Traditionally, when business professionals think of unified communications (UC) platforms for enhancing communication and collaboration, we think of our work environments – and how the ability to more easily reach managers and peers can lead to quicker decision making and shortened feedback loops. The same can likely be said for educators, pointing largely to the administrative offices for those who can reap the “traditional” benefits of UC.
However, the evolving set of UC platforms and functionalities has an opportunity to play a much broader role in education. There is an opportunity for UC to enhance student learning outcomes by introducing a rich subset of outreach and collaboration resources to the concepts of immediacy and open sharing students have so widely adopted via platforms like Twitter and Facebook. This concept of social-networking-becomes-social-learning embodies the pure definition of collaboration as students seek ways to easily engage their peers as additional sources of knowledge, input, and validation.
Today’s capabilities for UC give students access to tools that allow them to contact and engage instructors or other students easily, jointly sharing information resources and other work-in-progress via anywhere/anytime mobile access. Enhanced mobility features such as presence capability and single number reach allow students to see which of their friends or classmates are currently available and to contact them by dialing one number – reaching them no matter where they are, across campus or across town.
UC Makes It to Class on Time
Imagine a pair of students in a class study group engaging in an instant messaging (IM) session on their mobile devices about an upcoming class assignment. After a series of back-and-forth exchanges, the students expand the conversation to a full-featured Web conference over their same mobile devices. During the course of the conference session, another student becomes able to join after getting off work. After cooperatively whiteboarding an outline for their project, the students realize they need clarification on a key concept. One student uses presence capability (again via their mobile device) to check the availability of their instructor – whom they can instantly add to the conference by voice or Web to gain the clarification they need, as well as feedback on the approach they are taking.
Rather than waiting days or a week until the next class session, and rather than wasting time hunting down classmates and their instructor by email or multiple phone numbers, this study group was able to quickly and efficiently come together and gather input from all members, gain clarification and positive feedback from their instructor, and advance their project to completion without delay.
Such productivity enhancements at the individual project level can be leveraged in overall curriculum planning as well. Instructors are now able to reduce the time allotted per assignment – potentially fitting more learning projects into the same semester timeframe. This can facilitate opportunities for deeper and broader learning by fitting more content into each course.
One More Tool in the Pencil Box
Cell phones and mobile devices are quickly making their way onto the required materials list for many courses and institutions. Perhaps it’s time that educators think the same of student licenses on their campus UC platform. Just as institutions are adopting and developing mobile learning apps to enhance learning outcomes and leverage the devices students carry every day, perhaps a UC license is one more valuable tool we should be adding to each student’s pencil box.