Hannah Poturalski

It might not be well advertised, but Miami University does offer online degrees and is continuing to increase the number of its online programs.

Members of Miami’s administration and the board of trustees discussed the issue of online courses Wednesday afternoon at the academic/student affairs committee meeting.

“At Miami the regional campuses have been in the lead in online education,” said Provost Jeffrey Herbst. “The major constituents are often adult learners who can’t attend traditional class time.”

Michael Judge, director of E-Learning initiatives, said he wants to move Miami’s regional campuses forward with E-learning initiatives.

“The regional campuses are institutional test beds, to see what it means to offer a quality online course and its educational outcomes,” Herbst said.

Judge said there are three types of online courses – online, hybrid and interactive video.

“Online requires no face-to-face contact,” Judge said. “Because once we start moving out of our region it’s impossible to ask someone taking a program in New Mexico to come to a Saturday two-hour orientation.”

Hybrid courses mix face-to-face interaction with online aspects. Interactive video courses are in specially designed teaching rooms that connect different universities through conferencing equipment. Judge said the interactive video courses are currently connected to a number of Ohio institutions including Shawnee State University and Columbus State Community College.

Judge said compared to other institutions Miami is far-behind when it comes to E-learning. Judge said Ohio State University and Cincinnati State Technical and Community College have a number of programs that have been put completely online.

Herbst said the nursing bachelor’s of science degree was deliberately chosen as a pioneer in online es because nurses technologically adapt to advanced schedules.

Judge said a bachelor’s of science completion degree and engineering technology degree are also available online.

Judge said Miami’s first true online program will be business technology and Judge said he hopes to have it ready by fall 2010 or spring 2011.

Judge said E-learning supports the university’s strategic goal to “create a system for online courses that will serve the region.”

Herbst said the main campus does offer some E-learning classes, especially in the School of Education, Health and Society.

Judge said developing online courses takes much longer than face-to-face classes, and professors have expressed desire to receive more funding.

“I agree completely, there should be a development stipend,” Judge said.

It’s also being considered whether developing and teaching online courses should be part of the tenure process.

Judge did recognize that E-learning is not for all students or for all faculty members.

Enrollment numbers for online courses on the regional campuses have strongly increased since 2007. During spring 2007, total enrollment was 219 students. By the 2008-09 academic year, the number increased to 1,377 students. Judge said the current semester has more than 1,400 students taking online courses.

Judge said right now, online courses are being reviewed to make sure they meet the standards.

Online classes include podcasts, videos, Web quests and text.

Heath Ingram, student trustee, expressed concern on whether an accountability mechanism will be in place to make sure faculty meet the learning objectives.

Judge said he prefers a peer-review process between faculty members.

Kay Geiger, secretary of the board of trustees, said she’s glad to see Miami offering online classes.

“What’s the role of E-learning for students on the residential campus?” Herbst said. “That’s a more complicated issue; I’m not impressed by the prospect of students being 150 yards from the professor’s office and taking an online course in the dorm. Then I think we’ve destroyed our comparative advantage because you can do that anywhere.”

But, Herbst said the educational technology Miami can offer students is a positive, such as professors using podcasts.

“If it enhances faculty engagement with the students in a residential setting then it makes sense,” Herbst said.

Judge said instead of students taking summer classes at community colleges they can give their money to Miami by taking online courses.

Dennis Lieberman, member of the BOT, said with commercials about University of Phoenix Online, he’s worried online courses could alter people’s perception of Miami’s brand.

“There are excellent online courses and there are miserable online courses, and we’ve invested a lot in this because doing it well requires a team of people, technologists, instructional designers and a technological infrastructure,” Herbst said. “In the future people won’t just see online as synonymous with low quality.”