A task force on online education has recommended increasing UConn’s online course offerings.
“The University of Connecticut must become a leader in high-quality online learning in order to meet the needs of constantly changing student bodies that range from traditional-aged residential students to part-time returning adult students,” said Provost Peter J. Nicholls in a response to the report.
Key recommendations are to ensure the quality of online course offerings, support faculty needs related to online education, support student needs related to online education, and pursue online offerings that most benefit the University.
The Provost has charged the Institute for Teaching and Learning with implementing the recommendations to provide faculty and student support for online education, and has asked the Senate Executive Committee to discuss how best to establish University-wide quality standards for online education.
“UConn is keeping pace with the dynamics of the 21st century,” says Douglas Cooper, a professor of chemical, materials, and biomolecular engineering and co-chair of the committee. “The educational landscape is changing across the country. Students are walking around wired up and wired in. They are technology-wedded.”
He notes that the goal of increasing the University’s online programs is consistent with the Academic Plan.
Increasing online course offerings will help students complete their degrees in four years by relieving bottlenecks in course availability, assist students who have conflicts in their course schedules, and address the needs of the 21st century student learner, according to Desmond McCaffrey, director of Instructional Design and Development and co-chair of the committee.
In addition, students who wish to take summer courses will be able to choose a UConn course, rather than taking a class at an institution close to home and transferring the credits.
“If they take a UConn course, they won’t have to apply to transfer the credits,” says McCaffrey. “The course will fit into a predefined curriculum.”
Emphasis on Quality
The committee began by conducting a survey of faculty and student perceptions of online education. About 500 faculty and 1,650 students responded.
When asked whether a greater priority should be placed on offering online classes at UConn, 65 percent of undergraduate respondents and 55 percent of graduate student respondents said yes.
More than 100 of the 500 or so faculty who responded expressed an interest in teaching an online course in the future. The majority of them had not yet taught an online class.
Faculty who had taught an online course said they felt the quality of the course was equivalent to that of a face-to-face course; those who had never taught a online course said the quality was lower.
The report places great emphasis on the quality of online education at UConn, noting that quality will be achieved by developing online courses “using standards and processes of instructional design grounded in current research and proven best practices.”
Another recommendation calls for establishing a University committee charged with developing quality standards for online courses. The tasks of this committee would include investigating the issue of academic integrity as it relates to online education.
Additional recommendations include explicitly addressing issues of intellectual property in online courses, and revising policies on recognition, compensation, and promotion and tenure to address issues related to online education.
McCaffrey says that student responses to existing online courses are mixed.
“It comes down to the instructor him or herself,” he says. “Some courses are online but static and text-based – they don’t always work so well. And some instructors are so engaging in the classroom that students wouldn’t think of taking their class online.”
At the Provost’s request, Cooper and accounting professor Andy Rosman have assembled a working group to prepare a business plan for implementing online education. This will address the market needs of those taking courses at UConn, the proposed courses and programs that will benefit, and the finance, management, and marketing of the courses.
There are various ‘market segments,’ notes Cooper: undergraduates, adult learners, and students working toward graduate and professional degrees. “Each has to be addressed with its own quirks and needs,” he says.
Rosman is undertaking an evaluation of the opportunities for online programs specific to the graduate level.
At the undergraduate level, deans and department heads have been asked to identify up to 30 high enrollment and/or highly subscribed courses that could benefit from the development of an online class. McCaffrey hopes to embark on the instructional design process for about a dozen of these this fall. The courses will be mostly lower level, general education classes, although some may be at the 2000 level.
McCaffrey is also working with the Provost to assess the needs for staffing to support instructional design for these courses.
These courses could begin to be offered as soon as summer 2010.
Says McCaffrey, “The committee determined that online education is the right thing for UConn to do, and that it could be done while maintaining quality. This is about quality, what’s best for the University, implementing the Academic Plan, and meeting the needs of our students. This is one more component of what makes UConn a 21st century university.”
McCaffrey and Cooper note that online education will not replace other modes of instruction.
Says Cooper, “There will still be a need for all manner of courses and all manner of instruction.