UO online education looking at expansion possibilities

Wish that 8 a.m. class was available online? That day may come soon. The University of Oregon is currently working on an initiative to facilitate more online courses, certificates and degree developments.

About 4,000 students crossed over to the digital classroom by taking at least one of the 60 different online courses offered at UO, according to Kassia Dellabough, director of the Office of Professional Outreach and Development for Students.

Dellabough was one of the first to teach an online course in 1997 and currently part of the group looking into increasing online education offered. Dellabough also is working with UO Senate on various policies related to assessment and academic quality. She’s also looking toward some policies related to course delivery reviews.

“I have found that in many cases, students actually seem to get more engaged in some of the content,” Dellabough said. “I may have stronger student to faculty dialogues via discussions and email than I might in an office meeting or larger class interactions.”

A key driving force behind the popularity of online courses is the flexibility for both students and faculty.

Sophomore international student Mengting Li is taking two online classes this term for her accounting major. Although she has liked the flexibility, one thing Li has found difficult in her online courses is not having physical presence of a teacher or classmates makes. “It’s really hard because no one teaches you so you have to learn it by yourself,” Li said.

Oregon State University and the University of Washington are two schools that provide a robust online education system. OSU’s e-Campus has received a number of awards including a spot on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Online Bachelor’s Program in 2014. E-campus offers over 30 bachelor’s degrees and graduate programs.

For the last 10 years, the UO has offered one online masters program in Applied Information Management. The university is carefully looking at both of these models and assessing how the UO can implement a similar program that fits within its core mission and its evolving budget model. Oregon is also currently collecting data on the pricing and development of online courses.

Lee Rumbarger is the director for the Teaching Effectiveness Program and is also working on expanding the scope of online education at UO. The TEP is offering several workshops this academic year about teaching “hybrid” courses — which are partly traditional, partly online — through its “Think Small, Teach Big” series.

“Teaching online may present additional teaching challenges, but it also gives us tools for overcoming those challenges,” Rumbarger said.

Since the mid 1990s, the majority of UO’s online courses are managed under Academic Extension. Some departments offer online classes without Academic Extensions services and run them through their regular course development.

“With the recent unionization and local governing board, we are seeing some major impacts on how the UO will approach online education,” Dellabough said. “The direction and details are still in formation and under review at the president’s level.”

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