Transforming the Traditional Face to Face Classroom to a Holistic Virtual Environment

Concurrent Session 2

Brief Abstract

During this session you will learn how Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide views the solution to creating an online immersive experience and a sense of belonging to be holistic in nature and no one technology initiative can occur in isolation and meet the multiple needs and desires of our students.  

Sponsored By


Mark Leary is the current Director of Academic Technology at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide. In this role, he leads a team that supports, trains, and provide innovative initiatives into the Worldwide online environment. In his previous role as the Assistant Director of Learning Technologies and Field Support, he led a team that planned, evaluated, and implemented the classroom technology to the Volusia County School district that consisted of 5000 plus classrooms.

Extended Abstract

At Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide, we provide instruction through a globally recognized learning system that leverages online and face-to-face delivery methods and a network of approximately 130 education facilities designed to support student advancement in the U.S. and abroad. In the 2004-2005 academic year, only 9% of our enrollments were virtual. Today, approximately 90% of our individual course registrations are in virtual modalities, accounting for over 76,000 individual course registrations on an annual basis.  The drastic change in our enrollments created a need for a transformation in the way we operate and provide support to our students and other stakeholders.  Distance learning creates unique challenges to engage learners, make them feel a sense of affinity with the university, and immerse them in course topics due to the lack of real-time interactions and geographic dispersion. Distance learning students desire and expect to have the same real-time interactions with their instructor, staff, and learning objects they would experience if attending a traditional campus or taking face-to-face courses. 

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide views the solution to creating an immersive experience and a sense of belonging to be holistic in nature and no one technology initiative can occur in isolation and meet the multiple needs and desires of our students.  Therefore, we have implemented several technology-based solutions and enhanced support structure to address the multiple needs of our students through a holistic virtual initiative. These immersive solutions include the incorporation of virtual labs into courses through a centralized virtual hub, the creation of 25 individual academic advisor webpages, a virtual new student orientation, a Student Resource Course, personalized degree maps, virtual new student on-boarding, virtual career services, and a virtual community. 

Under the umbrella of this Virtual Initiative, the following technology-based solutions were created to:

  • Prepare students to be successful distance learners from the onset of their educational journey upon enrollment.
  • Provide on-demand technology assistance and online readiness program for students, including support for the use of the LMS and other ERAU-based tools. 
  • Create an “advisor for life” (from enrollment to graduation) relationship between the student and their advisor, which also includes virtual on-demand assistance. 
  • Provide students with a personalized plan to ensure degree progression.
  • Develop a sense of affinity with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide students, regardless of their location or course modality.
  • Provide real-world experiences and hands-on experiences in the distance learning classroom to prepare students for their current or future employment. 
  • Establish a sense of community amongst students, regardless of their location, with their peers, faculty, support services staff, and the university.  
  • Provide students with cutting-edge technology and resources to create a unique educational experience.  
  • Increase student matriculation and attrition rates.  
  • Provide career service assistance, such as resume writing and access to job postings, to our students around the globe.

Assessment of Virtual Initiative Impact:

  1. Increased traffic to the advisor webpages has been realized since implementation.  Website analytics have been utilized to determine the frequency of students accessing the Career Services resources and the Advisor webpages, what resources they are utilizing on the site using the attached Heatmap, and what links they are following. 
  2. Retention and matriculation rates have increased through the implementation of the advisor webpages, virtual on-boarding, and virtual resources. New student matriculation rates have increased over 10% since the inception of this initiative, which started in the 2014-2015 Academic Year, while applications and admits have remained constant. Persistence rates have increased 17% since the inception.  Overall individual course registrations have increased 24%. We have also experienced a 27% increase in overall student enrollments during this same time period. Since the new student orientation implementation, the completion rate has increased from 55% to 100%, since it is now available online to all new admits and required for all students.  
  3. Qualitative feedback has also been collected from students on their experiences using the virtual labs and virtual on-boarding available to them.  This qualitative feedback is collected through the EvaluationKit End of Course Survey from our students, external surveys such as Noel Levitz, and ad-hoc surveys for specific initiatives. The feedback has been positive and something that is regularly reviewed and used to enhance the initiatives to better meet the needs of our students.  
  4. For the virtual community, we did survey students prior to implementation and 72% of students indicated they would use the virtual community, once fully implemented. Usage reports will be utilized to determine what percentage of our student population is accessing the virtual community, along with the individual components of the community.  Data will be compared on the NSSE survey prior to implementation and each subsequent survey administration.