by Linda Weems
Adults with less time on their hands hoping to gain college or university qualifications have an increasing number of online institutions from which to choose. And for those trying to squeeze in an education around work or family commitments, it’s important to have the latest technology at one’s fingertips. Why? Well, for one because it makes course programs far more flexible and convenient. Such technology can include applications and websites that people are already familiar with – Facebook and Skype, for instance – or more advanced and rapidly evolving platforms such as learning management system Blackboard or virtual world software Second Life.
The following list is a selection of 30 U.S. online schools that offer the discerning distance learner the finest education using the most progressive technology.
The George Washington University – Washington, D.C.
The online facilities at The George Washington University in the U.S. capital are so effective that associate dean Toni Marsh believes the school’s “on-campus program has gotten better as well.” Moreover, technology has played a big part in this. As the official website explains, “Technology continuously presents opportunities to challenge our students while expanding their access to information.” Students may undertake synchronous or asynchronous degree and certificate programs and can expect to use software such as iTunes U to access podcasts, and Second Life to enter a virtual classroom environment. Blackboard and Embanet are learning management systems favored by the school, while Skype, video conferencing and real-time chat rooms are also available to help online learners reach their potential.
University of Texas at Brownsville – Brownsville, Texas
Management systems, web conferencing and virtual drives come together at the University of Texas at Brownsville to create a progressive learning environment that’s ideal for online students. The school runs 17 fully online courses covering a selection of master’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees and graduate certificates. Blackboard is employed for the organization and synchronous and asynchronous delivery of the school’s programs, while the digital settings of Second Life, or Blackboard’s own Collaborate software, can be used by students and faculty members to interact with one another and cooperate on assignments. The university’s impressive Tegrity Campus will also record lectures for live streaming, and these are then all made available for downloading.
University of Bridgeport – Bridgeport, Connecticut
The University of Bridgeport in Connecticut’s website helps offer online learners their pick of several programs including undergraduate, graduate and post graduate options. The myUB portal allows all of their students to register for their courses and will hook students into learning management system Canvas as well as ample other services – including email, provision of the latest school information, and library resources. Teaching tends to be asynchronous, making use of discussion threads and internet-based tests within Canvas and the university integrates video into their online courses as well as other multimedia materials. The faculty can also engage students via live messaging or conferencing with technology such as Blackboard Collaborate. Unrestricted technical assistance and a free eTutor are among the additional benefits for online students at the school.
Johns Hopkins University – Baltimore, Maryland
Two popular technologies are used across all online classes at Baltimore, Maryland’s Johns Hopkins University: Blackboard for course management and Adobe Connect for web conferencing. What’s more, this is enhanced by multiple web-based applications, including VoiceThread, Mediasite and JShare – the latter being the school’s cloud sharing tool, which offers every user five gigabytes of free online storage. Faculty members can take advantage of Facebook and live streaming technology software like Panopto. Meanwhile, online learners may connect to the campus via group chats with instructors in real-time, and student discussions on Skype and in webinars are also encouraged. The school placed well in three 2014 graduate program honor rolls by U.S. News & World Report.
Fort Hays State University – Hays, Kansas
Online student Michelle Fairbank described “trying new things with technology that [she] never in a million years thought [she] would do” in completing her master’s degree at Hays, Kansas’ Fort Hays State University Virtual College. Distance learners use Blackboard to remain hooked up with their courses and can join in with classes in real-time or watch video recordings of them at their own leisure. Students also get free access to the website Smarthinking for tutor assistance as well as having the option to email, call or Skype their professors. There is a selection of over 40 online degree programs from which to choose, too, with the majority of them taught by Fort Hays State staff.
Utah State University – Logan, Utah
Student support is an important part of online life at Utah State University. As well as receiving attention from teachers and fellow distance learners, students taking an online course at the Logan-based school also benefit from an academic adviser. Meanwhile, a dedicated eTutoring website provides learners with three outlets for help: a writing lab, real-time sessions with a tutor, and an offline aid service. There are eight bachelor’s plus six master’s degrees and ten additional courses to choose from, available via Utah State’s online learning platform, Canvas. Content has been optimized for smartphones and tablets, and the university even has its own app.
Boston University – Boston, Massachusetts
Interactivity and community are essential elements of Boston University’s online degree and certificate courses, with technology the bedrock of the students’ virtual classrooms. Blackboard, Adobe Connect and Echo360 blend seamlessly, facilitating a variety of programs – and helping the school to have ranked second and eighth on U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 Best Online Graduate Computer Information Technology Programs and Best Online Graduate Business Programs lists, respectively. Recorded lectures are accommodated online, as are animations and chat sessions, while Respondus LockDown Browser software ensures that learners complete their examinations in a controlled context. Distance learners are further encouraged to bond with their peers using allocated course web spaces.
Arizona State University – Tempe, Arizona
In 2006 Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona became the first institution of its kind to utilize Google Apps for Education. Besides which, the forward-thinking school encourages learners to use social media site Facebook to contact instructors and connect with their classmates. And that’s not all. Students may create, edit, save and share documents and view lectures in an on-demand, asynchronous context within the school’s course organization system, LearningStudio. Hallway Conversations is another useful feature at Arizona State; it’s an “open forum” where “we can set up study groups, post questions and reply to them,” according to one student. Meanwhile, learners can get guidance 24 hours a day, seven days a week from the school’s technical support team as well as unlimited library access via an online chat facility. Furthermore, the library offers digitized versions of its collections.
McKendree University – Lebanon, Illinois
In addition to offering online students substantial I.T. support, access to the Holman Library and the benefits of the Academic Support Center, McKendree University in Lebanon, Illinois also provides assistance with writing, both online and in-person. The Writing Center offers interactive online sessions with writing consultants, who work collaboratively with students to improve their writing skills and can assist during any stage of the writing process. Graduate and undergraduate classes are available – and in terms of student support, education and technology, the school was ranked among U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 list of Best Online Bachelor’s Programs and Best Online Graduate Business Programs.
SUNY Delhi – Delhi, New York
SUNY Delhi in Delhi, New York took joint top spot in U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 honor roll for Best Online Bachelor’s Programs. The school’s learning management system is called Vancko Hall, more widely known as open source e-learning software Moodle. Writing workshops and academic advice are among the benefits received by online students, who can also enjoy around-the-clock access to SUNY Delhi’s comprehensive Resnick Library – a repository of around 35,000 journals stored in 30 databases. The school’s regard led to it being a “critical component” in the launch of the innovative Open SUNY network, an online learning system that brings together all 64 campuses of New York’s state universities.
Pace University – New York City, New York
“Cutting-edge web-based technology” is used to deliver both wholly online and online-offline hybrid courses at New York’s Pace University. The school’s iPace program for course completion takes advantage of virtual learning management system Blackboard, while other software such as Echo360, Respondus and ProctorU helps give students a flexible and accessible distance learning experience. Pace also has a devoted advisory group for online students, who feel connected to the main campus thanks to programs that include web chats and other live online elements. Additionally, the school has a partnership with iTunes, providing an accessible platform that hosts submittable educational material. Pace University believes the amount of interaction – whether real-time or otherwise – between remote students and their instructors and peers should mirror that of the on-campus experience.
Central Michigan University – Mount Pleasant, Michigan
U.S. News & World Report featured Central Michigan University (CMU) in joint first place on its Best Online Bachelor’s Programs list for 2014. CMU’s Global Campus is based in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, and the school’s online classes offer prospective students a range of bachelor’s and master’s degrees as well as graduate certificates. Distance learners can also use the Blackboard application 24 hours a day to access relevant material, submit work and chat with lecturers – and students may also be required to log in to planned live discussions. Besides which, anyone struggling to keep up can enlist the help of an Online Ally – a knowledgeable, advanced online learner able to offer insightful guidance and support.
Wright State University – Dayton, Ohio
Wright State University calls its distance education program a “new kind of learning” – and to back up this claim, the Dayton, Ohio-based school now boasts online classes featuring “new interactive video instruction” that “moves beyond the traditional e-learning environment.” That said, the more conventional aspects of distance learning are still comprehensibly covered, with all students using the school’s dedicated online portal, Pilot, to access course resources and information. Students can also enjoy the additional assistance of 24-hour tech support, seven days a week and utilize the university’s career services and library database. Live and recorded video will see learners through a selection of degree programs such as master’s in nursing and information systems.
Drexel University – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Drexel University has offered online programs for nigh on 20 years, and in 2010 the school was presented with the Sloan-C Award for Excellence in Institution-Wide Online Education. More than 100 online courses are taught by on-campus staff at the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based school, with Blackboard Learn used to enable students to collaborate on assignments and sit in on “live classrooms” with instructors and peers. Additional teaching tools include multimedia presentations and online threads. Through the Writing Center, students may also take advantage of real-time discussions with tutors, who can help with papers by offering guidance. Plus, there’s a mentoring scheme dedicated to “improving the student experience.”
University of California, Los Angeles – Los Angeles, California
U.S. News and World Report placed the online master’s degree at UCLA’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science second on its 2014 Best Online Graduate Engineering Programs list. Distance students get the same courses as their on-campus counterparts, with lectures and class materials made available via the school’s learning management system. Frequent real-time chats with instructors support learners through their study and are recorded and uploaded for students who can’t make the sessions. Meanwhile, the school has three lecture-capture studios on hand for the faculty; two are equipped with Echo360 software for asynchronous sessions and the third is provided with Blackboard Collaborate for live discussions and debates.
Sam Houston State University – Huntsville, Texas
Huntsville, Texas’ Sam Houston State University boasts seven lecture theaters spread out across two campuses that have been equipped with interactive television technology. This enables classes to be streamed live to distance learners, with the added benefit of adjustable cameras and multiple microphones. Julie Combs, director of the Center for Research and Doctoral Studies in Educational Leadership, believes this “allows students from many different regions to join a class in a face-to-face format.” Online undergraduate and graduate programs are both run by the school, which utilizes Blackboard to organize course content while also enabling web-based students to use the university’s library, career services and writing hub.
Viterbi School of Engineering, University of Southern California – Los Angeles, California
More than 40 online master’s programs are available through the University of Southern California’s Distance Education Network at the Viterbi School of Engineering in Los Angeles. A number of interactive applications – such as Skype, Cisco WebEx and BlueJeans – are used to encourage teamwork, and remote students even have access to a toll-free number to contact their professors for assistance. Lectures are streamed live from distinctive “studio classrooms” before being archived along with the relevant notes. The school’s commitment to distance learning is also seen in its innovative Viterbi iPodia program, which strives to “create a true ‘classrooms-without-borders’ paradigm around the world.”
Westfield State University – Westfield, Massachusetts
Massachusetts-based Westfield State University’s distance program is called PLATO, or People Learning and Teaching Online. Six bachelor’s completion courses and four minors as well as numerous other online classes are offered, all backed up by free eTutoring from Smarthinking. Podcasting is encouraged through the use of Audacity software, while image and video capture is made possible by TechSmith’s Jing application. Blackboard Collaborate is the university’s latest web conferencing tool, and students receive considerable concessions on Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite software thanks to the school’s licensing agreements. Meanwhile, faculty members are put through their paces at Web Camp, an acclaimed training program for effective online teaching, helping the school rank number 1 in 2013 and number 3 in 2014 for Training and Faculty Credentials by U. S. News & World Reports.
Washington State University – Pullman, Washington
“Our faculty and course designers work together to ensure the online classroom is engaging, lively and interactive,” states Washington State University’s official website. The school’s online learning platform, Angel, is the property of Blackboard and is largely maintained on campus in Pullman, Washington. Instructors are also encouraged to utilize a variety of technology to deliver course content. Students can employ digital pens to easily review notes from lectures and may record presentations using screen capture software like TechSmith’s Camtasia. “Virtual field trips” are promoted, as is the option of creating digital games directly in Angel. The online community is further supported by access to a student government, virtual mentors and extracurricular events.
Northern Illinois University – DeKalb, Illinois
With official Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts and more all accessible from the university’s own social media “SmashUp” page, Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois is proud of the “community-building” capabilities of its technologies. One faculty member responsible for the online courses stated, “If you are not moving ahead in this field, you are falling behind.” That’s why iOS and Android platforms can deliver course content to online students, and software like Adobe Connect and Blackboard are used alongside podcasting, blogging and a custom “lecture capture” classroom. In 2014 the school topped U.S. News & World Report’s Best Online Graduate Education Programs list.
Western Carolina University – Cullowhee, North Carolina
Distance students at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina can augment their education with the use of live streaming video and audio as well as with remote access to their instructors. The school began offering distance education in 1997, and it constantly endeavors to take “maximum advantage of the changes in information and communications technologies.” So whether enrolled in a fully online course or a hybrid degree, learners still have access to the university’s Hunter Library – including the ability to directly receive information and research services 24 hours a day, Monday to Friday, and from 8:00 a.m. to midnight on weekends. Students may use the library’s comprehensive database to retrieve digital texts and request materials from the physical collections.
East Carolina University – Greenville, North Carolina
At Greenville, North Carolina’s East Carolina University, distance education is made easy with the use of collaborative communication applications from Blackboard and Saba. Furthermore, each online learner is given access to the school’s own Onestop student portal, which enables them to customize the system’s interface and browse a variety of relevant materials. The school boasts over 80 online courses, with live talks between students and teachers available in some of them. Coursework is submitted digitally, and tutors are also on-hand during stipulated hours so that distance learners can feel connected to the main campus.
St. John’s University – New York City, New York
At St. John’s University in Queens, New York, nearly three quarters of all distance courses are taught by current on-campus staff, and every full-time remote (and on-campus) degree learner is given a new laptop. Additionally, distance learners have the opportunity to access important aspects of university life such as the library and ministry. Daily communication with lecturers is encouraged, and much of the program involves active engagement in online discussion boards. These exceptional features have helped the school reach fifth place on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Online Graduate Education Programs list for 2014. Recent graduate Errol Adams says that his online course “kept [him] abreast of all the advances in technology throughout [his] profession.”
University of Denver – Denver, Colorado
“Our philosophy is to embrace technology to improve and accelerate learning for busy adults,” states the University of Denver’s official University College website. The physical campus is based in Denver, but the online learning platform Canvas is accessible to distance learners 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Students can enjoy real-time messaging with peers, stream multimedia and contribute to talks via web conferencing tools. Master’s and bachelor’s degrees are available, along with other courses and certificates, and there’s also the option to be fully online or part of a blended class – although the course content in both cases is identical. What’s more, with technical support on hand all day, every day, there’s no excuse for being late with an assignment.
Regent University – Virginia Beach, Virginia
As a Christian-affiliated school, Regent University in Virginia Beach offers its online students not just 24-hour technical support, but around-the-clock spiritual guidance as well. Benefits include access to the school’s digital library, writing center, internet-based seminars and workshops (at the Center for Student Development) and the ability to stream content from Regent’s chapel. Blackboard Collaborate is used to create a virtual learning environment incorporating scheduled face-to-face educational exercises, while a personalized Regent webpage is offered to each student to allow ease of access to learning accounts and emails. A variety of undergraduate and graduate online degrees are obtainable – more than 50 in total – alongside several hybrid courses.
University of Wisconsin-Platteville – Platteville, Wisconsin
Desire2Learn, Pioneer Administrative Software System (PASS) and Atomic Learning are three technologically savvy means used to deliver online courses at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. PASS is responsible for program registration and financial support. Desire2Learn, meanwhile, is the school’s education management system of choice; it’s a solution that in addition to taking care of media content and prospectuses, can connect with Atomic Learning’s digestible video tutorials to improve learning. In 2014 University Business magazine selected the school as one of its eight “Models of Efficiency” in the U.S. – an acknowledgement of “innovative approaches for streamlining operations through technology,” according to the university. Faculty member Dawn Drake explains, “We find technology to support what we do to help students get the education they need.”
New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering – New York City, New York
The 2014 U.S. News & World Report list of Best Online Graduate Engineering Programs placed the New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering in New York City at number twelve. The school’s director of online and virtual learning, John Vivolo, says that the programs are “diverse, interactive and ever-evolving” in terms of the technologies that they use. Lectures are available to be viewed live or at a later date – even through smartphones and tablets – while content is also delivered via the Blackboard learning system. Plus, distance students can remotely access the university’s library resources and career services and benefit from frequent communication with peers and staff by utilizing online discussion boards and webinars.
Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Science, Columbia University – New York City, New York
Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science in New York City topped U.S. News & World Report’s Best Online Graduate Engineering Program list in 2014. Its graduate remote-learning school, the Columbia Video Network, has been described by one student as providing an “Ivy League, world-class education” and having an “outstanding” choice of classes. All of the relevant course resources are accessible online, and distance learners are taught identical lessons to those of their on-site peers. This is achievable through the use of bespoke on-campus classrooms, which record live lectures that can then be streamed or downloaded by online students – with the additional benefit of high-resolution footage. There’s also a special Student Center system that makes virtual collaboration possible.
Wilmington University – New Castle, Delaware
There are in excess of 80 fully online classes on offer at New Castle, Delaware’s Wilmington University. Each virtual classroom is kept to an average of 17 learners, fostering a “personalized” educational experience with easy communication between instructors and peers. This can be accessed through the school’s Blackboard discussion boards, email, Skype or the web conferencing tool, Collaborate. Attendees may even take advantage of the online student association’s monthly meetings for all web-based students in a comfortable webinar format utilizing Blackboard Collaborate. Advanced multimedia content is added to Blackboard by Kaltura Building Block software, while faculty can use Swivl to record classes. Learners also benefit from an array of online student services – from writing workshops to mentoring – as well as around-the-clock technical assistance.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Daytona Beach, Florida
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida has been offering distance education opportunities since 1971. Today, it presents an array of master’s, associate and bachelor’s programs, with the university ranking joint fifth on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs list for 2014. Students enrolled in an online course can benefit from an impressive range of services, such as 24-hour tech support, seven days a week and a variety of apps for tablets and smartphones. Embry-Riddle Worldwide also employs an innovative, staff-developed piece of software called EagleVision Home, which enables remote students to experience live classes in a virtual environment and interact with peers and faculty in real-time.