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Archive for Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Online education

Universities need to be focused on meeting the coming demand for more online courses and degree programs.

August 8, 2012

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Over the last several years, the Internet has become a dominant force in news, commerce and social interaction. Americans love online convenience. They want to use their phones or computers to get their news, pay their bills, buy their clothes and keep in touch with friends. Why not use online communication to earn a university degree?

The tradition of bringing students to campus and meeting with them face to face is strong at a large school like Kansas University, but it’s only smart for KU officials to look at ways to blend — or, in some cases, even replace — the traditional classroom setting with online technology.

The demand already is there. Many smaller colleges, including many private institutions, are going after people who want or need to complete a degree outside a traditional campus setting. In Kansas, Fort Hays State University has been a pioneer in online courses, and its president offered some excellent insights in a story in Tuesday’s Journal-World.

A number of large universities are pursuing massive online courses that are offered free to everyone, but without credit. FHSU President Ed Hammond says that’s not what most students are looking for. They want to establish credentials and further their careers; for that they need to take courses for credit and have those courses lead to a degree. Although online students have some different needs, he said, they also have many of the same needs as traditional students: access to library materials, tutoring and other support services, along with financial aid. Hammond also notes that online teaching requires skills that not all classroom instructors have, and just because students aren’t in a classroom doesn’t mean they don’t need feedback and communication.

The first step for many KU instructors is to use the Internet as a teaching tool, and that already is happening. The next step, however, is to offer not just a course here and there, but full degree programs that can be completed entirely or almost entirely online.

There is much to be said for the traditional campus learning environment, but that model doesn’t work for everyone. In the current economy, many students must work while completing a degree, and that job may not be conveniently located near an appropriate college or university. Although officials say online courses aren’t necessarily less expensive than on-campus courses, it seems that, over time, a decline in a university’s physical plant needs would allow it to reduce tuition costs.

Maintaining their academic integrity while making a shift to more online courses and degrees will pose a challenge, but KU and other universities can’t afford to ignore this trend.

Comments

begin60 2 years, 4 months ago

Yep, if the only other alternative is a third-rate place like KU, I agree an online degree might be a the best option. One of the few lessons the people of Kansas have to teach the rest of the world is about the horrors of in-your-face bigotry. Stay home and boot up your computer rather than go outside and deal with the backwoods residents of Lawrence. It's a smart choice.

Steve Bunch 2 years, 4 months ago

KU's tardiness in embracing online and distance education comes from a lack of leadership that goes back to previous administrations. It's simply not been a priority. KU has many capable administrators, as well as some less competent ones, but administrators make decisions based on what they already know. Leaders try to find out what they don't already know and then make decisions accordingly. The cliche is "thinking outside the box." Administrators circle the wagons; leaders look for a way to get out and keep moving.

sciencegeek 2 years, 4 months ago

I don't know what KU is thinking. If elementary and secondary school kids can do education online, collegiates should manage. With the push from the Koch administration to undermine public education, KU had better bring in any cash they can. In another few years, the only kids coming out of public education in Kansas will be the poor who can't afford college anyway, so putting up the online glossy stuff will be the only way to attract the products of private education. Well, that and basketball.

voevoda 2 years, 4 months ago

There is a place for distance/online education, including degree programs. But it certainly isn't cheaper, especially when the cost of electronic platforms and faculty time is included. While on-campus students need some electronic media, needs are much greater for on-line students, especially to ascertain that it is the student who registered who is actually doing the work. On-line courses take a lot more faculty time; it's more like individual tutoring than teaching a group, and students expect the professor to be available 24/7.
There are further problems with online courses. A lot of subjects can't be learned through interaction with a computer. Natural sciences require lab work and sometimes field work. Social sciences require field work and interviews. Humanities require library research (no, much of that material is not available over the internet). Advanced courses at all levels involve the interchange of ideas--discussion--something which is much more difficult to set up in an on-line course. Furthermore, few students have the discipline and self-teaching abilities to learn as well from them as from in-person courses. Too many students sign up for online versions of courses because they think that they will be easier, requiring less time, less effort, and have lower standards.

Steve Bunch 2 years, 4 months ago

You're right. Online classes do require more discipline and motivation, and they aren't suitable for every subject area. While the fees are higher for students enrolling in online classes, for those students who live elsewhere, have families and jobs, and are unable to uproot and move to Lawrence, it's a bargain. People are accustomed and willing to pay for convenience and flexibility. How many Regents schools have online degree-completion programs for community college students? Answer: Most if not all...except KU.

scaramouchepart2 2 years, 4 months ago

Disabity has forced me to leave KU for online. If KU had online degrees I would have stayed. One other thing. Just as Dr. s Have specialization online gives more corse work in specialized fields at least at the Masters and Doctoral levels. Still have to take the required, but other courses are designed for specialized fields. For instance Business Admin/Public admin with added course work in policy making or urban planning to name a couple.

chootspa 2 years, 4 months ago

Quite often it's the timing of the course that's the issue, not the location.

ferrislives 2 years, 4 months ago

As a former KU student who was unable to complete my degree because of family-related issues, I would be first to sign up for an online degree program through KU. I've actually been hoping that this would happen very soon so that I could finally finish what I started while continuing to work and raise my family. But alas, KU apparently doesn't see this as a priority, so I will be looking more diligently at programs already setup like Fort Hays State's online degree program in the near future.

I'd like to walk down the hill when I graduate, but if KU doesn't get on the online degree bandwagon quickly, I'll be forced to go elsewhere. I guess it will all depend on if KU wants people like me to remain a former student, or become a current student.

If they make the choice to look to the future for their potential students during these changing times, we can in turn help them to create a higher graduation rate as well as good PR in the world of education. Not a bad trade.

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