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UConn looks to improve online course program

By Amy Schellenbaum
On April 24, 2012

The University Senate discussed UConn's plans to bolster, centralize and expand the university's online courses program at its final meeting of the academic year on Monday.

Interim Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Sally Reiss said UConn aims to be known for the quality of its online options, rather than the quantity. The university hopes to more effectively engage international students and commuters by developing a centralized website for UConn's so-called e-campus.

"It will never replace face-to-face instruction, it will enhance it," Reiss said.

For this summer, online courses offered through UConn filled up within 48 hours, Reiss said, and some reached capacity in one hour.

Reiss, an educational researcher, said that the benefits of having a strong online course curriculum include a greater potential for blended or hybrid courses and career readiness. Reiss said she looked at nearly 1,000 studies on online education. She also said that students who take courses online "learn as much or more" than those taking the same class in person.

Members of the Senate mentioned that more online courses might mean more flexibility for students and higher four-year graduation rates. Online classes also offer more opportunities to highlight faculty research, Reiss said.

The desire to expand UConn's online curriculum stems from a task force report on the demand and potential benefits of online courses, which was released in 2009. Reiss said that there was "minimal progress" in implementing what the task force suggested.

According to Reiss, there are no plans to offer a bachelor's degree program online. The e-campus is not meant to make UConn money, Reiss said. However, she expects the program will pay for itself, even in the short term.

"This is not going to be a huge money-maker for the University of Connecticut," Reiss said.

Reiss said the university is also hoping online courses are an opportunity to "clarify and expand the UConn brand." By offering courses online, the university may be able to engage more with out-of-state and international students, she said.

Training programs for faculty interested in offering online courses are being developed, Reiss said.

At Monday's meeting, the Senate also discussed a proposal to combine UConn's Institute for Teaching and Learning and the Center for Continuing Studies. The early college experience program, online learning program, the Q and W centers and the continuing studies program will be combined to form the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.

"I think it makes a tremendous amount of sense," Reiss said.

Provost Peter Nicholls could not make the provost's report because he is recovering from a car accident that cracked his sternum. 

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