Universities around the world are looking to provide their uber-connected student bodies the best learning opportunities possible. Northern Vermont University is no different, but faced an additional challenge: Connecting two distinct physical campuses 40 miles apart to create new learning opportunities for students, professors and researchers that go beyond traditional online learning environments.

Northern Vermont University officially opened its doors to students in Fall 2018 through the merger of Johnson State University and Lyndon State University. Northern Vermont University Online is considered the third campus, says Bobbi Jo Carter, associate dean of distance education at the university. While traditional distance learning is asynchronous, with online courses available for students to consume at their own pace through weekly modules, NVU wanted a more collaborative environment for its students that came from the ability to video conference back and forth between students and teachers, regardless of where they are located.

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The university wanted to “share unique courses and provide students new opportunities that they didn’t have prior to this,” Carter said, utilizing telepresense and desktop conferencing capabilities. That meant working with NWN Carousel and video conferencing technology from Cisco Systems. Carousel implemented Cisco’s SX10 video conferencing systems for smaller classrooms and huddle rooms, and SX80s for larger classroom environments. The system allows not only site-to-site communications, but also site-to-multisite capabilities.

“There may be a professor teaching from one site to five or six [different] sites in one conference,” says Chris Keller, account executive for Carousel.

Carter says the university incorporates traditional distance learning, with passive content students can watch on their own time, but the synchronous capabilities allow students and professors to connect one-on-one or in small groups to ask questions and receive live assessments and feedback—a new twist on “office hours.” The systems are easy to use, and “everyone can see themselves in this,” Carter says. “This is a real solution that people can connect with.”

WATCH: Northern Vermont University Bridges the Gap Among Campuses to Better Connect Faculty and Students

With the help of Carousel and Cisco, NVU was awarded the Rural Utilities Service Grant of $389,000 to help with its distance learning program, which incorporated 33 end points and infrastructure.

“The grant allows us to expand our offerings through different partnerships with different institutions. It allows us to serve that section of the population that really needs that live aspect, but isn’t geographically located so they can easily get to the places where they can take the course. And we will be able to coordinate with workforce development groups throughout the state,” Carter said in a press release announcing the grant.

With the capabilities in place, NVU is able to “reach a demographic that nobody’s reached out to,” Carter says, including adult students and high school students around the country who may not otherwise have access to a traditional university campus.

With the help of Carousel and Cisco collaboration solutions, NVU can help its students learn from any location, anytime. For more information on NVU’s distance learning application, watch the video.