Today, UConn offers a wide range of courses and programs in an online format, from an introductory class in anthropology for undergraduates to a master’s of science degree in accounting. According to Peter Diplock, director of UConn eCampus and assistant vice provost of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, online courses offer a different approach to learning – as well as teaching – while bringing a degree of flexibility that in-person education does not.
“There are still a lot of misperceptions surrounding online education,” Diplock says. “The primary metaphor I use to help people better appreciate online education is [that] it fundamentally shifts space and time.”
For adult learners who, for instance, live outside of Connecticut or work full time but want to supplement gaps in their professional knowledge, pursuing online education can be especially valuable. Likewise, undergraduate students looking to finish their degree in four years or less can benefit from earning credits online, outside of the traditional academic year.
At the same time, Diplock says, online teaching provides faculty members an opportunity to organize their time differently. “Faculty don’t have to be here Monday and Wednesday from 10 to 11:30 a.m.,” he says. “It changes the dynamic and the way they look at space and time.”
A ‘Gateway’ to Online Education
Enter eCampus – what Diplock calls the University’s “gateway to online courses and programs” – an effort that began with a faculty task force on online learning three years ago. A steering committee of faculty and staff, established last fall by interim Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Sally Reis, then began implementing the task force’s recommendations.
Crediting this committee with the current success of the eCampus efforts, Reis says, “I believe we can brand UConn eCampus as the place where our outstanding faculty develop and teach online to share their research and ideas.”
At ecampus.uconn.edu, current and aspiring students can search courses and degree programs currently available online through UConn. Faculty, meanwhile, can seek out eCampus’ instructional design experts for guidance and collaborative insight into every aspect of online course creation – from effectively designing an online course to understanding what options there are for assessing students’ work in a virtual environment.
“From the point of idea generation to program launch, we’re there the entire process,” Diplock says. “It’s really a centralized resource.”
Del Siegle, professor and head of the Neag School of Education’s Department of Educational Psychology, asserts that developing his master’s-level research course for an online setting enhanced his own teaching skills, pushing him to consider more carefully what he wanted to convey to his students.
“When it came time to make the online course, I sat back and thought about learning outcomes,” he says. “It’s made me a much better teacher – it’s made me better in-person and online. It caused me to reflect on my own teaching.”
Over the coming months, Diplock says UConn eCampus is looking to partner with UConn faculty members interested in developing online courses and programs. That could mean building not only more high-demand, high-enrollment General Education courses for undergraduate students, but also a greater variety of graduate programs to align the University with trends that suggest graduate-level programs are increasingly moving online.
Also important, Diplock says, is creating different categories of online programming to accommodate students’ diverse learning preferences. “Part of our responsibility,” he says, “is to work to ensure that the way we approach teaching at the University takes full advantage of what we know about the different ways students learn.”
For instance, other online learning opportunities could range from full graduate degree programs taught online to a selection of shorter-term online certificates targeting specific areas of expertise for those who have already completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
While he describes online learning as a “fusion of technology and pedagogy,” Diplock also explains what online learning is not. “Online education at the University of Connecticut isn’t simply videotaping faculty and putting their lectures online. One of the challenges we have is to help people understand … what online learning is here at the University and what it can become – where our outstanding faculty will be able to spread their ideas and research across the state, nation, and globe.”
For more information about enrolling in or developing an online course, visit ecampus.uconn.edu.
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