SJR Column: Online Learning, January 2013

A headline in the New York Times just a few days ago, Students Rush to Web Classes, highlights a major trend that has been growing at warp speed. Universities large and small; public, private and for-profit, are increasing their online offerings via digital technologies that did not even exist a few years ago.

The Springfield campus of the University of Illinois, with our Center for Online Learning, Research and Service (COLRS), is a national leader in online learning. In addition to high-quality on-campus academic programs, UIS offers 26 undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificates entirely online, providing access to a university education to many who might not otherwise be able to attend college. In the Fall, 2012 semester, 61% of our students were enrolled in at least one online course, part of a worldwide trend that has now, according to a recent Sloan Consortium study, surpassed 6.7 million students online last year.

Building on the expertise of exceptional faculty, many of whom have received national recognition for their success in online learning, UIS is currently partnering with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the American Council on Education (ACE) and others in several projects that are examining the academic potential of these new modes of learning and that will increase access and improve student success online.

Dr. Karen Swan, the UIS Stukel Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership, is one of those award-winning professors. She has been teaching online for over a decade and is known for her research on learning effectiveness and interactivity in the online environment. In a presentation to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees this past Fall, I was intrigued when Dr. Swan referred to the intimacy of the online classroom experience. “In my opinion,” says Dr. Swan, “online learning is more democratic and more reflective than face to face classes.” She describes developing “social presence” among participants, the ability to project oneself and perceive others as real people, and providing structured opportunities and encouragement for interaction as part of the formula for success.

Dr. Laurel Newman, a professor in the College of Business and Management, serves as Director of Online Learning for the College and is another of the 200+ UIS faculty who regularly teach online. She explains that key elements UIS has developed to insure the high quality of online education include; dedicated faculty who work hard to create a meaningful student experience in the online environment, outstanding technical support and resources for both faculty and students, and exceptional leadership in the online arena that has provided a vision for what can be accomplished in this rapidly expanding area of higher education.

Recognizing the transformative potential of digital technologies, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees will be having a retreat in Chicago later this month to examine this topic with key university leaders. UIS Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning, Ray Schroeder, who has been the visionary behind our success, will be one of the key national experts speaking at this event.

There is no better way to experience the digital knowledge revolution than to participate; so please consider this an invitation to readers of this UIS Perspectives column. Following on the success of our first MOOC (massive open online course), which had participants from 70 countries, we’re turning to Abraham Lincoln for our second such offering. The spring, 2013 MOOC begins Jan. 28 and will explore the importance of the Emancipation Proclamation. Titled “The Emancipation Proclamation: What Came Before, How It Worked, and What Followed,” the course is taught by UIS Professors Matthew Holden and Gwen Jordan and takes advantage of this year’s sesquicentennial of President Lincoln’s issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The free, eight-week course is open to anyone worldwide who wants to join. I’ve already enrolled and you can too by visiting:

Online learning isn’t the wave of the future; it’s here and it is very, very good at the University of Illinois Springfield. More and more students are taking advantage of opportunities to learn at UIS online as well as on campus.

They are earning their degrees with gifted UIS professors who are leading the way as new digital technologies continue to emerge; ultimately setting the stage for the many positive contributions that UIS graduates make to their professions and to their communities.

Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois Springfield

Chancellor Susan J. Koch