Announcements from major university systems this week could signal the start of a trend that brings sophisticated online learning programs into the traditional campus setting on a larger scale.
Indiana University has for the past 15 years been a recognized leader in online teaching and experimentation programs. Now the state's flagship university is bringing the 80 online programs offered across its campuses under a new umbrella called IU Online, announced Wednesday, Sept. 5.
IU isn't the only one that's creating a systemwide online initiative. In spring 2013, the California State University system will start offering classes through Cal State Online, officials announced this week.
The two separate initiatives did not come about because of the headline-making popularity of huge online courses that are open to anyone. Cal State Online and IU Online aren't jumping on the bandwagon. These plans have been in the works for two years.
"This is a well-reasoned and well-researched plan that will allow us to build on the core of what we do, which is serve students on campus," said Barbara Bichelmeyer, director of the Office of Online Education for the seven campuses of Indiana University.
Bichelmeyer said faculty have done a great job using online education to reach students. But efforts typically have been isolated.
"We can't take full advantage of the new affordances that technology offers if we simply allow grassroots efforts to develop by faculty in unique academic units," Bichelmeyer said.
By putting the Indiana University system's resources behind IU Online, the intent is to broaden the reach of existing online programs, organize online programs more efficiently and strategically invest in them, she said. An initial $8 million over the next three years will be used to hire more online instructional designers and technologists, expand hardware and software systems, and fuel the Office of Online Education.
An additional $2 million will likely go to campus academic units. Campuses will use these funds to develop and expand online capabilities of undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs that are tied to Indiana's work force needs. IU Online also plans to have online options for popular undergraduate courses and to experiment with different modes of online education.
In fall 2013, IU Online should have more undergraduate online programs. And each professional school on the graduate level will have created or started working on at least one online program.
Indiana and the California State University (CSU) hope that these online programs will help increase degree completion rates and decrease the amount of time it takes to finish a degree.
At first, Cal State Online will target students who have taken classes on a California State University campus but didn't earn a degree. Online classes could give these students a more flexible way to earn their degree. And as the online technology improves and becomes more interactive, it should provide an option for students who can't take classes on a physical campus.
"It serves to future-proof the CSU," said Mike Uhlenkamp, director of media relations for the California State University Chancellor's Office.
But he stressed that these online efforts won't replace face-to-face classes.
Throughout the California system, campuses already have partial or fully online programs. Cal State Online would serve as a central hub to host these opportunities, bring everyone's expertise together and give students one place to look for online programs.
In spring 2013, California State University campuses with online programs will voluntarily beta test a new online process. The new process will combine the programmatic strength of the California State University with learning management systems and student support services from Pearson eCollege.