Online courses exceed 15,000 in enrollment for spring 2013

Bryan Webb

In the spring of 2009, Kent State University had approximately 2,500 students enrolled in online courses. This spring, the number has grown to more than 15,000 students signed up for the courses.

“The online work that we do is focused on building the university’s capacity to support faculty in the area of online [teaching] and that’s probably the most dramatically changing part of higher education today,” said Deborah Huntsman, executive director of continuing and distance education. “What we found, and other campuses who allow their traditional students to enroll in these courses as well, is that there’s a lot of interest among traditional students.”

Huntsman said the university has built an online learning team, consisting of three instructional designers and seven educational technologists, because more specialized staff to support online learning was needed.

The Lincoln Building, located near the intersection of East Main Street and North Lincoln Street, has been redesigned to house the online learning team and Huntsman said it’s setup in a way so the team can interact with faculty as they’re developing new online courses.

“We can now do training for the faculty in issues that are very specific to online [teaching], and we can use the technology that is making these courses better,” Huntsman said. “So we’ve made significant investments in staff and technology and software to really bring Kent State to what we believe will allow us to achieve sort of best-in-class status for this institution in our online learning efforts.”

The growth the university will be seeing over the next three years relates to a strategic plan that was developed and approved by President Lester Lefton.

“We’ll be focusing on the development of a dozen brand new, fully-online degree programs at the graduate level,” Huntsman said. “We see [this] as an opportunity to expand our enrollment, expand our brand and increase our visibility and our reputation across the U.S.”

As far as undergraduate degrees go, a bachelor’s in public health is the only entirely online degree in which a student can enroll.

“It has, at this point, a very small number of students that are enrolled in [it] but is something that we were committed to,” Huntsman said. “I think that’s where you’re going to see it. First is those really professional [niche majors] where the accreditation requirements and the certification requirements are so clear that they need to follow a very strict curriculum, and they’re not able to do lots of choosing across the whole university.”

Huntsman said more undergraduate students are taking individual online courses than graduate students. She warns, though, that online courses are not for everyone.

“You have to be self-disciplined, and you have to be able to have good study skills [and] good time management skills,” Huntsman said. “You’re communicating via the written word so you should have strong writing skills too.” Although she gives that warning, Huntsman believes everyone should take an online course at some point during his or her higher education years.

Jaclyn Hales, freshman pre-nursing major, said she likes taking online courses because it gives her more independence.

“I also kind of learn better just reading it on my own, and it gives me more free time,” Hales said.

Jordan Benson, sophomore accounting major, said he enjoys being able to take online courses from home, but he said he does not like that he has little interaction with his instructor.

“If I have any questions I have to email her, and it takes her a little bit to respond,” Benson said. He said his instructor’s delays in answering questions makes his homework more difficult.

Huntsman said she encourages students to take online courses because the courses will help them in future careers.

“When [students] do get into the workforce, there’s a very good chance that any professional development that they’re doing on the job, they’ll be doing [online],” Huntsman said. “So it’s important that they learn how to learn that way.”

Contact Bryan Webb at [email protected] .