Archive for Monday, August 6, 2012

More online hybrid courses offered at KU

August 6, 2012


As Kansas University continues to build its online course offerings, many faculty members are moving toward more “hybrid” courses, combining online and in-class work.

While entire online degree options are still few and far between at KU, Julie Loats, director of KU’s Center for Online and Distance Learning, said those options are expanding. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is working on new undergraduate degree programs, and the education and business schools are working on possible options, including graduate degrees and certificates.

Meanwhile, more classes at KU are headed to the hybrid format, adding online components to complement class time, which is more devoted to discussion and in-depth problem-solving.

“This type of collaboration with faculty helps build familiarity and comfort with online concepts and options to build momentum for future growth,” Loats said.

Other universities such as the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford University are partnering with websites such as Coursera to offer so-called Massive Open Online Courses, making introductory courses available to hundreds of thousands of students for free.

But the universities aren’t offering credit for the classes, points out Paul Atchley, an associate professor of psychology at KU who has taught online classes for years.

Engagement is also critical, he said. The massive online course approach isn’t necessarily new, he said.

“We’ve had public libraries for a long time,” he said. “Students could learn everything they could learn at a university in a public library. Moving the book online is nothing special.”

Atchley said that while there’s a feeling in the private sector that universities can move courses online and decrease costs, that’s not always true.

“Online courses don’t necessarily cost less,” he said. “They can, but that’s not always true.”

Though the university isn’t offering many online degrees, some do exist. Mary Morningstar, an associate professor in KU’s School of Education, said her online special education master’s degree is the only graduate degree offered online at KU.

Each group of graduates is about 25 students, though about 80 apply each year, she said.

“There’s definitely a need,” she said.

Just more than 230 miles west of KU on Interstate 70, Fort Hays State University has been in the online education game for years, said Ed Hammond, FHSU president.

The university has been involved in distance education reaching back to its early days in the 1900s.

“From the very beginning, it has been our mission to meet the needs of the citizens of the western part of the state,” he said.

It was initially done by shuttling teachers from place to place and then through two-way video before moving online.

Today, the university’s Virtual College serves more than 4,500 students, a figure that does not include a separate partnership that offers FHSU degrees in China.

Hammond said he has learned three main lessons as the campus expanded its online learning:

l Students want credentials. Just offering a random sampling of courses doesn’t meet the needs of today’s students. Degree programs are essential.

l You have to provide the same services for online students as you do for on-campus students. That means library access, access to tutoring services and financial aid support, among others, Hammond said.

l Training faculty is key. A good classroom teacher might not be a good online course teacher. The university monitors how frequently online teachers reply to students and other metrics, too.

Proper assessment continues to be a challenge, Hammond said. Many faculty members conduct oral exams using Skype to ensure the student is actually the one doing the work.

The future is bright for online education, as people continue to change careers several times in their lives, Hammond said.

“We’re going to need to service them three or four times in their lifetime if we’re going to be in a competitive state,” he said.


Lawrence Morgan 5 years, 9 months ago

What KU doesn't get, and I'm speaking particularly critically of Julie Loats, is that the courses should cost less overall, as well as the degrees.

KU should have been doing this years ago. FHSU is years ahead. Let Julie go as soon as possible and hire someone who has had lots of experience already!

The chancellor should also take the blame for letting this get so far behind. It may be that she also will have to leave and there should be someone appointed who is behind this thing all the way. In the beginning, I was completely behind her, but she has let down a lot of people by not taking the LEAD on this. On the other hand, Ed Hammond, of FHSU, is right on top of what's happening.

College is too expensive for much of the middle and lower class. The costs are well beyond paying-back stage for many people. There has got to be change now!

truthteller_ 5 years, 9 months ago

Julie has only been director of Online and Distance Learning for less than a year. The point of this article is that she is working to expand it. She also has experience in this area. Give her a chance!

Your point about the cost of college is well taken. But, it is the lack of state funding that is driving up the cost of college for middle and lower class. With less income in state funding, all the colleges are forced to raise tuition to cover costs. Write your legislator!

Steve Bunch 5 years, 9 months ago

Unfortunately for Ms. Loats, administrative decisions have left her to preside over a declining rather than expanding program, or at least that's how it appears. I hope I'm wrong.

FranklinBluth 5 years, 9 months ago

Nice to see KU taking baby steps towards the 21st century.

IronChefKS 5 years, 9 months ago

How many more online classes are there this fall compared to last fall?

Steve Bunch 5 years, 9 months ago

Good question. I understand that the English department has pulled all of its online offerings.

It's also interesting to note that KU's online courses were changed from an enroll-at-any-time status, with 6 months to complete, to a semester-based format. Students want flexibility in online courses. This move eliminated that flexibility.

Formerly, non-KU students could enroll, but now they must apply for admission first. Now it's kind of like voter suppression--you have to jump through an extra hoop for the privilege of paying your money to take a KU course online.

Hammond's three points are dead on, but don't blame the current chancellor for the state of KU's distance learning program. Previous administrations, going back decades, have dragged their feet.

Steve Bunch 5 years, 9 months ago

And the English department used to have more than two dozen courses online, which routinely got good enrollments.

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