Monday, September 15, 2008

Transforming Modes of Learning

The infusion of 21st century modes of learning have enabled dramatic changes in access, diversity, and globalization of perspectives in higher education.

The online learning program at the University of Illinois at Springfield (UIS) was founded in 1997 with a grant from the VPAA to develop the Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning (OTEL) to encourage and support online learning on the campus. Online learning at UIS has experienced dramatic and continuing growth over the past decade. Ray Schroeder, the founding director of OTEL leads the unit dedicated to faculty development and support. UIS has received national recognition from the leading national association in the field of online and blended learning, the Sloan Consortium, for quality, scale and breadth in the online program. Awards include Most Outstanding Achievement by an Individual in Online Learning (Schroeder, 2002) and Excellence in Institution-Wide Online Teaching and Learning Programming (2007).

Ten Ways Online Learning Matches or Surpasses Face-to-Face Learning

In many ways online and blended learning offers benefits that facilitate student learning and encourage student enagement and interaction with the instructor, peers, and the discipline. In addition, the asynchronous nature of online learning enables reflective learning.

Growth of Online Learning

The Sloan Consortium conducts an annual study of the state of online and blended learning nationwide.

• Almost 3.5 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2006 term; a nearly 10 percent increase over the number reported the previous year.
• The 9.7 percent growth rate for online enrollments far exceeds the 1.5 percent growth of the overall higher education student population.
• Nearly twenty percent of all U.S. higher education students were taking at least one online course in the fall of 2006.
• All types of institutions cite improved student access as their top reason for offering online courses and programs.
• Institutions that are the most engaged in online education cite increasing the rate of degree completion as a very important objective; this is not as important for institutions that are not as engaged in online learning.
• Online is not seen as a way to lower costs; reduced or contained costs are among the least-cited objectives for online education.

Opportunities for Collaboration

Remarkable opportunities open for those who use online tools. For years, UIS has conducted a variety of collaborations between classes with other universities - Warsaw School of Economics, Lesley University, Chicago State University and more. Team taught online classes enable a diversity of perspectives and engagements. The New Century Learning Consortium is built on the premise that inter-institutional online collaboration can enrich course, degree, and certificate offerings.

How Can We Assure Quality?

Linked above is one of many rubrics for evaluating quality in online classes. What does a quality online learning course look like? That's the question this rubric attempts to answer. It provides guidelines and discussions of the baseline, effective and exemplary models in six key aspects of an online class.

Quality Matters! (a 2006 rubric)

A national support structure is in place for the use of this rather quantitative rubric of quality in online classes. There are workshops for peer-evaluators and training sessions for interpreting the results. More recent versions of the rubric are available only to those who purchase memberships.

Designing to Discourage Dishonesty

Many who have never taught an online class question how one can hope to discourage dishonesty. After teaching online, it becomes clear that simple measures can give the same level of assurance that one has in a face-to-face class.

Embedded Librarian

Imagine teaching a class with your personal librarian sitting right next to you! Many universities are embedding librarians in online classes in order to assure that the lastest relevant resources are brought to your attention and shared with the class.

Evidence of Quality in Online / Distance Programs

The US Department of Education has developed a list of characteristics that demonstrate quality in online and distance learning. They include "red flags" that indicate that further investigation is required. These guidelines were developed with input from accrediting agencies.

Best Practices for Online Degree and Certificate Programs

The North Central Association Higher Learning Commission has developed, along with the other regional accrediting associations, a rather comprehensive set of questions that should be addressed prior to approval for online degree delivery. These pertain to the infrastructure required for successful delivery of programs and offer self-assessment questions for the institution.

UIS Self-Study of Online Learning Program

In the fall of 2007, UIS underwent a ten-year accreditation review. With a quarter of the credit hours delivered online, an important aspect of the review included the 16 online degree and certificate programs. The review resulted in a full ten year accreditation without follow-up. The self-study paints a picture of the way in which online learning is integrated into the mainstream of the delivery of the curriculum.

Contact Information

Ray Schroeder
Professor Emeritus and Director
Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning
University of Illinois at Springfield
Springfield, IL 62703