January 16, 2013
IU ramping up initiatives in online education
By Mike Leonard
January 16, 2013
Few observers at Indiana University were surprised when online programs in business, education and nursing at the university were highly ranked in the newly created, 2013 edition of U.S. News & World Report's "Best Online Education" rankings.
The Kelley Direct online MBA program was ranked third among more than 200 similar programs nationwide. The School of Education's programs ranked 14th out of a similar number and the School of Nursing in Indianapolis came in 37th out of about 100 online nursing programs.
The same programs made the news magazine's "honor roll" last year before it expanded its evaluation to match its other college rankings.
IU is expanding its ventures into online education across the board as well with a plan to pump $8 million into its IU Online initiative over the next three years. "There is a lot of infrastructure that needs to be in place to do online, and part of it is the infrastructure of developing good courses," said John Applegate, executive vice president for university regional affairs, planning and policy.
"Good online is like good in-person instruction. It's very interactive. That's one of the best ways to learn things in a deep and lasting way," he said.
The university named Barbara Bichelmeyer, a professor of instructional systems technology, the director for the systemwide initiative. M.A. Venkataramanan, vice provost for strategic initiatives, heads up the Bloomington campus effort. "We've gone through two to three months of a deliberate engagement with all of the schools and in some ways we are ahead of the goal of having all of the schools offer a graduate level degree or certificate by 2014," Venkataramanan said.
"For example, the School of Public and Environmental Affairs is launching an online masters in public education spring semester. The School of Public Health is ready to launch a course soon. And the (nascent) School of Global and International Studies is trying to launch one this fall," the vice provost said. "The law school and the school of informatics are looking at certificate programs aimed at the global marketplace."
Venkataramanan said the academic units on campus all understand that online education in some form is going to be a part of the future of higher education. "We know we have this ability to provide a really high quality, top level online education because of the high quality programs, faculty and reputation that we have," he said. "If we don't provide it, someone else will. And if you're a student, I hate to name names, but would you rather take a course from Indiana University or Western Governors University?"
Venkataramanan said the culture and reputation of the university transfers surprisingly well through programs such as the well-regarded Kelley Direct online MBA program of which he has been a part. "It's allowed us to have students in China, India, Brazil, Africa, and it allows them to be a part of Indiana University. They're so proud," he said. "They still send me emails about basketball or football and they understand the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat."
The opportunity to take classes and earn a degree from a university with prestige was a motivating factor for tennis star Venus Williams, who last year enrolled for business classes through IU East, according to Applegate.
Applegate said the university's charge from the trustees and President Michael A. McRobbie is been to look broadly at the online world and research various approaches. One problem online instructors have reported in the past is that online takes more instructor time rather than less because students text and email questions at all times of the night and day.
Applegate said Carnegie-Mellon University, for example, has invested heavily in using artificial intelligence to create "automated" courses that can answer questions online or at least direct students to answers for their questions.
"Another approach is so-called crowd sourcing. Instead of using an instructor to answer every question, you get all of the people in the class to participate and chime in," the IU vice president said. "That has strengths in participation but perhaps some weaknesses in not having someone truly trained in an area to answer questions."
Still another option is the "flipped classroom" where students watch lectures online and then do their work in classrooms where faculty answer questions and work with students while they are doing their assignments.
IU also is dipping a toe into the latest hot topic for online education -- the "massive open online course" or MOOC. Venkataramanan said library science and informatics professor Katy Borner is getting ready to launch a course. But he acknowledged IU, like everyone else, is trying to figure out how to make these massive courses financially viable.
Currently, MOOCs offer good online instruction but without certification or course credit. "The strategy for the MOOC is to do something good but not at the same level of involvement it takes to earn a certificate or course credit," he said. "Maybe it's a way to attract the student to the institution so that they do want to continue on, on a path to a certificate or a degree. We don't know yet."
MOOCs also have opened up a new area of conflict within the states. Last fall, Minnesota told the popular MOOC provider Coursera to stop providing online courses to Minnesota residents because state law prohibits an institution not registered and accredited by the state to offer classes there.
"There are a lot of questions and a lot of issues," said IU's Applegate. "That's why the online world is challenging and exciting."