How technology can help connect off-campus students
Living on-campus during college years has its advantages: utilities are paid for, all campus resources easily accessible, social events are easy to attend, students don’t worry about commuting, etc. Living off-campus also has its advantages: lower rent, more freedom in housing, no curfews, alone time, and much more.
But, off-campus and online students can be at a disadvantage when it comes to connectivity, community, and educational support. Because of these disadvantages, many universities have come up with solutions to help these students feel more a part of the university and be able to succeed.
Being on-campus definitely has an advantage when it comes to being connected with resources: most universities provide free wi-fi, libraries have a huge array of online journals and primary resources, and the university IT team is there to help. But, as an off-campus or online student, sometimes there are issues connecting to university resources.
Princeton University helps its off-campus students connect to their server by using the program, EZproxy. This service doesn’t require any configuration and can be used to allow students to access university library online databases. Off-campus users will need to only supply their university net ID and passwords.
Many universities also provide a secure remote access (SRA) service, which requires installing and configuring software compatible with the student’s computer’s operating system. GlobalProtect is another network security program for students who live off-campus.
University library websites also allow a student login to access online journals and databases regardless of where the student is using the Internet.
At Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma, the administration has created an IT concierge service to help students with computer and connectivity issues. They have even created OneCampus from rSmart as their “digital concierge” platform. This allows students both on-campus, as well as off-campus, to get help with connecting to the services and resources they need.
Students who live on-campus have a community built in—only students live in the dorms, there are many on-campus parties and activities, and clubs typically meet on campus. Sometimes, off-campus students can feel left out and not a real part of the university community. But, there are many technological ways to build community with off-campus and online students.
Online peer support networks are huge. Twitter groups, Facebook pages, Instagram profiles, etc. can help off-campus students stay in-the-know with campus activities and news. It’s also a great way for students with similar interests or majors to get to know each other.
Northeastern University has created a program that functions both online and in-person to help bridge the gap between the college and off-campus students. This program is called Community Ambassadors. They work with Off-Campus Student Services to help with leases, services, advocacy, promoting student connections to, and encouraging student relations to the community.
When living on-campus, it’s easy to take a half hour and go visit a professor during office hours for extra help or meet with other on-campus students for group projects. However, off-campus students and online students don’t have that opportunity. Having a way to connect with classmates, TAs, and professors online allow these students to still get the help and support they need.
Universities typically provide students with a school-related email on their secure server. Students can use these email addresses to contact other students, staff, or departments for school-related business. When a professor sees the name of the university in an email address, he will be more likely to answer it than an old email from middle school.
Collaborative Internet hosted services such as DropBox or Google Drive can really help students connect with each other without even leaving their apartment or house. By using these “cloud” programs, off-campus students can share documents or projects with their classmates without the hassle of finding time to meet in person.
Smartphone apps such as GroupMe and WhatsApp can also help off-campus or online students get the support they need from TAs or classmates. GroupMe is an app that creates private chat rooms for small groups. This is perfect for working on projects or sharing notes. It even works over SMS if you don’t have a smartphone. Photos, videos, and locations can even be shared. WhatsApp is a secure, reliable messaging system. It includes video chat, texting, video and photo sharing. It even has the ability for users to send documents, PDFs, spreadsheets, slides, and more.
By using technology to allow remote access to online programs and servers, connect with the on-campus community, and work with classmates and professors, universities can help their off-campus and online students have as much success as their on-campus students.