October 28, 2009
By Andrew Mitchell
In a presentation to UIS faculty and staff, research specialist Bill Bloemer called on his colleagues to further develop research into the effectiveness of online courses.
The number of students taking UIS courses online has grown steadily throughout the years, Bloemer said, to the point where now almost a third of the school's student body takes classes only online.
Furthermore, more than half of the student body took all their classes on campus five years ago. Now, only a third are strictly on-campus students, while the other third takes a combination of on-campus and online courses.
“When I look at that, two things come to mind,” Bloemer said. “One is that this institution is uniquely positioned to do real research into the [effectiveness] of online education. There aren't many places that do it like we do... We really do have experience and numbers here.
“And the other thing that occurs to me when I look at these numbers is, 'Oh my God, I hope this is working.'”
Because the online courses have helped increase enrollment for UIS, Bloemer said the university must ask whether it is effective, rigorous teaching. Online courses are often perceived to be lighter or easier than their on-campus alternative.
In preliminary data, Bloemer showed the grade point average of on-campus students as lower than online-only students. But several variables could go into this, including the level of student taking the course as well as the subject and level of the course itself.
On a larger scale, the research asks whether one can predict if a student will struggle in a certain kind of class more than another will.
Ray Schroeder, director of the Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning at UIS, added to Bloemer's call for reasearch.
“You see what rich data is available,” he said. “I think the implications here are significant. This may be useful certainly for programs, program coordinators, student support. There are many ways we can go at this.”