Chapter 6: Online Education
From its very beginning, innovation and access have permeated the foundation of the educational mission of the University of Illinois at Springfield. Planning documents since UIS’ founding date substantiate the institution’s commitment to innovative teaching methodology and approaches that extend higher education to student populations beyond that of the mainstream. Innovation for UIS has meant being responsive to the changing needs of society. The utilization of technology for outreach and as a means for enhancing student learning has been an ongoing practice at UIS. It dates back to earlier years when the institution (then Sangamon State University) offered courses that were broadcast over the radio and television. As technology has evolved, so has the university’s utilization of technology as a means to expand student learning opportunities. Advances in Internet availability resulted in technological innovation in educational delivery in higher education in the mid-1990s. UIS immediately seized the chance to open another door to students who have limited (or no) options of receiving a university education with this innovative delivery mode.
Today, UIS is a national leader in online education. Since 1997, it has been the recipient of $3,161,000 in external funding for program start-up, establishment of support units, and online research. (See Appendix 6.) In May 2006, UIS’ online initiative was showcased in a Wall Street Journal article on online education in which the campus’ online success was portrayed alongside that of University of Massachusetts and University of Maryland. Two of UIS’ online programs (business administration and history) were in the top 10 programs and two others (liberal studies and computer science) in the top 20 programs accessed by potential students through the Illinois Virtual Campus website (see the IVC Utilization Report). UIS teaching and research has enhanced both the national reputation of the online degree programs as well as the university as a whole (Sloan Report). During the spring of 2007, the College of Business and Management received accreditation through AACSB International. The final report from the peer review team commended the college for developing and delivering “high quality, on-line degree programs.” Further, the report stated
…the institution has invested in infrastructure, including facilities and the latest technological equipment and support staff to deliver online programs. The programs have received substantial positive publicity including recognition by the Wall Street Journal. The College has diligently developed and used the same faculty, syllabi, texts, and assessment rubrics for on-campus and online deliveries of the same courses to insure consistent, comparable, and equivalent learning outcomes. (AACSB Team Report)
UIS’ online degree programs have been the topic of numerous international and national conference proceedings and presentations. The leadership of the university’s online initiative is externally, nationally and internationally, recognized through awards, invited keynote and plenary addresses, and publications in peer-reviewed journals.
This chapter begins with a discussion of the emergence of UIS’ online education initiative from the institutional mission, the ways UIS has aggressively pursued support for its online programs, and the planning that will ensure that UIS remains on the cutting edge in online education. The next section provides an overview of the UIS model for online education, its programs and students, the ways the campus ensures academic quality and teaching excellence, and the support systems available to the online student. The following section addresses the role of UIS’ online initiative in institutional collaboration and in promoting a culture of service to the community. The final section addresses UIS’ strengths and challenges in the area of online education and how the university plans to address those issues in the future.
THE FUTURE-ORIENTED ORGANIZATION
The online initiative began to appear in UIS’ planning documents years ago. The rapidly developing technology, the merger with the University of Illinois, the creation of University of Illinois Online, and UIS’ history of using technology to provide educational access converged with the start of course offerings in 1998.
In 2003-2004, the final report of the National Commission on the Future of UIS noted that technology will have a significant role in the future development of UIS. The Student Body Vision Statement noted that “a significantly larger proportion of the student body will be students enrolled in online degree programs … contributing to the diversity of the student body and enhancing access to UIS’ educational offerings.”
In 2006, after an extensive strategic planning initiative, UIS adopted a new mission statement. The strategic planning initiative analyzed previous planning documents, societal context, institutional challenges, resource issues, and future directions. This analysis generated a new mission statement that reflects for the first time in UIS/SSU history the ways that technology intersects with teaching and learning. This element of the UIS mission confirms the institutional commitment to the integration of this new method of delivery:
UIS empowers its students, faculty, and staff by being a leader in online education and classroom technology. UIS uses technology to enhance its distinctive learning environment and extend that environment beyond the boundaries of the campus. (UIS Strategic Plan)
Further, the UIS Strategic Plan identified a specific strategic thrust affirming that it will provide classroom and technology-enhanced education that meets student’s educational goals.
UIS seeks to continue its reputation as a national leader in technology-enhanced and delivered education that extends beyond the university’s classrooms to students seeking coursework, certificate programs, or degrees aligned with their education goals. (UIS Strategic Plan)
The following action steps delineate the initiatives for achieving this strategic thrust:
- Develop an early warning system to identify students at risk of dropping an online course;
- Ensure students in online and on-campus courses have comparable access to educational and student support services;
- Strengthen faculty and staff development opportunities, both on- and off-campus, that address best practices in educational pedagogies and technology-enhanced learning;
- Monitor and identify changing needs of students as well as the state of Illinois for an educated citizenry; and
- Develop and revise curricular offerings (degrees, certificates) that are aligned with these changing needs.
Finally, the UIS annual strategic planning and budgeting process has also addressed the online initiative. In the 2006 Goals and Objectives Report, the goals were focusing on academic quality and enrollment growth, increasing diversity of students, faculty, and staff, becoming a technology leader, and improving efficiencies. The Campus Planning and Budget Committee used these goals to identify priorities for UIS. The report identified “maintaining a technological edge” as the fifth highest priority for UIS. In describing this priority, the report notes that “UIS online instruction has been the source of increased enrollments—it has been successful and should be continued and improved.”
Preparing for the Future
Since the onset of the online initiative, UIS has carefully anticipated and planned for the future needs of programming, support, and technology. The merger of Sangamon State University with the University of Illinois provided the platform that allowed UIS to enhance its technological infrastructure and begin its online initiative. The origins of UIS’ online initiative are traced not only to University Illinois support but also to that of grant activity, specifically that of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (see Appendix 6), either through direct grants or through University of Illinois Online. As noted in Chapter 1 of this document, grant funding was used to launch most of the online programs and most are now self-funding via tuition revenue. Each department that proposes an online degree program is required to prepare a business plan that includes enrollment projections, revenue and cost estimates, and the expected rotation for course offerings.
In an effort to anticipate and fund present and future support and resource needs, UIS implemented an online course fee in 2005 and developed a distribution model that funneled these fees back into online support, course and faculty development, and technology enhancement. UIS charges a $25 per credit hour course fee for online courses. These funds are used to support the additional costs incurred in offering online instruction. The allocation of these revenues has evolved slightly over time (increasing the amount available to the Library and to Information Technology Services). The current model provides 25% of the total expected revenue to the Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning (OTEL), 2.5% to the Brookens Library, and 12.5% to Information Technology Services (ITS). The balance of the funds is returned to the colleges. The remaining course fees generated by the online majors are given to the college that houses the academic program of the major. Fees paid by non-online majors are returned to the college that offered the course in which the student enrolled. The most recent change was to increase the amount allocated to ITS in recognition of increased bandwidth and related costs driven by increasing online enrollments. This change, as with all others, was approved by the deans.
In addition to the implementation of a fee structure, the institution has closely monitored the technology needs of the initiative. During the last five years, the campus organizationally restructured its Information Technology Services division. This restructuring involved combining technology units that were spread across business and academic divisions. The resulting unit, Information Technology Services, was then placed within Academic Affairs. This restructuring strengthened UIS’ academic mission relating to online education. Further, the technology infrastructure has been maintained so that it is consistent with the newest advances in the field. UIS continues to dedicate considerable resources to researching, developing, and deploying new technology solutions in support of the ever-increasing infusion of technology in all areas of teaching and learning. The campus has a robust and scalable technology infrastructure for the learning management system and other critical systems, such as Internet, e-mail, and streaming and collaboration applications. There are hardware and software redundancies at all levels to ensure high availability; consolidated storage and sophisticated back-up systems that allow UIS to perform live back-ups without impacting users; and high performance Internet connection allowing access to advanced Internet technologies. The following are just some examples of modifications of the technological infrastructure:
- In 2001-02, the UIS campus became completely wireless;
- In 2004, the campus-wide network was completely upgraded;
- In 2004, the opening of University Hall resulted in over 95% of the campus classrooms and teaching labs becoming “smart”; and
- In 2004, registration for classes became completely electronic.
Remaining on the Cutting Edge
At the beginning, those who embraced the challenge of online delivery were called “innovative and pioneering” (Sloan Report). Those individuals who developed courses, programs, and instructional methods for online delivery did so independent of the mainstream. Today the culture has changed, “principal policy makers, faculty, support staff, and academic professionals all now consider online students in campus decisions and recognize the benefits online learning offers to both our student population and our campus” (Sloan Report). University of Illinois administrative initiatives, budget and planning proposals, curricular and program review, and strategic planning all consider the needs of online students, faculty teaching and developing online courses, programs offering online degrees and certificates, units developing support systems, and infrastructure development when making decisions and allocating funds. For example, in 2002-03, $1.5 million was allocated for back-up power and network upgrade, and 134 course development stipends have been provided through the Sloan I and II funds that total $804,000.
THE LEARNING-FOCUSED ORGANIZATION
Teaching and learning is at the heart of the UIS mission and culture, and this is no different for the online initiative. UIS is committed to ensuring that its online programs are of the same high quality as its on-campus programs, which is facilitated by having the online programs utilize the same curriculum and primarily the same faculty as the comparable on-campus programs.
Meeting the Mission of Teaching and Learning
The UIS mission portrays a commitment to making higher education accessible to non-traditional and mature students, increasing diversity by attracting students from different backgrounds and geographical areas utilizing technology to enhance learning. The UIS online programs are designed to facilitate this mission.
UIS began offering online courses in 1998. The first degree program, Management Information Systems (MIS), began in fall 1999 with an enrollment of 32 students. UIS now has 15 online degree programs in various stages of development and implementation (UIS 2006 Performance Report) and online enrollments have grown by 30% each year since 1999 (Sloan Report). Online degree programs occur at the undergraduate and graduate levels and in all four academic colleges and can be completed entirely online. Appendix 7 identifies the online degrees and the certificates that UIS offers and their start-up dates.
UIS’ model for online delivery is to take existing on-campus degree programs and offer them online with the same curricular requirements. Each of the online degree programs, with the exception of the Philosophy B.A. and the Master of Arts in Teacher Leadership program, already existed as a traditional on-campus degree program at the time the online program was established. UIS utilized its on-campus philosophy minor as a foundation for the establishment of both an on-campus and online philosophy degree program in 2004. The Master’s in Teacher Leadership program previously was offered as a concentration under the Master’s of Education Leadership program, but it now is a separate degree that is offered only online.
UIS online degree programs are developed to offer students an alternative means of access to education. Having both an on-campus program and a comparable online program in particular degree areas allows students the opportunity to select the type of course delivery that best meets their needs. Online degree courses, along with those through on-campus delivery, have created a rich array of course offerings for UIS. Further, online course offerings often assist the on-campus student in the completion of their degree. Wait lists and demand reports for online courses document the student demand for these offerings.
UIS also offers a number of online graduate certificate programs. In the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Computer Science Program offers one in Systems Security and another in Information Assurance. The curricula focus on developing a cadre of teachers qualified to teach information assurance and systems security classes at community colleges and universities. These certificates are offered only in an online format and are open only to college faculty participating in faculty development courses offered through the Center for Systems Security and Information Assurance at Moraine Valley Community College. An online Career Specialist certificate, formerly offered by the College of Education and Human Services, has been suspended due to resource limitations. A certificate in secondary education in Mathematics was added in 2004 and a post-master’s certificate in Chief School Business Official in 2007.
Since the inception of the online initiative, enrollments in online programs and courses have flourished. (see Figure 6-1). In the fall of 2006, UIS enrolled 958 online majors (514 undergraduate and 444 graduate) increasing from 743 in 2005. (see Table 6-1) Further, in 2005 online majors accounted for 16% of the student headcount (15% of undergraduate students and 18% of graduate students) and 20.1% in 2006. As of fall 2005, 24% of the total credit hours generated at UIS were in online classes (Sloan Report), and this increased to 26.5% in fall 2006 (see Figure 6-2).
Enrollment in online courses has steadily entered the mix of undergraduate and graduate course choice. A little over 40% of UIS students took at least one online class in the fall of 2006, up from 37% in 2005. In 2005, the mixed (online and on-ground) student enrollment in online courses accounted for 15% of total headcount and 20% of total FTE. In 2006, these percentages increased to 17% and 22%, respectively. (see Figure 6-3) In 2005, the mixed student enrollment accounted for 15% of total headcount and 20% of total FTE.
Data from fall 2005 and 2006 on the characteristics of UIS online students compared to UIS on-campus students indicate that there is little difference in race/ethnicity or gender between these two groups. This data suggests that the online programs are accessible and inclusive in terms of race/ethnicity and gender. (see Table 6-2) Nonetheless, there are differences between on-campus students and online students in terms of the average age. The data for fall 2005 and 2006 indicate that online students, on average, tend to be older than on-campus students. The average age for online students in 2005 and 2006 was 35 years of age, compared to 30 for on-campus students. Further, a larger percentage of online students reside outside of Illinois and outside of Sangamon County (the county in which UIS is located): 37% (2005) and 38% (2006) of online students report mailing addresses from outside Illinois. These data suggest that the existence of online degree programs may offer older students and students who are not geographically close to UIS the opportunity to pursue higher education. This type of outreach and inclusiveness is consistent with UIS’ mission and role.
Focus on Academic Quality
UIS is committed to academic excellence in the quality of its online degree programs, just as it is to the quality of its on-campus degree programs. As previously stated, UIS’ approach to online education offers the same curriculum taught primarily by the same faculty for both on-campus and online degree programs. Further, UIS has integrated best practices in online education into the creation of program curricula, and the development of pedagogy specific to online education has been emphasized in faculty development initiatives. A wide array of workshops, teleconferences, and national conferences that feature best practices in online education are widely supported and attended by both faculty and staff on the UIS campus.
The UIS strategy for online programs is to integrate online teaching with on-campus teaching. Operationally, this means that the same faculty are responsible for teaching both online and on-campus core courses within a particular degree program. This practice ensures that the rigor and quality of the online courses is comparable to the on-campus courses. It also facilitates the development of an integrated academic community, both in terms of faculty and students.
The faculty who are responsible for an online program play the lead role in proposing and developing such a program. Their involvement is critical since they will be responsible for delivering the online courses and ensuring that it is a high-quality educational program. University administrative officials also are involved in reviewing online program proposals and ensuring that sufficient resources will be available to develop and sustain the programs. These proposals are reviewed by a curricular review committee for the college where the course originates, the same process for on-campus programs and courses. Proposals for online programs are prepared by the faculty in the department that will be responsible for developing and implementing the program. Each proposal is required to address the educational and economic viability of the program, which includes issues such as estimated enrollments and the characteristics of students who will be served. (See Sloan Grant Program Guidelines.)
The university also manages the enrollment in online programs. As new programs are proposed, targeted enrollment levels are developed. During implementation, if the demand for a program exceeds the targeted levels, the program will analyze its options, which may include raising the admissions criteria to be more selective or expanding the program enrollment if sufficient resources are available to support that option.
Additional quality control issues are addressed at the course level. Maximum targeted enrollment levels have been established for the online sections of a course. The intent is for these classes to have a maximum of 15-25 students, depending on the nature of the course. The average online class size is 16 (compared to the average on-campus class size of 17 for undergraduate courses and 14 for graduate courses).
Additionally, UIS has developed processes for ensuring that online majors are given priority registration in online courses. Enrollment of student majors in academic programs offering online courses is coordinated both on an individual departmental basis as well as in conjunction with related units/programs. Graduate programming is scheduled within individual academic departments since these curricula are targeted to a specific student audience. However, undergraduate programming requires additional coordination, largely to accommodate the online liberal studies students, who draw from the university-wide curricula as they complete their degrees.
Each Online Program Coordinator managing enrollment in undergraduate online majors communicates with his or her program’s students prior to semester registration to ensure they can access preferred and/or needed coursework; this is particularly important as students plan specific curricular emphases or prepare graduation contracts. Once they have information about student preferences and specific needs, the coordinators prompt students via telephone and e-mail communications to register according to time tickets distributed by the Office of Admissions.
Several online programs utilize WPI designations (with permission of instructor); these necessitate that students requesting registration in such courses contact the Online Program Coordinators for permission to enroll in online courses (in some departments this responsibility has been assigned to the program secretaries, but is overseen by the Online Coordinators). If courses are not filled with online program majors by pre-determined deadlines, coordinators collaborate to recruit students throughout the university into online course openings. The informal prioritization of student registrants is:
- First third of registration cycle, online students can register for online courses in their majors;
- Second third of registration cycle, online students can register for online courses outside of their majors; and
- Final third of registration cycle, online courses are open for registration by all students regardless of whether they are online or on-campus students.
This informal scheduling approach ensures that online students in need of specific courses are able to enroll according to their individual academic plans. Coordinators currently collaborating on this “course sharing” system include those in the undergraduate programs of business administration, economics, liberal studies, English, history, and philosophy. This process continues to evolve and changes are based on program capacities and enrollment deadlines, market demand, and availability of online programs.
The Mathematics Program, located in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the Teacher Education Program, which offers certification in secondary education in mathematics and is located in the College of Education and Human Services, have a particularly unique circumstance regarding the enrollment of their shared student population insofar as the certification program relies on the Mathematics Program to provide discipline-specific coursework to their students. The Online Program Coordinators for both programs closely manage enrollment, with the Mathematics Program routinely allocating 50% of its online course seats to the Teacher Education Program.
Finally, Online Program Coordinators collaborate closely with departmental chairs in advance of submitting semester course schedules to ensure courses are being scheduled that meet the needs of their online majors.
UIS utilizes various measures to evaluate the online programs, including enrollment data, retention and degree completion data, and data on assessment of student learning outcomes. The university tracks the total number of students enrolled in online programs, the total number of credit hours generated in online courses, and the characteristics of students enrolled in online programs compared to those of students enrolled in on-campus programs. The university also tracks online enrollment data on a program-by-program basis. (See Office of Institutional Research Databook)
With recent improvements in the student data system, the university is now able to monitor student retention and graduation rates in the online programs. As the online programs mature, the university plans to compare the retention and graduation rates for online programs to the rates for on-campus programs. Some of the first retention data indicates that online retention rates approximate that of the campus as a whole. For example, for the undergraduate students entering in fall 2004 (FY 2005), their “after three years” retention rate is 59.1% for on-campus majors and 58.9% for online majors. The university also monitors retention rates for online courses. In 2005 and 2006, the student retention rate for UIS online courses was above 90% and comparable to non-online courses (see Table 6-3).
Finally, UIS alumni have provided a positive assessment of the quality of the courses in online programs and other academic programs. UIS Alumni Survey results indicate that the majority of graduates of online programs report that they were very satisfied with the quality of both online courses within (69.9%) and outside (69%) the major (see Alumni Survey Data Summary).
Assessment of Student Learning
UIS has made a major commitment to the assessment of student learning outcomes through the Assessment Task Force. Each program is expected to “Take a Second Look”; in other words, to evaluate individual student performance and then go back to analyze the collective performance of the students. The results of that “second look” are used to identify changes that may enhance the quality of the program.
Each academic program is responsible for developing student learning outcomes for each of its degree programs and identifying or developing one or more assessment activities linked to those outcomes. Each online program has the same student learning outcomes as the comparable on-campus program.
The importance of the assessment of student learning outcomes for online programs is emphasized under the educational viability section of the Sloan online program grant proposal guidelines. The guidelines ask that particular attention be paid to a number of items, one of which is “that the program has clearly stated student learning outcomes and appropriate mechanisms in place for their assessment.”
The existing online programs use various mechanisms to assess student learning outcomes. Some programs are utilizing tests, while most others implement some form of closure paper, such as a senior paper or master’s thesis/project, as the major assessment tool. At least one program has begun using electronic portfolios to assist in the assessment process.
During summer 2004, the university undertook a review of various electronic portfolio software products that could be used in the assessment of student learning outcomes. After a careful comparison of the products and their features, a recommendation was made to adopt TaskStream software. TaskStream helps facilitate the electronic submission of materials (e.g., lesson plans, papers) prepared by students and allows faculty to evaluate individual students and then look across student results for assessment purposes.
The Master of Arts in Teacher Leadership has begun using TaskStream and other programs and instructors are experimenting with or considering using it. The Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning is sponsoring funding for several faculty members utilizing TaskStream to research its effectiveness. The findings from these research projects will be shared with the campus community.
UIS faculty and staff continue to explore other ways to effectively implement systems for assessing student learning outcomes in both on-campus and online programs. For example, during the summer of 2005, several UIS faculty attended a workshop at Northern Illinois University, “Assessment of Online/Hybrid Course and Curricula: Concepts, Tools, and Frameworks.” The UIS technology staff also have identified and procured software tools, such as Elluminate, that can be used to add voice transmission and interactions to the assessment mechanism options for online programs.
The selection of appropriate assessment tools is important, but the real value from an assessment system comes in the feedback loop when the results are used to make changes. Although many UIS academic programs have been doing this informally, the programs are now expected to systematize their approaches and document how assessment findings are being used to make improvements to the programs. For the past two years, each academic degree program has been asked to submit an annual report that describes the program’s student learning outcomes, the mechanisms that are used to assess those outcomes, and how the results have been or will be used to make improvements to the program.
Facilitating Teaching Excellence
Faculty who are interested in teaching online have various forms of assistance available to help them prepare and deliver an online course. The staff of the Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning (OTEL) provides workshops and one-on-one assistance to faculty in a variety of areas, such as using online technology and designing an online course to enhance pedagogy. Many of the faculty who teach online have received additional compensation for the initial development of an online course (financed from the Sloan grant or from online fee revenues).
Through the University of Illinois, UIS faculty also have access to courses on teaching online. The Making the Virtual Classroom a Reality program (MVCR) offers a series of courses designed to provide faculty members with the knowledge and skills to teach effectively online. A number of UIS faculty have obtained the Master Online Teaching Certification, which requires that they complete four required courses, one elective, and a practicum; and many other faculty have completed one or more of the courses.
The Library staff works with faculty to place course reading materials on electronic reserves and to ensure that the use of these materials complies with copyright laws. In addition, intellectual property agreements with faculty who develop online courses specifically address the issues of fair use and securing permission for the use of copyrighted material.
UIS technology staff in Information Technology Services (ITS) are a key component to the online programs. The technology staff train faculty and students in the use of online technology and respond to questions from students and faculty.
Teaching excellence in the online initiative is also evident in the increasing amount of faculty scholarship on online learning and teaching. UIS faculty regularly make presentations at professional conferences and publish reports on scholarship related to online education issues. Faculty scholarship in this area has increased incrementally since the start of the online initiative.
Both individual faculty members teaching online courses and the directory and staff of the university’s Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning (OTEL) have contributed significantly to the growing body of scholarship on online education. A few of these publications and presentations include:
- “Facilitating and Assessing Student Engagement in Online Education” (2006);
- “The Three Keys to Quality Online Education: Interactivity, Interactivity, Interactivity” (2005);
- “The Online Literature Classroom” (2003);
- “Revisiting an Accounting Educator’s Online Teaching Experiences Through a Project Development Lens” (2001);
- “Development and Implementation of an Interactive Graduate-Level Online Course, MID 564″ (1999); and
- “Using Technology to Provide Team Work for Students” (1998).
In the fall of 2006, the Community of Practice for E-Learning (COPE-L) was established by a group of cross-disciplinary faculty and professional staff at UIS. COPE-L aspires to (1)share knowledge and best practices related to e-learning; (2)develop informal networks and mutually helpful relationships among members; (3)identify problems and seek solutions to problems shared by members; and (4)provide opportunities for members to explore and innovate in the area of e-learning. By maintaining a website and sponsoring outside speakers, COPE-L provides the UIS community an opportunity to discuss research, best practices, and innovations in technology-enhanced, blended, and online learning environments.
Supporting the Online Student
Students who are enrolled in a UIS online program have access to a variety of learning resources and support services to help them address their learning needs and to obtain information about the university and its policies and procedures. Below is a list of these learning resources and support services.
Online Program Coordinators
The Online Program Coordinators, who are assigned to work with particular academic programs offering online degrees, are responsible for helping students obtain information about the online programs, apply to the programs, and register for online courses. These coordinators are the central point of contact with the campus for online students.
Online Orientation Website
UIS has an online orientation website for new and existing students. This website provides students with information on a variety of topics related to online learning, such as a tutorial on using Blackboard and information on online services offered through Brookens Library and the Center for Teaching and Learning.
Online Peer Tutors
During 2004-05, UIS introduced the use of students as online peer tutors in some online courses. Typically, these peer students have already taken and performed well in the course with which they are working. Their role as peer tutors is to help the online students in a manner similar to the types of assistance a fellow student in an on-campus class might provide.
Technology Support Center (TSC)
The ITS Technology Support Center (TSC) provides the initial point of contact for technology questions, problems, and issues. The services it provides are available to all UIS faculty, staff, and enrolled students. TSC provides daily support via telephone and around-the-clock support through eSupport. The TSC system also provides faculty, staff, students, and visitors access to its problem-tracking and knowledge-base software via the Internet. This system can be used to search for answers to common problems in TSC’s knowledge-base, create a problem report for TSC consultants to address, monitor the status of a current case, and review old cases.
The extensive online services offered through the university’s Brookens Library evidence the paralleled academic support offered to both online students and on-campus students. Through a significant investment by the university, the resources of the Library, including its databases of online journals and magazines and books, are available to online students through the Internet. Students can request a book through I-Share Online (a consortium of libraries in Illinois) and then pick up the book at any of the I-Share libraries. Students who live more than 30 miles from the campus can request a photocopy of a journal article from the I-Share library collections, and electronic copies of journal articles can now be delivered to the students’ desktop.The Library also provides a variety of other services to online students. Many of the readings for online courses are provided electronically through Blackboard, and the Library also provides copyright compliance services. The Library’s website provides detailed assistance in conducting research and navigating databases. In addition, the Library offers an online course on library research methods, which guides students in using printed and electronic resources to access information. Students learn about how to plan an effective research strategy and find books, journal articles, data, Internet resources, and other sources of information.Online students who want help from a reference librarian can call the reference desk during designated hours or can contact them via e-mail any time of the day. Students also can access a virtual reference service in which they can communicate in real time with a reference librarian through Ask?Away.The Library has recently created and filled a library faculty position to work with online programs and enhance library services for online students. The Library is preparing to further adapt its services to patrons for whom the Internet is the first stop in seeking information. Plans for the future include enhancing the Library web pages with transparent and intuitive navigation, RSS and CSS feeds, creating a digital repository, expanding availability of audio books and podcasting materials, and increasing the presence of information about library resources and services in course management system pages.
Center for Teaching and Learning
Online tutoring is available through UIS’ Center for Teaching and Learning. Students needing assistance with math, writing, and Microsoft Office software can schedule an online appointment, which can be conducted asynchronously (through a discussion board) or synchronously (through a virtual classroom or a chat session), depending on the nature of the need.
Financial Aid Assistance
The Office of Financial Assistance provides online entrance and exit loan counseling to students. Students are also able to complete master promissory notes online for both FFELP (Federal Stafford) and PLUS loans through the financial aid website.
Illinois Virtual Campus Student Support Centers
The Illinois Virtual Campus provides student support by linking them to locations in their area. There are 40 centers around the state that provide services such as technical assistance and access to computers, library services, and test proctoring.
Students are able to register, view their grades and financial aid status, vote in elections, submit course evaluations, and manage their campus cash account (iCard) all online.
Office of Disability Services
The Office of Disability Services (ODS) has seen an increase in the number of students with documented disabilities who enroll in online-only education (5.7%). Similarly, 94% of the students registered in ODS are engaged in a combination of blended and on-campus style instruction.
Webcasts of Campus Events
UIS is committed to providing access for online students to be a part of activities that occur on campus. The university provides webcasts of university events, such as guest speakers, annual convocation, sports events, and graduation. In most cases, students can either watch these webcasts live or view them later through the university’s website. Online coordinators help keep online students informed about these events.
Career Development Center
Recently the Career Development Center (CDC) has added the Virtual Career Development Center. Students now have the opportunity to receive online assistance 24 hours a day, seven days a week. CDC workshops are offered synchronously via Elluminate and/or via webcasts for major CDC workshops and events. Through these methods, UIS is providing state-of-the-art services in career guidance to online students. The CDC staff often serve as consultants to other universities who are interested in implementing similar services.
THE CONNECTED ORGANIZATION
As the UIS online programs have evolved, numerous avenues for collaboration and engagement with constituencies have emerged. These connections help UIS meet its mission of facilitating access and diversity, as well as academic quality.
Learning partnerships between UIS and other campuses have emerged as a direct result of the involvement of faculty and staff in disseminating scholarship and training opportunities to other institutions. Online and blended learning partnerships include the following:
- The MIS Department is exploring offering the MIS master’s degree in Dalian, China through a blended format that includes online and face-to-face delivery.
- Collaboration with the Warsaw School of Economics in Poland is underway to offer online PHI 447 Rationality and Moral Choice with a co-instructor from the Warsaw School.
- UIS has developed an online partnership with Chicago State University. As part of this partnership, the two institutions offer joint classes that pair together a class from each university so that students can share discussions or work on projects together using online learning tools. This inter-university online collaboration brings diversity of views and perspectives into class discussions and projects at both institutions. This partnership creates a unique learning experience by having students from UIS (a down-state university with a high percentage of white students) and CSU (an urban university with a high percentage of African-American students) interact in discussions and collaborate on assignments.
- Several UIS instructors have collaborated with instructors at Chicago State University (CSU). For example, students in the Internet in American Life course at UIS and the Web and Society course at CSU participated in a weekly combined online discussion forum. The discussions addressed case studies and research questions related to the impact of the Internet on American society. The students in these two classes were then joined by students from a third institution, Columbia University Teachers College in New York, for a synchronous online session with audio exchanges. The online collaboration provided the opportunity for students at these institutions to hear the views of a more diverse group than would have been possible in a traditional class at one of the universities. The Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) highlighted this collaborative initiative on their website.
- A peer mentoring grant is being developed between members of the Illinois Community Colleges Online program (ILCCO) and UIS to pilot the UIS Peer Mentoring Project in Illinois community colleges. ILCCO is a consortium of Illinois community colleges that share online courses and programs. The grant activity for this project will most likely begin in spring 2008. The grant will focus on adopting the UIS peer mentoring model and training for implementation in community colleges. The community colleges will develop their own pool of mentors for their courses and UIS will supply mentors to work with the community college mentors. A web-based forum is also planned to organize the collaboration.
Promoting a Culture of Service
UIS’ legacy includes a focus on experiential learning, which began with the founding faculty and continues today in the “engaged citizen” general education component. Online students are encouraged to participate in experiential learning to meet their graduation requirements. Students may enroll in an online section of the experiential course in association with an internship in their own locality. The students’ experience is overseen by an on-site supervisor and a campus adviser, and site visits are conducted via telephone or Internet conferences.
Over the last two years, 44 students in online majors completed an Applied Study Term (AST). AST placements were located in a wide range of cities in Illinois and other states including California, Colorado, Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Florida, and Texas, as well as an international site in Austria. Business placement sites included companies such as Seiman’s, Oracle, Northrop Grumman Space Technology, Caterpillar, State Farm Insurance, and Wendy’s International. A number of placement sites were collaborative efforts at institutions such as University of Illinois at Chicago and Rock Valley Community College. Government placement sites included Illinois Veteran’s Medical Center (Wheeling, Illinois), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (Tucson, Arizona), and the U. S. Coast Guard (Opa Loka, Florida).
Marketing and Outreach
To achieve increased student access, enrollment, and diversity outcomes, UIS has begun extensive marketing and outreach to attract students to its online programs. These efforts have included advertising the online programs in newspapers and online media and participating in the Illinois Virtual Campus, an electronic catalog of online and distance learning courses available from approximately 70 Illinois colleges and universities. UIS coordinates its outreach efforts with the University Outreach and Program Services (UOPS) unit that is a part of the University of Illinois.
Individual programs and colleges also have conducted their own outreach. For example, the Director of Online Programs for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has developed a statewide network of about 30 community colleges. In fall 2004, about 50% of the entering online students in the college came from that network of community colleges.
Beginning in fall 2003, UIS initiated an e-tuition policy whereby students who are not Illinois residents and are enrolled in an online degree program qualify for a special tuition rate lower than the on-campus non-resident tuition and pay minimal fees for campus services. This policy has had a significant positive impact on out-of-state enrollments. In fall 2004 and fall 2005, online enrollment from students outside of the state of Illinois accounted for about 35-40%, compared to 5-7% prior to the implementation of the e-tuition policy.
In the last year, President White has proposed the implementation of a University of Illinois Global Campus. This initiative was approved by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees in spring 2006 and is scheduled to be launched in 2008. This broad-based online initiative has the potential to saturate both near-distant and distant student markets, complicating UIS’ future recruitment efforts. Arguably among the most dramatic of these is the anticipated competition from the quickly-organizing U of I Global Campus Partnership, which is in the process of developing very aggressive marketing and recruitment campaigns, fueled by a large budget. The extent to which UIS’ online programs will be impacted by the Global Campus Partnership depends in large part on the programs that become available through this entity, as well as on the academic calendar by which they are delivered. While it is expected that the Global Campus Partnership will target a different student population than UIS, it is entirely possible that parallel programming will be made available, therefore, directly competing with UIS. While the initiation of the Global Campus may provide new and exciting collaborative opportunities, it is unclear what benefits, if any, UIS will reap from this initiative. Currently, there are plans underway for Brookens Library to be the library services provider for the Global Campus.
Communicating with Online Students
UIS has hired additional staff at the program level to assist in the administration of the online programs. Most of the online programs have at least one half-time coordinator for the program. The primary responsibility of the coordinator is working directly with the students, e.g., answering inquiries from prospective students, assisting students with the admissions process, and working with the students on problems or issues that they encounter after they are enrolled. The coordinators also are available to help students understand and participate in the student grievance procedure. Online program coordinators work closely with the Office of Admissions and the Office of Records and Registration.
The online faculty and online program coordinators have the most direct contact with the students. The faculty have the primary responsibility for helping the students learn the course material. Online faculty also can play a vital role in referring students to other sources of assistance or information. The advising function is the responsibility of either the faculty advisor or the online program coordinator, depending on the program.
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has a College Online Advisory Group that consists of a faculty representative from each online program, the online coordinators, the dean, and the dean’s assistant. This group addresses issues, such as student entrance policies, enrollment and retention trends in online student cohorts, and capacity building issues related to online delivery, e.g., test proctoring for online students.
UIS also has a Senior Online Program Coordinator who is responsible for facilitating communication among online program coordinators, disseminating best practices in online education, and who also serves as the principal point of contact for resolving concerns that are common across online programs.
Online program coordinators meet monthly to share resources, consult to resolve problems, plan and coordinate shared activities (such as preparation for and attendance at student recruitment events), compare and analyze curricular or program concerns, and attend training and technical assistance events provided by both internal and external services in order to strengthen the coordination function within the university. Such training events have included personnel from the Career Development Center, Office of Admissions, Registrar, Information Technology Services, Alumni Services, Student Affairs, and the Provost, among others. This level of coordination is particularly important as the university plans and implements new programming.
THE DISTINCTIVE ORGANIZATION
The initiation of online education at UIS has enabled the campus to provide access to students who may have limited educational options. As part of the University of Illinois, UIS has been able to rapidly enhance its technological infrastructure and begin the online initiative. Online education has grown dramatically in the last 10 years and it is important to recognize the strengths of this initiative, along with the challenges and the ways the campus is preparing to meet those challenges.
Reflecting on UIS Online Education
UIS’ major strengths in relationship to online education are summarized below.
- The campus mission to provide educational access to a broader range of students created the framework for UIS’ online education initiative. UIS has developed online partnerships and collaborative initiatives with other campuses both nationally and internationally and, as a result, has enhanced its access to diverse student populations.
- UIS has built a national reputation in online education. Student enrollment in UIS online programs and courses is thriving. The campus has been the recipient of multiple grants from the Sloan Foundation for initial start-up costs in its online initiative. A state-of-the-art and secure technological infrastructure, along with appropriate oversight and course evaluation processes, has been developed in support of this initiative. The campus has created an Associate Provost for Informational Technology position to ensure that technology is directly linked to the academic mission.
- UIS faculty and programs have played a fundamental and central role in the development and delivery of online courses and programs of study. The university has provided curricular and pedagogical support to the online education initiative through the Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning and the Information Technology Services unit. The UIS campus is committed to ensuring the academic quality of online delivery through careful consideration of best practices in online pedagogy and optimal class size. Numerous funded opportunities for professional development and networking in online delivery for both faculty and staff have been established.
- UIS is committed to evaluating the quality of its online programs through assessment of student learning outcomes and tracking of online student enrollment and retention/degree completion.
- The UIS Division of Student Affairs has expanded its outreach and services to online students. Academic support services to online students also have been enhanced. Additional staff at the program level (online coordinators) have been hired to assist in the administration of online programs and to provide support for the online student.
Areas of concern or in need of improvement are listed below.
- With the institutional mission and vision in mind and as student enrollment in online courses and programs increases, UIS will need to determine the appropriate balance of online/on-campus student enrollments.
- UIS will need to increase ways in which online students can experience the campus culture.
- It will be imperative that UIS sustain its technological infrastructure in support of the online initiative.
- While there has been an increasing focus on online students, student support services that provide individualized services for the online student should be strengthened (e.g., personal counseling, disability accommodations, career counseling).
- UIS is supportive of best practice initiatives in online pedagogy and will need to sustain faculty and staff development in this area. UIS also will need to monitor the impact of online teaching on faculty workloads.
- The impact of the University of Illinois Global Campus initiative on UIS’ online programs needs careful consideration. As the breadth of its outreach increases, the campus will need to monitor its impact on student enrollment in UIS online programs.
Building on Strengths and Addressing Concerns
UIS has become a leader in online education. This is consistent with UIS’ history of serving non-traditional students and using technology to enhance learning. The university has targeted its online programs based on student demand and the ability of the university to offer high quality offerings that are comparable to those offered to on-campus students.
The development and delivery of online programs at UIS allows the university to offer its programs to a broader range of students. The online programs have made higher education accessible for students whose geographical location or personal responsibilities might otherwise prevent them from pursuing a university degree. Online programs also provide an opportunity for UIS to further examine how dedicated teachers and advanced technology can be used together to enhance student learning.
UIS is committed to ensuring that its online programs are of the same high quality as its on-campus programs. This commitment is evidenced by the online programs using the same curriculum and primarily the same faculty as comparable on-campus programs. Other key components to UIS’ approach to quality control include the tracking of online student enrollment and retention/degree completion and the assessment of student learning outcomes.
As UIS continues to build its online initiative, it must maintain its strengths and respond to areas of concern. To do this, the campus must continually monitor performance indicators in a number of areas:
- Student enrollment in online programs (undergraduate, graduate) and comparisons to on-campus enrollments;
- Student retention in online programs and comparisons to on-campus retention;
- Online student satisfaction with course availability and scheduling (SSI data);
- National Survey of Student Engagement (NESSE) scores for online students;
- Funding provided for updates in the technological infrastructure;
- Assessment of student learning outcomes and comparison to on-campus students; and
- Alumni survey data for online majors.
Monitoring these indicators will be critical to UIS’ ability to continue to build its online programming so that it is responsive to the needs of students and attractive to potential students. UIS’ recent strategic planning initiative has produced a number of action plans addressing many of the identified challenges. UIS has already begun to make progress on many of these action plans.
- A campus committee has begun to address new ways to market UIS’ online programs and marketing activities have already been increased.
- The Library has recently filled a library faculty position to work with online programs to enhance library services for online students.
- Student “portals” will be launched next year and will provide each student with an individualized entry to the campus community to enhance their connection with activities, events, and resources.
- The e-support toll-free number to the technology “get help” desk has been extended outside of Illinois.
- An internet triangulation of the three University of Illinois campuses, Intercampus Communications Network (ICCN), will allow UIS to join Internet 2.
- In spring 2007, UIS began using a version of the Student Satisfaction Survey (SSI) available to online students.
- During the last year, the campus has begun to plan ways to strengthen its virtual campus. This initiative represents an intra-university collaboration between the Offices of Academic Affairs, Information Technology Services, Admissions, Web Services, Marketing, and Online Program Coordination to develop a model online campus in which students, faculty, and staff can participate, regardless of the instructional delivery system by which they study, teach, or work. The goal of this initiative is to reinforce direct relationships between support services and the curriculum, thus perpetuating an integrated approach to support that surpasses that provided in traditional campus-based programming.
- The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is planning an online student research symposium to be held in spring 2008. The symposium will include scholarly research presentations from online students conducted in an online setting and will result in an online journal of student research.