Technological improvements are having a profound effect on teaching and learning in all academic levels, including higher education. For colleges and universities charged with the responsibility of equipping their graduates to compete effectively in the knowledge-based economy, the possibilities offered by technology are limitless. Some of the benefits of technologies that universities and colleges are embracing include distance and blended learning, computer-aided instruction, interactive education, and learning management systems. Moreover, with the globalization of the economy and flexible schedules demanded by learners, colleges and universities have no other option but to develop innovative solutions (DeAndrea, Ellison, LaRose, Steinfield, & Fiore, 2012). Another issue driving the uptake of technology by colleges and universities is intense competition in enrolling students. Institutions are progressively using social media and online advertising to expand their reach to attract new students. As Tess (2013) points out, today’s generation is technology proficient and exposed to an immersive computing environment; therefore, universities and colleges have to adapt to cater for their needs.
The literature has vastly documented the importance of technology in higher education. For instance, DeAndrea et al. (2012) reported that technology facilitates learner engagement with respect to the knowledge building. Technologies such as online programs and distance education have increased access to learning opportunities. As a result, institutions are exploiting new markets. These technologies also result in significant cost savings for organizations while at the same time benefitting learners in terms of flexible learning schedules. Innovative technologies are not only affecting learning in colleges but also having substantial impacts on numerous administrative aspects (Selwyn, 2012). For instance, social networking tools are being used in establishing linkages with alumni and supporting career service functions. Furthermore, self-service automated applications are lessening the administrative needs and streamlining course registration activities.
Given the documented importance of technology in learning institutions, a survey was undertaken with the main aim of assessing the technology needs of Miami Dade College (MDC). The survey focused on gathering information regarding the current technologies utilized by MDC as well as the current social media technologies that MDC is not currently using. The survey was administered using interviews conducted with ten participants from various departments in MDC comprising both teaching and non-teaching staff. The following subsections represent the findings of the survey.
Current Technologies Being Utilized by MDC
The survey revealed numerous technologies that MDC currently uses. The first technology utilized by MDC is online learning. It offers various online classes in accordance to diverse training needs of its students. Through MDC online classes, learners do not need to attend classes physically. Instead, they can learn in the comfort of their home or any place they deem conducive to their learning (MDC, 2015). Furthermore, students prefer online classes due to the manifold reasons such as the flexibility associated with accessing the learning materials, finishing the learning tasks, and the convenience owing to a personalized schedule (MDC, 2015). In addition, online classes save costs to learners because they remove the necessity to travel to the college to attend classes. Moreover, online courses are of the same quality and credits as courses offered using face-to-face platforms. In MDC, online learning plays a crucial role in advancing its mission of increasing opportunities for people to access affordable higher education. Through its Virtual College established in 1999, MDC delivers educational content via the Internet rather than face-to-face instructions (MDC, 2015). The key driver for the launch of the Virtual College in MDC was the ability to provide people with wider educational opportunities. Especially, it targeted those who were not in a position to pursue education endeavors because of tight work schedules or personal demands such as working professionals and single mothers (MDC, 2015). MDC has a mission of reaching out to these people, and online learning has been an important tool in facilitating the achievement of this goal. However, online education extends beyond the MDC Virtual College. Tutors teaching in the traditional classroom also post course content on various online platforms such as iTunes. MDC uploads the lectures and talks provided by its teaching staff online in the form of podcasts or vodcasts.
Learning management system (LMS) is another technology used in MDC. The LMS is used by the Virtual College and is referred to as Blackboard Learn utilized in the delivery of instruction as well as supporting class work (MDC, 2015). The courses offered by MDC make use of interactive technologies and offer forums through which students can take part in the group discussions. It is imperative to point out that LMS is a component of online learning. Instructors utilize it in creating and delivering educational content, monitoring the level of student participation, and evaluating the performance of learners. The LMS used in MDC online classes has some interactive aspects such as discussion forums, video conferencing, and threaded discussions. The Virtual College at MDC relies on LMS in meeting the present and future needs of its students. Another important application of LMS in MDC relates to achieving its enrollment goals. Given the intensifying competition in the higher education marketplace, it is becoming imperative for colleges to identify the programs that they will offer. Moreover, they should clearly outline ways of attracting students, engaging them, and ensuring that they enroll in these programs (Boyd, 2014). The MDC Virtual College uses the Blackboard Learn LMS to research the target market prior to the introduction of a new program, developing a profile of its target students, and devising a customized strategy for communication to appeal to the target learners. Apart from using LMS for market research, MDC utilizes the application to perform analytics aimed at conducting a historical analysis of student lifecycle. This technique assists in offering crucial insights regarding the enrollment and the retention of students while concurrently facilitating the effective allocation of resources.
MDC also uses social media technologies, especially Facebook and Twitter for various purposes, including communicating with students, advertising, and recruiting new learners. According to Boyd (2014), for universities and colleges that are in competition to attract top students, reliance on glossy brochures and websites is not sufficient. As a result, colleges and universities are increasingly using social media networks, especially Facebook and Twitter, to engage with students applying for enrollments. Boyd (2014) further points out that robust campaigns on social media are effective in luring prospective students. MDC has not been left behind in this trend. The admissions office at the college has a Twitter and Facebook page used for communication with students. In addition, MDC uses Facebook and Twitter to update its learners with respect to the student affairs. In addition, using social networks, applicants are informed of the decision and interview dates. The teaching staff in MDC also uses Facebook and Twitter to ensure that their learners are engaged. For instance, one teaching staff who took part in the survey admitted to using social media to post deadline reminders to students. Various authors agree on the critical role that social media play in providing universities and colleges with a chance to interact and communicate with parents, alumni, existing students, and potential learners (Briggs, 2013; Moran, Seaman, & Tinti-Kane, 2011). Apart from communication purposes, MDC uses Facebook and Twitter for advertising purposes and finding potential students.
Social Media Technologies Currently Not Being Used
The use of social media technologies in MDC is limited to only Facebook and Twitter. MDC should adopt other social media platforms that have been proven beneficial to learning institutions. The scope of social media applications in higher learning is wide; as a result, MDC should seek to exploit these platforms to enhance the experience of learners. MDC should also consider exploiting other social media platforms such as Google +, Pinterest, and Instagram to expand its reach. In the US, 31% of higher learning institutions are using Pinterest, 25% are using Google + whereas 16% are using Instagram (Tess, 2013). Another potential social medium that MDC lacks are mobile phone apps that seek to make student life easier and safer. Other colleges and universities utilize mobile phone apps to help enhance the safety of students while on campus. For instance, the Northeastern State University has introduced a smartphone app that functions on both Android and iPhone. It enables students to convey a danger alert to the security department, including his or her location (Margaryan, Littlejohn, & Vojt, 2011).
Furthermore, MDC should incorporate numerous other social media platforms. First, MDC does not make use of blogging. However, other institutions utilize blogs for various purposes such as enabling students to share their experiences, broadcasting content, student discussion and interaction, creating a community of learners, and edublogs among others(Briggs, 2013). Second, MDC does not have a dedicated social media platform for sharing photos such as Flickr and Picasa used by other institutions for teaching and interactional purposes. Third, MDC should take up the culture of presentation sharing through the available social networking platforms such as Slideshare. None of the teaching staff who participated in the survey reported using the presentation-sharing tools. Presentation-sharing tools allow students and teachers to post their presentations for a class while at the same allowing their peers to comment on them (Briggs, 2013). Another vital social media technology that is not being used in MDC is video sharing platforms, especially YouTube. YouTube has been used in distributing learning materials and engaging with millennial students (Selwyn, 2012). In addition, the teaching staff in MDC does not utilize collaborative working tools such as Google Docs and Wikispaces.
In addition to using the universal social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, colleges are developing their online social networking systems. Such online media cater for the networking needs of the students, including sharing notes, disseminating information regarding social activities and clubs, issuing advice, and keeping learners updated concerning actual events (Selwyn, 2012). These specially designed social networking systems are helping students on various fronts, including finding roommates and apartments, selling and buying books and posting reviews regarding local attractions and clubs.
Current technologies used by MDC include online learning, LMS, and social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. Online learning has helped MDC to achieve its mission of providing people with wider educational opportunities. The college also uses LMS as a component of online learning for creating and delivering educational content, monitoring the level of student participation, and evaluating the performance of learners. MDC mainly uses Facebook and Twitter to communicate and interact with its students. It is evident that MDC should exploit the opportunities provided by the vast social media platforms. The recommendation for MDC is to adopt other social media platforms already implemented by other institutions. They include Google +, Pinterest, Instagram, mobile apps to enhance student life, blogs, photo sharing platforms such as Flickr and Picasa, presentation sharing platforms such as Slideshare, video sharing tools like YouTube, and collaborative working tools such as Wikispaces and Google Docs. In addition, it is recommendable for MDC to create its unique social networking tool to cater for the networking needs of its students.