Technology making college education more portable

CNJ Staff Photo Illustration: Kevin Wilson

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

Students with a laptop computer may find it easier nowadays to order electronic versions of textbooks, and make their college work lighter — literally.

Electronic books, available for purchase online, come without the weight and wear of used textbooks, and one online site now offers a scratch-n-sniff sticker so the customer’s computer can smell like a book.

That odor may always be part of the college experience, but technology — particularly wireless Internet and the decreasing cost of data storage — is making higher education more portable with every semester.

Clovis Community College officials are working toward several degree plans offered completely online. With CCC’s criminal justice program, school official David Caffey said it’s already possible for students to take all of their requirements online and only come to the college for their graduation.

The school’s vice president of institutional effectiveness said online courses were at first something the school envisioned mainly for Cannon Air Force Base personnel who could take courses during deployments. But the college has found that it’s an option for any student who doesn’t want to be tied to an in-class schedule.

“I think it’s (now) a big benefit to a lot of students,” Caffey said. “A lot of people are mobile these days for one reason or another.”
It’s for those same reasons Eastern New Mexico University offers many research services online.

Lilah Gainey, a systems librarian at ENMU’s Golden Library, said the library offers print and online versions of journals whenever possible. The online versions are easier for research, but Gainey said print copies are kept because services vary on how far back they archive material.

Other materials are available online as well, including reading assignments from professors. In those cases, the professor gives the students an online link to the assignment, plus a password so copyrights aren’t violated.

“They can get it after hours,” Gainey said. “They can get it wherever they are,” Also, there aren’t 20 students racing to the library to get one copy of a book.

With so many courses offered online, the college has also decided to offer online tutoring.

Esthela Banuelos, a tutor coordinator and intervention specialist for ENMU, said the program is a three-pronged effort to help students who are struggling.

Students can post questions to a discussion board, ask professors via a group e-mail or log on to a chatroom for the given subject when a tutor is scheduled online.

The service is pointed mainly at distance education, but Banuelos said the services will also help ENMU’s Roswell and Ruidoso branches, which don’t have the same tutoring resources on campus.

“Anything we can do to help them,” Banuelos said, “is something we’re going to do.”

Mobility and the needs of military students are a driving force for area institutions. Caffey said military officials have asked for courses available for download onto media players such as iPods, and the future may include course material offered on “smart phones” such as the iPhone.

“Smart phones,” Caffey said, would be effective for students because they combine storage space and the ability to communicate back and forth without the bulk of a computer.

“The more storage there is,” Caffey said, “the more applications people come up with (to take advantage).”