Olympic College using technology to accommodate diversity

POULSBO — As enrollment continues to rise at the Olympic College Poulsbo campus, the school is harnessing the increasing power of technology to ensure engaging and effective instruction for a new era of students.

The school’s student base has grown exponentially since it opened with only a few hundred two years ago. The student population is now approaching the 1,000 mark and the bulk of them are both tech-savvy and tech-reliant, said OC Poulsbo director Kelly Woodward.

“We are working to engage our younger demographic,” she said. “Our college is intentionally reaching out to serve their technological needs.”

The cutting-edge satellite campus in Poulsbo is well on its way to doing that and more.

Hidden in Olhava at the very north end of Little Norway, OC Poulsbo may appear to be disconnected — especially from its urban center in Bremerton — but using the tools of the ever-increasing high-tech world, it’s only a click away.

Four rooms at the campus are equipped with two-way video conferencing technology, which allows for a myriad of uses including connecting the three branches of OC for class time and teaching sessions.

Video conferencing works much like interactive television (ITV), Woodward said. Two screens illuminate at the front of the room — one shows the conference and the other can be utilized for visual aids or rubrics. Microphones are placed at each of the tables so attendants can chime in with the discussion or ask questions; a camera is set up to transmit visuals from the room to the other end of the conference.

“Some students really like it, others prefer to have me there in person,” OC computer information systems faculty member Mark Westlund said of teaching via ITV. “Sometimes there are some technical obstructions and little bumps in the road.”

But the upside is the link between the OC campuses.

If there are only a handful of students at each location interested in a course, traditionally it would have to be cut due to low enrollment. However, with ITV, technology students from each campus can be connected for class.

Westlund is one of several OC teachers taking advantage of the bridges technology is building for his classes. With everything from an Internet forum for student inquiries to e-mailed assignments and even online discussions, he said OC is “in step with the technology used by most of the academic institutions around the world.”

“I have a nearly paperless classroom,” Westlund said. “But if there are assignments that are not going to be done well over the Net, I will do them in paper. No matter how I deliver the class, I want to make sure that the same things are available.”

Making itself available and accommodating its students with the best possible learning environment is the focus of OC as it embraces the new age of technology, Woodward said, adding that it is also about a deeper experience and being involved and engaged. She said OC Poulsbo is an “evolutionary campus,” still growing and looking for ways to customize learning after almost two years.

“Our goal is to have the best of both worlds; allowing our students to benefit from a blend of technology and human connection,” Woodward said. “We are working to leverage technology to make the learning experience more interactive while catering to individual needs.”

Students needing an Internet connection for their laptops will find that nearly the entire campus is flowing with wireless and high-speed access. Teachers wanting to project pages from books can do so with the computerized teaching work stations located in every room. And science students needing a look at the progress of teachers’ experiments no longer have to crowd around desks as monitors now broadcast the examples to each student work station.

“By leveraging technology, we can try to meet students where they are at,” Westlund said. “Because most of the students we have are not your traditional college students.”

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