel

Mia Rossi,

Online learning is growing as more students need flexibility to do their studies online. Northampton Community College (NCC) has 25 fully online programs, but they’re enhancing the way they’re delivered. 

Virtual campus is replacing an antiquated concept of online learning. The Virtual Campus will make it easier and more inclusive for students studying online so that they can enjoy being a part of the campus community.

“We have students who are veterans, international, and are non-traditional. We need a way to better serve these demographics and provide them a comprehensive experience,” says Beth Ritter-Guth, associate dean of Online Learning and Educational Technology at NCC. “It' s about more than just logging on to do classwork. It’s about feeling like you’re getting a well-rounded experience through NCC’s Virtual Campus.”

The Virtual Campus eliminates the need to step foot on any campus location. All services are offered online, such as Career Services, Counseling Services, tutoring and involvement in clubs and organizations. As an example, a student council was formed within a recent cohort of online students.

Ritter-Guth says that Virtual Campus will offer streaming of speakers and programming like movies, films, events and athletic games on campus for online students.  She is excited about the fact that, “Someone stationed in Afghanistan can watch a keynote speaker like Temple Grandin.”

Offering programming online is also economical. It’s more cost effective with regards to classroom materials, and it holds infinite space for classroom sections.

There are other tools that Ritter-Guth hopes to incorporate into the experience as the Virtual Campus develops. Students online and in-person can give shoutouts, congratulations, well wishes and more to each other through visual discussion boards like Flipgrid. At an event on campus, anyone can stop at a Flipgrid table to wish online students luck in their semester, and they can follow a link to see what online students say back to them.

Another idea is to use synchronous online streaming, which would allow for students to take a class in real time together. They’d be able to see and speak to each other and the professor just like in an on-campus classroom. Ritter-Guth notes that, “Not everyone needs the ability to log-on at random hours of the day. Some people have room in their schedule to meet every Tuesday at 2pm, let’s say. They just may not have the means to get to campus at that time or have to meet their kid as they come off the bus right after class.”

This project is far from complete. The online environment will continue to undergo enhancements over time. “Right now, we are looking at what works best for the students. We will try new things and see what students like. Eventually, we would love to have students walk across the stage virtually at commencement ceremonies.”

The Virtual Campus will incorporate non-credit classes as well. Right now, the cyber security program and drone piloting and maintenance programs are offered online. This is high tech training for jobs that are in high demand. It’s an example of NCC fulfilling the needs of community and teaching students skills they can utilize readily in the workforce.

Virtual Campus is Ritter-Guth’s baby since she started re-vamping it. “We are building a ship. In a row boat, you don't expect there to be a casino or fantastic food. But, on a cruise ship you expect a lot more, a total experience. I am thrilled with the leadership and community who support the use of advanced technologies. Faculty and staff here truly care about student success."