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Today, while learning online is the new normal, institutions are transforming to become more digital.

Online courses aren’t enough for a rich and connected student learning experience. Students need a campus and culture–even in a digital world. To amplify the value of remote enrollment, institutions must think creatively about the online student experience, including their virtual campus, resources, and social opportunities. And that can start with non-instructional activities.

Read this blog post to learn how colleges and universities can leverage online synchronous learning platforms to build a digital campus beyond classes. And get best practices for administrators to implement and manage non-instructional activities online.

The History of the Connected Campus

The structure of college campuses in America today dates to the early 19th century. Due to anti-urban sentiments, leaders of private and public colleges preferred rural areas as places of learning. The prevailing opinion was that colleges must build character, community, and personal values beyond academic coursework. Quiet, peaceful towns were selected instead of “large cities and business centers where the people congregate.” To engineer this community ethos in rural areas, colleges built campuses, including dormitories, dining halls, and extracurricular programs that fostered institutional belonging.

Today, while higher education evolves, this cultural supra structure still exists. And inside is a hypothesis that students learn better together. A 2018 Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning study notes that campuses offer a broad and holistic definition of connectedness, like belonging and creating bonding relationships. In this theory, student, instructor, and campus institution connectedness powers academic outcomes and relationships. This is one of many ways institutions think about successful undergraduate experiences.

The Transformation of the New Digital Campus

But what becomes of a physical campus and its connectedness in a digital world?

Some theorists think that, in a post-Covid world of online learning, in-person campuses are still essential for student success. That’s because they facilitate social interactions and ensure social constructs of learning humans need.

Yet today’s landscape of education is reimagining this. Colleges and universities are building next-generation online learning experiences while engaging in digital transformation (dx). Educause defines this as coordinated changes that reshape the operations and direction of universities enabled by culture, workforce, and technology. In 2021, research suggested that 71% of colleges and universities are engaged in digital transformation or developing a digital transformation strategy.

What is a Digital Campus?

Digital transformation is a holistic view of institutional reform, including infrastructure, systems, and processes that power student life and academics. Beyond non-instructional activities, this transformation includes learning technologies, instructional modalities, administrative policies, development, and partnerships.

Research from The Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that 90% of senior college administrators agree that digital transformation is key to their institution’s future. But beyond classes, the challenge for senior administrators is “how to transcribe campus culture digitally.” That’s because digital transformation is important to expanding enrollment and improving student services and online educational experiences. In the same report, 85% of senior college administrators say digital transformation can positively impact student affairs, academic advising, and student retention, among other focus areas, like health services, career services, and alumni affairs.

Digital Campus Necessity: What are Non-instructional Activities

Does your institution have a digital transformation strategy that builds an online campus, culture, and community? If not, a great place to start building is with non-instructional activities.

Non-instructional activities in higher education refer to activities outside the formal classroom. They help define the student experience beyond coursework and are not directly related to instruction. They can be social, cultural, or professional, providing students with opportunities to develop skills, explore interests, and connect with peers and mentors. They also offer teaching and learning experiences outside the classroom that foster social development. These activities range from student clubs and organizations to guest lectures, career workshops, social events, and extracurricular programs.

While many of these activities have historically been in-person, the new age of online learning reconstructs where and how these activities occur. Virtual spaces can even amplify engagement, attendance, and efficacy of non-instructional activities online, especially for students who may have scheduling conflicts, transportation barriers, or family and work obligations outside of academic life.

Creating a Digital Campus Culture Through Non-Instructional Activities Online

Here’s a short list of non-instructional activities online synchronous learning platforms can power to build a virtual community for students.

GUEST LECTURES

Invite guest speakers worldwide to share their expertise on a topic to provide students with unique insights and perspectives. These could include webinars or other virtually broadcasted events outside of coursework.

VIRTUAL CLUBS AND ORGANIZATIONS

Student clubs and organizations are a cornerstone of campus culture and can be more flexible online. Online synchronous learning platforms can provide spaces for students to hold virtual meetings, share resources, and plan events from wherever they are.

STUDENT-LED DISCUSSIONS

Allow students to connect outside the classroom with informal group discussions. Engaging in meaningful conversations with peers can effectively form relationships. Online learning platforms enable students to lead and participate in discussions anywhere, making collaborating with others and sharing ideas easier.

VIRTUAL CAREER WORKSHOPS AND JOB FAIRS

Help students prepare for their future with career workshops and job fairs that provide guidance, advice, and networking opportunities. By leveraging online synchronous learning platforms at scale, institutions can offer career workshops accessible to a broader range of students.

Students can use web conferencing tools to connect with employers and mentors or other alumni and professionals in their field.

Best Practices for Implementing and Managing Non-Instructional Activities

When designing remote non-instructional programming at your institution, it’s important to consider best practices. Key considerations include:

TECHNOLOGY SELECTION

Choosing the right technology for online synchronous learning is critical. Class’s virtual learning platform adds integrated teaching and learning tools to Zoom, which students in non-instructional formats can use to engage peers, track attendance, and improve small-group collaboration with enhanced breakout rooms.

ESTABLISH CLEAR GOALS AND OBJECTIVES

To implement non-instructional programming online, it’s essential to establish clear goals and objectives. This will help ensure the activities are aligned with the institution’s mission and support students’ personal and professional development.

ENGAGE STUDENTS IN PLANNING

Give students agency in planning events, webinars, workshops, and meetings online. Involving students in planning ensures the activities meet their needs and interests. Empower students with the technology and resources necessary to design the virtual campus and community they want most.

ESTABLISH GUIDELINES FOR RULES

When participating in non-instructional activities online, students must have expectations for participation and behavior. These rules and norms can be different in a virtual environment. Like online classes, regularly publish, update, and communicate expectations for virtual spaces.

PROVIDE SUPPORT FOR FACILITATORS

Facilitators make a difference in hosting virtual events. They must be provided the training and support they need to manage activities effectively. From webinar hosts to club presidents, key facilitators should know how to use the technology tools to drive engagement, manage attendance, and solve problems.

How Class Builds Your Digital Campus Online

Class is an enhanced virtual learning platform that serves a variety of schools, levels, and institutions, including higher education. Class powers online synchronous learning technology of colleges and universities globally, ensuring online classrooms and meeting places are inclusive, interactive, and accessible.

Sign up for a demo today to learn how Class supports building a next-generation digital campus for students at your institution.

Jamie Turak
Jamie Turak

Jamie Turak is an Education Content Manager at Class. He's passionate about storytelling and helping to make education more accessible.

Jamie Turak
Jamie Turak

Jamie Turak is an Education Content Manager at Class. He's passionate about storytelling and helping to make education more accessible.

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