Robert H. Messner, Jr. has watched faculty line up to use video-over-IP distance learning software at Delaware Technical & Community College (DTCC), and as the school’s chief technology officer, he sees this technology as a solution to the exploding enrollment in two-year colleges.

Messner, an IT official at DTCC since 1999, saw his school recognized as one of the tech-savviest community colleges in the nation last year, being named in the Center for Digital Education’s Digital Community Colleges Survey awards. Messner credited the school’s three tiers of "smart classrooms," which let students earn credit in any course via an online course-management system.

The top tier of DTCC’s smart classrooms is video-over-IP classes that let professors teach a subject from any of the college’s four campuses to any student at a DTCC campus.

The convenience of video-over-IP, Messner said, could be a critical tool for community colleges. The current recession has brought millions back to school — mostly to local community colleges — and campuses are struggling to house the growing classes. Some colleges have resorted to 24-hour course schedules, while other campuses have instituted strict enrollment caps.

"It’s certainly going to be the way community colleges deal with their space issues," said Messner, who was named the college’s CTO more than two years ago. "You can essentially make the most out of all the space in the entire state. It really has got to be the way of the future for instruction."

Embracing technology in higher education is largely a generational issue, Messner said. Many members of the college’s 1,000 full-and-part-time faculty have proven to be "early adopters" — using blogs and social networking for distribution of course material — while some professors are receiving essential training in DTCC’s eLearning training courses.

Today’s students, however, require very little preaching on the virtues of classroom technology, he said.

"The key is not to explain technology’s importance, but to determine which technology will best serve them in an environment that is moving rapidly to ‘anytime, anyplace,’" said Messner, 38, who gravitated to the IT field as a high school student enrolled in a data processing class.

Using the Wimba course-management system since last year has helped DTCC slash its travel budget, because faculty members can conduct classes online. When the IT department makes course-management updates, professors are provided with thorough instruction on how to maintain online grade books, for instance.

At a time when community colleges see enrollment numbers reaching all-time highs, Messner said, campus decision makers should invest in technology that lets students hear, see, and interact with instructors from anywhere video-over-IP is available.

"I think a community college is really well-suited for providing faculty with the necessary [technology] tools … because we’re so flexible," as opposed to lumbering giant research universities that must cater to and train thousands of faculty and staff, he said. "We are only limited by the dollars we have available to implement [new technology]."

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Delaware Technical & Community College