Indiana Daily Student

IU advances with online education plan

Following IU President Michael McRobbie’s announcement of the IU Online Initiative last September, members of the new Office of Online Education are hosting a town hall meeting Friday for IU faculty and staff.

The meeting is from 1:30-3:30 p.m. in the Georgian Room of the Indiana Memorial Union.

Meeting facilitators include vice provost for strategic initiatives M.A. Venkataramanan and Office of Online Education director Barb Bichelmeyer, who will answer questions about the initiative as well as gather input and suggestions for the future of online education at IU.

“It’s helpful to understand the details of the initiative and to know where the funds are coming from, where they’re being spent and what our priorities are,” Bichelmeyer said. “We’re there to answer those questions.”

IU Online is part of a three-year, $8 million initiative between all IU campuses that looks to expand the role of online education at the graduate and undergraduate level, as well as explore new programs that can enhance the learning experience for students.

The first objective of the program is to establish at least one online program in each graduate professional school on the Bloomington and Indianapolis campuses by the fall semester of 2014.

“We realized that the changing demographics of the world makes it harder for people to drop everything and complete graduate education,” Venkataramanan, who is overseeing the initiative’s effect on the Bloomington campus, said. “My role is to make sure the Bloomington campus stays on the cutting edge. Strategically, how do we tackle this brave new world of online education?”

The initiative also looks to expand key “gateway courses,” typical general education requirements that often have high waitlists or are already taken by
incoming students as dual-credit or advanced placement courses.

Bichelmeyer said the
emphasis for the smaller regional campuses such as Northwest and South Bend is to increase undergraduate online course offerings to accommodate the higher number of part-time and commuter students.

In the past two years, the number of students taking online classes has increased from 14,000 in 2010 to 20,000 last fall, Bichelmeyer said. On the Bloomington campus alone, the number has increased from 2,400 to 3,500.

IU currently offers roughly 80 undergraduate, graduate and professional level online degrees.

“Our students are starting to ask for online programs, but the way we do that is to create an online infrastructure that matches our on-campus infrastructure,” Bichelmeyer said. “Our strengths have always been our faculty and facilities, so we have to remain student-centered and quality-focused in our course offerings.”

Along with increasing the number of online classes and degree programs, IU Online is looking into several technological innovations in online education. This includes technology created by IU-Purdue University Indianapolis professor Ali Jafari called “course networking,” which combines services available in existing programs such as Oncourse with aspects of social media sites such as
Facebook.

“That also helps the hybrid educational system,” Bichelmeyer said. “The lessons that we’re working on are not only for fully online programs, but for hybrid and on-campus programs as well.”

While funding for IU online is shared between the office of the president, the various campuses and University Information Technology Services, the long-term cost of new online programs is still up in the air.

In a 2011 report “Strategic Plan for Online Education,” requested by McRobbie, School of Informatics and Computing Dean Bobby Schnabel said IU needs to educate policy makers and the public that online education generally is more, not less, expensive than on-campus education at both undergraduate and graduate levels,” and the University should price undergraduate online education at least as high as on-campus education.

“In terms of affordability, there are many questions left to identify about the cost around online courses and programs because they require a lot more sophisticated infrastructure,” Bichelmeyer said. “But over time we may see that it’s possible for a strong return on investment that would allow us to offer online programs in a more affordable way, but I think it’s too early to tell.”

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