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University of Central Missouri
Administration 302
Warrensburg, MO 64093
Phone: 660-543-4640
Fax: 660-543-4943

online learning

Online Learning Initiatives Create New Opportunities for Students

Contact: Jeff Murphy
WARRENSBURG, MO (Oct. 28, 2011) – When Shawn Jones joined the University of Central Missouri Office of Intercollegiate Athletics 12 years ago, he made getting a master’s degree a personal goal. He quickly found out, however, the demands of his busy professional career weren’t conducive to a traditional classroom setting. 

“Everything I needed for a master’s degree was right over there in the Morrow-Garrison Complex,” said Jones, who is the “Voice of the Mules” and senior associate athletic director for external operations. “My office was in the Multipurpose Building, but my chosen vocation didn’t allow the time it takes to enroll in daytime, evening or weekend classes. But when the material went online a couple of years ago, I had no excuses and I jumped right in.”

In spring 2011, Jones completed a Master of Science in Physical Education/Exercise and Sport Science degree with specialization in athletic and sport business administration. With this accomplishment, he joins a growing number of UCM alumni and students who have earned complete degrees online or who have taken classes from UCM via the Internet. He also was among a group of university faculty, staff and students invited in late October to update the Board of Governors on online learning and new initiatives. During the session, the board heard personal anecdotes about the strength and value of electronically delivered courses and what the university is doing to maintain the quality of such classes amidst greater interest. The session took place days before the university celebrates national Distance Learning Week, Nov. 7-11.

 “We’ve seen incredible growth,” said Rick Sluder, vice provost for enrollment management, who spoke about the increasing number of students who are enrolling in online courses. He noted that what is happening at UCM is similar to national trends.

“In the year 2000, nationally 8 percent of all undergraduate students were enrolled in at least one undergraduate course online. In 2008, at least 20 percent of all undergraduates were enrolled, and, in 2010, 30 percent of all college students were enrolled in at least one online course,” Sluder said.

At UCM, total credit hours generated through online courses this fall are up 15 percent from the same same period a year ago. Total online enrollment, which includes students taking more than one course online, also has increased about 17 percent from last year.

 Although there continues to be strong demand for more complete online degree opportunities at UCM, the university’s current offerings include three undergraduate degrees, four undergraduate minors, and nine graduate degrees, including a cooperative Ph.D. with Indiana State University. Two graduate certificates also are available, and there are numerous online courses leading toward degrees.

 Recognizing the need for expanded programs that will augment student enrollment, UCM, President Charles Ambrose in spring 2011 launched an online initiative that will make six existing degree programs available online. The effort received $210,000 in funding from three university sources, including $120,000 from the UCM Foundation, which provided the bulk of the funds. Additional financial support was provided by the Provost/Chief Learning Officer, Extended Campus, and Enrollment Management.

“The funding basically goes to faculty. It provides training to help them become successful in an online environment,” Sluder said.

A key to the training effort, according to Mike Jeffries, director of CentralNet, was the establishment of the new Technology Enhanced Instructional Design unit that was made possible through administrative reorganization. Jeffries provides oversight for TEID, which is coordinated by Kathy McCormick, a longtime faculty member in the Department of English and Philosophy. She is joined by three other instructional designers - Lisa Schmidt, Terry McNeely, and Carol Knight, who formerly worked in academic media services and technical projects. McCormick said team members have strengths in areas such as web design, video and audio production, photography, and experience in virtual worlds. Each team member is also experienced with Quality Matters Standards, which is a national benchmark for online course design. They will provide peer review of online courses to ensure these standards are being met, and provide QM training to faculty members.

Existing degree programs that were funded for online placement are:

Jeffries said making these degree programs available electronically will entail development of at least 66 online courses during the 2011-2012 academic year. This is in addition to many other responsibilities for TEID.

These range from helping to implement technology into both face-to-face and online courses to assisting the university as it prepares for a re-accreditation visit by the Higher Learning Commission in 2014.

Jeffries praised the work of the Office of Technology staff, which has been instrumental in helping to ensure a robust, secure technological infrastructure that provides adequate support for tools such as Blackboard. This is the learning management system, which can be accessed by students across the globe. Some 70 to 75 percent of all classes use Blackboard, including traditional courses.

 “I cannot stress enough the importance of the decisions that have been made to provide the university with the infrastructure and technologies necessary for faculty and students to do what they need to do in the online environment,” Jeffries said. He added that keeping up with ever-changing technology will be an ongoing challenge for the university.

“Many of the tools we’re using now are industry standards,” he remarked. “We will strive to keep our eyes on the technological landscape trying to analyze and predict what technologies will impact higher education and determine what legacy technologies we need to let go to support the newer ones entering into our culture.”