RENO, Nev. (AP) — Students in Judy Strauss' marketing classes at the University of Nevada, Reno are as likely to use Facebook as they are textbooks to complete their assignments.
They use e-portfolios — a collection of the student's work captured digitally — to grab the attention of potential employers instead of submitting online resumes or paper resumes.
And for their final exam for Strauss' Internet Marketing class, the students organized a flash mob performance last May at Reno Tahoe International Airport to raise awareness for Rett Syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes mental and physical developmental problems.
Welcome to higher education in the tech-savvy 21st century.
It's a brave new world in which students use interactive platforms for class projects, learn in virtual classrooms and access Massively Open Online Courses that are free for anyone in the world with a computer and a connection to the Internet.
Ever-changing forms of delivering knowledge will play an important role as colleges struggle to educate students who can compete against growing global competition while dealing with state and federal budget cuts, rising tuition and poor graduation rates.
"I think something very remarkable is happening with higher education in the arena of e-learning and technology and innovation," Chancellor Dan Klaich, who oversees Nevada's public higher education system, told the Reno Gazette-Journal (http://on.rgj.com/Tvyruu).
E-learning has been around for almost 20 years but, in most cases, whether to use it along with textbooks, lectures and other traditional forms of instruction is up to the instructors.
"We are going to have to keep an open mind and be open to change," Klaich said. "I think that is important because higher education, just like many large institutions, doesn't like change, and sometimes we fear change."
He said the Nevada System of Higher Education, which comprises the state's seven academic campuses and a research institute, is doing a study on the future of e-learning and classroom technology. The final report on how the system can use that technology to increase student success will be presented to the Nevada Board of Regents early next year, Klaich said.
It's not just changes in the way academic instruction is delivered that will influence the success of higher education as it evolves in the 21st century, he said.
As technology affects future jobs, Nevada's campuses will have to graduate students with the skills and knowledge to fill them, Klaich said.
But churning out workers trained to do specific jobs will not be enough to compete globally.
"We need skilled workers, but more than that, I think the concept of turning out students with broad liberal arts degrees is still valued," Klaich said. "At the rate new knowledge and technology is being produced in the world today, it's more important than ever that we teach our students to think critically, which will help them react as society and technology changes."
Kevin Carman, hired in October as UNR's new provost and executive vice president, has said UNR must engage in online education to survive.
"To stick with the traditional classroom alone is a death sentence for a university," he said.
CLASS ADAPTS TO CHANGING WORLD
Strauss decided to modify the way she taught her classes at UNR because the Internet and social media have revolutionized the marketing industry.
Consumers, instead of passively being bombarded by advertising telling them what products are the best, are writing their own reviews of restaurants on Yelp and posting videos on YouTube of malfunctioning products such as a laptop's battery catching fire, Strauss said.
"So now businesses are concerned about how to get their websites or messages found online and how they can use the Internet and social media to engage in a dialogue with consumers," she said.
Ross Martin, 22, graduated recently with a bachelor's degree in business administration. He took several classes from Strauss, including one on the principles of digital marketing.
He said Strauss' use of the Internet and social media prepared for jobs in his field, and he credits that with helping him land an internship last summer with a major film company in Los Angeles.
He helped with the marketing distribution of the latest James Bond film "Skyfall" and the upcoming movie "The Hobbit" to markets in Senegal, Bulgaria, Finland and parts of Europe and Africa.
To land the internship, Martin had listed his e-portfolio website along with his semester-long study on introducing products into different countries.
In his final report for one of Strauss' classes, Martin compared the online presence of two film companies, Lionsgate and Fox Searchlight Pictures, noting how many impressions they were getting, how long visitors stayed on their sites, how many were new visits, and the two companies' use of Facebook and Twitter.
Martin said he had been trying for a year and a half to get the internship, and he credits finally succeeding to the experience he got from Strauss' classes.
"I told her I wanted to get into the film industry, and she has her students use e-portfolios and blogs to expand our interests," said Martin, now an intern at the Glenn Group in Reno.
"That makes us more marketable down the line to employers."
FIRST ONLINE UNDERGRADUATE DEGREES
While the use of social media in classrooms is relatively new, online courses have been around for nearly 20 years.
But a major leap forward in online instruction is scheduled to launch in the fall of 2013 when, for the first time, a consortium of top-ranked universities will offer the first online for-credit educational program for undergraduate students.
Called Semester Online, the program will offer courses to students from Duke, Emory, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest.
UNR began offering online classes about a decade ago to help students whose schedules kept them from classes needed to stay on track for graduation, said Fred Holman, vice provost of the university's Extended Studies.
About five years ago, UNR added online graduate courses aimed at professionals who wanted to earn postgraduate degrees, Holman said.
Now UNR also has seven entirely online master's degree programs, plus a doctorate in nursing practice.
This year, three of UNR's online master's programs were cited as "Best Buys" by GetEducated.com, a consumer group that compares and rates online degree programs.
Named a best buy was UNR's Executive Master's in Business Administration, which drew students from six states, Dubai and Australia. More than a dozen were executive-level professionals, Holman said.
The other best buys were the Master of Science in equity and diversity in education and the Master of Education in literacy studies.
"Online will thrive because that is what the public will demand to meet the needs of first-time students and to provide professionals who want to get an advanced degree," Holman said.
Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com
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