Madison-based Sonic Foundry has taken its video streaming services to a new market through a college hub in the Bahamas that combines online classes with in-person student support.
The company’s Global Learning Exchange opened Saturday in Nassau in partnership with the Bahamas Institute of Business and Technology.
Equipped with video screens and other technology to support online classes, it’s also a place where students can meet to work on projects, interact with college staff and help each other with studies.
Some of the first classes will be from Hilbert College in upstate New York where Michael Brophy, former dean of the University of Wisconsin-Baraboo campus is now president.
“We’re ready to enroll students this fall,” Brophy said about the Nassau site.
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For Sonic, it’s a different market from broadcasting video presentations for multinational companies, an area where the company has landed business.
Global Learning Exchanges could be established in developing countries where students don’t have internet access at home and can’t afford to travel long distances for school, said Sonic Foundry CEO Joe Mozden Jr.
“Millions of students do not have access to higher education despite the tremendous amount of online educational content,” Mozden said.
Sonic Foundry says it’s working with colleges in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia to open the hubs in countries where the demand for higher education far outstrips what’s available locally.
“We’re engaged in conversations with countries in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe,” Mozden said.
The company will get paid for its services through student enrollment. But in the Bahamas, the tuition will be based on local, rather than international, rates.
“That’s a huge benefit for us,” said Deswell Forbes, president of the Bahamas Institute of Business and Technology.
Other colleges offer in-person and online classes in Nassau, but the Global Learning Exchange will be more of a hybrid of the two systems. For example, students could go to the hub to watch a lecture, meet with a tutor or get help planning their education.
“The hub is the critical part of what makes this different than just taking online classes,” Forbes said.
The new facility is expected to be open from midmorning to around 9 p.m., giving students a place to do homework or just hang out with their peers.
The hub “is adding a local flavor to the online concept,” Forbes said. “The world is changing, and higher education has to change with it.”
If the Global Learning Exchanges are successful, they’re a business opportunity for Sonic Foundry, which has struggled to make a profit over the years.
The company has about 200 employees, mostly in Madison, and does business in 65 countries. Before coming to Sonic Foundry about two years ago, Mozden was involved in higher-education technology.
“This is a chance to reinvigorate the company,” he said.