Sunday, April 22, 2012

After ... [University of Illinois's] Short-lived Experiment, Web Courses, Enrollment on Rise

Sun, 04/22/2012 - 8:00am | Christine Des Garennes, staff writer,

URBANA — MOOCs, moodles, wikis.

What's your online learning IQ?

A MOOC is a "massive, open online course." Moodle is an open-sourced e-learning platform. And with wikis, many different users contribute to online content.

At the University of Illinois, all these strategies, and more, are being used by students and professors as they increasingly experiment with online education in a post-Global Campus environment.

The UI's $18.2 million experiment was short-lived, but lessons learned from Global Campus are shaping the future of online education at the university. Those lessons include maintaining faculty ownership of programs, offering lots of support to new, especially nontraditional students, and adopting a model that is not revenue-driven.

Global Campus, envisioned as a fourth, virtual campus, launched in January 2008 and was touted by former UI President B. Joseph White and the board of trustees. It would be run like a university unit, separate from the other three campuses and offer a wide range of courses for degree- and certificate-seeking students from around the world. But big enrollment gains never materialized and trustees pulled the plug in spring 2009. [snip]

Three years later, U of I Online ( has emerged as a sort of "clearinghouse" for online programs on all three campuses, said Christophe Pierre, the UI's vice president for academic affairs.


'Let 1,000 flowers bloom'

As for future plans for online education at the university, any development would follow the current model, meaning they'd come up from the departments, colleges and campuses, not central university administration, he said.


Part of the appeal of online education, from a professor's standpoint, is to experiment with developing courses and programs, he said. The Global Campus approach, which focused on standardizing models, did not promote innovation or diversity of models, Burbules said.

Those various models can include eight-week courses, 12-week courses, 16-week courses. Courses that require some on-campus involvement and some that do not.

Next semester Jonathan Tomkin, associate director of the School of Earth, Society and Environment within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, will offer a new kind of online course: the MOOC.

Popularized by a Stanford University online course on artificial intelligence that drew over 100,000 students, MOOCs are a means to reach many students. The UI MOOC will be on global sustainability and is open to UI students, who can receive credit for the course, and non-UI students from anywhere who will not receive credits.


UIUC's first online degree

Nationally the growth rate for online enrollments has eased somewhat, but the rate continues to be higher than that for total higher education student enrollment, according to "Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011" by the Babson Survey Research Group, which annually assesses the state of online education.


At the University of Illinois, the number of online enrollments has risen from 30,248 in 2007 across all three campuses to 37,835 in 2011. Most enrollments are on the Chicago campus, followed by Springfield, then Urbana-Champaign. Urbana online enrollments have grown from 5,845 in 2007 to 11,222 in 2011.

More programs also are coming online, including a new bachelor's degree in earth, society and environmental sustainability this fall. Urbana has 48 programs and 768 online courses, the bulk of which are master's and certificate programs. Springfield and Chicago have 25 and 41 respectively.


The bachelor's degree in sustainability will be the first online B.A. degree that the Urbana campus has ever offered, Tomkin said. In recent years, most online courses in sustainability have included UI students, plus about five to 10 students from across the country, Tomkin said.


'A whole new environment'

In recent years, online education has become "a whole new environment, fueled by a combination of things," said Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor for online learning at the UI Springfield. Those include "the economy and the lingering effects of recession (it's difficult for students to come to campus or pursue their education without working if not full time at least half time) and the wide variety of technologies available" to teachers and students, he said. [snip].

At the same time, mobile technology, such as smart phones and tablets, helps students become more engaged, virtually that is, with their professors and with other students.


As the UI moves toward adding online programs like the sustainability degree, Charles Evans, an associate vice president for academic affairs and former dean of Global Campus, said he believes growth will come from students who in previous years looked to for-profit colleges or community colleges to complete their online degrees or take online courses.


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