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Area community colleges set pace for digital education

When it comes to digital education, Greater Lehigh Valley community colleges earn top grades.

In fact, area community colleges again earned a national ranking for providing top-line digital education to students and faculty in a yearly survey by the Center for Digital Education.

“[Information technology] innovation is about combining technology with vision, creativity and leadership to transform teaching and learning with a focus on our students’ needs and their success,” said Celeste Schwartz, Montgomery County Community College vice president for information and technology and chief digital officer.

MCCC placed first among large schools (10,000 or more students) in the 2016 CDE ranking. It didn’t enter last year’s contest since it was invited to serve on the 2017 developmental panel to provide survey feedback.

When it has entered, MCCC has ranked among the survey’s Top 10 large community colleges every year since the CDE, based in Folsom, Calif., introduced the awards program in 2005, according to its rankings.

And it ranked first four times, said Diane VanDyke, interim director of strategic communications at the college.

CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT

Northampton Community College tied for ninth in 2017 and tied for sixth in 2016 in the CDE rankings.

(It should be noted how CDE accounts for ties in its rankings. For example, NCC tied for ninth in 2017 even though 13 colleges placed ahead of it on the CDE list.)

A division of the media and research company e.Republic, CDE is a national research and advisory institute specializing in kindergarten-12th grade and higher education technology trends, policy and funding.

“[The award] showcases Northampton Community College’s commitment to continuously improving our technology environment and services in support of the college’s student success initiatives, operations and strategic focus areas,” said Deborah Noble Burak, NCC associate vice president.

“NCC leverages technology to provide progressive and innovative teaching and learning environments.”

MOBILE SERVICES

Bucks County Community College was ranked third in 2016.

“The college provides robust mobile and web-based services for students,” said Bill Hemmig, dean, learning resources and online learning at the college. “Learning resources collaborate to provide comprehensive technology-focused professional development for faculty, staff and administrators. We use cloud services to accrue cost savings.

“In the last several years, we have adopted technologies to improve and streamline processes in various areas of human resources, budget preparation, purchasing, adviser communications, institutional assessment and assessment of student learning.”

TECHNOLOGY BENCHMARKS

Janet Grenslitt, director of surveys and awards for the CDE, said U.S.-accredited community colleges are invited to participate in the survey, which requires responses to a series of online questions.

She said survey criteria and scoring points are built into the 37-or-so questions as “points-based benchmarking.”

The self-selected responses (which are verified and validated) determine the points. Winning colleges have a higher total score than others based on a fuller implementation of the technology benchmarks represented in the questions.

Top 10 community colleges provide the best examples of how information and communication technology are used to support and provide service to students, parents and the community, as well as to improve college operations, the CDE said.

MOBILE-FIRST PROJECT

MCCC had several projects that helped it earn top honors in 2016, VanDyke said. They included providing technology services that support a mobile-first strategy.

Students can register for classes, check grades, sign up for clubs and listen to Montco Radio, the college station, with their mobile devices with a single login, VanDyke said.

The college twice received a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant (2012 and 2015) that enabled the school to launch an integrated planning and advising services initiative as part of its Student Success Network.

The network includes an early alert system that enables faculty to contact students and their advisers when students are struggling in class; an educational planning tool that allows students to map out their entire degree path; and a dashboard system that provides up-to-date information for students regarding their progress in courses and programs, VanDyke said.

CENTER FOR INNOVATION

Northampton Community College also completed several major projects the past few years.

“Over the past several years, we have highlighted key technology projects and initiatives at the college, including upgrading the network and wireless infrastructure, installing interactive digital signage and video wall and providing chair-side technologies for our dental assistant program,” Noble Burak said.

“During this past year, we focused on building a Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, piloting polysynchronous classrooms, expanding our nursing simulation capabilities with robot technology in nursing and medical office training.” 

Results for 2018 will be announced by the CDE in April.

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