- Letters to Editor
BY: WESLEY ROBINSON
Overall enrollment may be down slightly at Eastern this year, but there has been one bright spot: students are turning to online courses in record numbers.
As of the spring semester, 22,275 hours or about 12.5 percent of the total hours taken by Eastern students were taken online, school officials said.
“The success that we are having with the current students is really beginning to resonate with the prospective students,” said Tim Matthews, director of E-Campus Learning. “People are seeing that these degrees provide a pathway for advancement or a new career.”
The department of E-Campus Learning, which Matthews directs, is responsible for 12,287 of the hours students take online or about 7 percent of the overall enrollment total. This number has nearly doubled each of the past three years since the spring of 2011, when online classes accounted for 4,335 credit hours or about 2 percent of the total credit hours earned by students that year.
“That’s a pretty significant increase over a three year period,” Matthews said. “We’ve done a better job at marketing our successes and programs and spreading the EKU brand.”
Another 10,000 online hours have been logged by students in classes not under the E-Campus umbrella—a sign that signals students prefer to learn in different methods, say officials.
While both regular online classes and E-Campus classes are administered in a similar fashion, online E-Campus courses are designed more for non-traditional students or students looking to find entire programs rather than merely class a department decides to offer online, Matthews said.
He added that E-Campus courses also must meet Quality Matters standards, an inter-institutional quality assurance program that certifies online learning outcomes are being met.
Currently, Eastern offers 20 online undergraduate degrees and 11 master’s degrees that can be obtained entirely online through the E-Campus program. The university works to ensure that traditional students take classes in the classrooms, but it’s likewise competing with other neighboring and online universities to provide students from the area with options to learn at home in an online setting, Matthews said.
“If we don’t provide them with those educational opportunities, they are going to go somewhere else,” Matthews said. “You lose that interaction that you can only get with the instructor in front of you however what you gain is more of that instructor’s personal time.”
Last year, the E-Campus program generated $8.3 million in revenue with $7.2 million in expenses for a $1.1 million profit, Matthews said.
Online classes do cost more than their on-campus counterparts. The cost per credit hour for online classes is $390 compared to $305 for on-campus classes. But Matthews said overall it may be cheaper for some students to take online classes, once they calculate in the money saved on gas, food, childcare or lost work wages. He added that the cost of online classes is higher than traditional classes because the university has to invest heavily in technology and other support services to maintain the online courses.
Robert Brubaker, chair of the Department of Psychology, said he has taught on campus and online classes and finds value in both.
“The only difference I can think of is the class composition.” Brubaker said. “That diversity among the E-Campus students brings a certain richness and variety of perspectives to class discussions that might not be there in non-E-Campus classes made up of traditional students.”
Wanju Huang works as an instructional designer for online classes and said she works as a bridge between instructors and students to make sure all learning outcomes are achieved. She said technology is constantly evolving and it’s the job of instructional designers to figure out how to adapt it to online classes.
“If you provide something that’s going to help students learn they will use it, you just have to show them why,” Huang said.
Huang has taught in classrooms an online and said she works to ensure the instructor is teaching clearly so that students are learning as if they are in the classroom.
“It’s all about the quality of learning experience and how we can best serve the students,” Huang said.
He said within the psychology department the quality standards are the same as with E-Campus.
Scotty Dunlap, an assistant professor in the college of Justice and Safety uses discussion board dialogue in Blackboard, video lectures filmed and edited by E-Campus Instructional Designers, video conferences for group projects, dialogue in the virtual office hours, augmented reality videos to depict three-dimensional models of things covered in class, and standard communication through e-mail to communicate with students.
“Each of these tools have helped to lessen the “technological divide” that was an issue in online education in past years,” Dunlap said.
Lowell Hanson, 52, from Buffalo recently graduated from Eastern’s E-Campus program and is looking to pursue a master’s degree in the future from the university. Hanson said technology was something he struggled with, but the quality of courses and instructors has helped him improve his learning after starting classes in 2008.
“They would take time and talk to you online or on the phone or over email.” Hanson said. “They wanted you to understand what was going on and actually learn.”
More than the personal attention in the classroom, Hanson said he really was touched in his online learning experience after his son was killed in Afghanistan while serving the U.S. Armed Forces.
“I was at the funeral home and I looked up and there was staff from the college that [were at the services].” Hanson said. “It meant a lot. I was pretty impressed.”