Online courses getting major upgrade

Carrie Blazina

Students are about to see some big differences in their online courses, starting this summer.

Provost Robert Frank said for six to eight months his office has been working to upgrade the undergraduate courses that are core courses and are most popular, not courses high up in a student’s program. 

Deborah Huntsman, executive director of continuing studies, said over the next two years the university will develop or update about 50 courses, with 15 courses ready during spring and summer.

“Our strategy, really, is to look at some of the core (Ohio) Transfer Module courses, some of the most popular ones that students take, and try to get multiple sections of those online,” said Rick Rubin, associate provost and head of the project.

“We realized that some of these courses could be taken by students all over the place,” Frank said. “So if we produced a good enough quality product, students might be attracted to take them, and we might get some additional students enrolled on a part-time basis at Kent to take the courses.”

Huntsman said one course already being worked on is College Writing II, and the English department is piloting additional courses, too. She said faculty is also being trained to better understand online course development.

Frank said there will be both new courses that have never been offered in a distance-learning format and updates to existing courses. He and Rubin said the redesigned courses will be useful to students who want to fit them in over the summer.

“Students say, ‘well, I can take this course and knock it out over the summer at home while I work or do an internship,’” Frank said. “So Kent students can stay enrolled in the summer, or they can take this extra course that might not be one in their majors but it advances them.”

Rubin said students love online summer courses, and this is reflected in the fact last summer’s courses had 38 percent of their enrollment online.

Rubin said the courses are designed to increase student engagement.

“Engagement and learning are very closely related, and so we will build that into the courses that we work with faculty to develop,” he said.

An example of the potential engagement students might encounter is increased multimedia, Huntsman said.

Frank said students are not always focused in in-person classes.

“We want students to engage in face-to-face classes, but many students sit in the back row and do Facebook and sort of check out and wait for the big point to be made that’s on the test, and that’s not effective learning.”

He also said students don’t have the option to just “check out” or study less with online courses, because they are just as hard as in-person classes.

“A lot of students expect online courses to be less demanding, and we wouldn’t ever allow them to be, and the day we do that we’re not doing our job,” Frank said.

In addition to the improved online courses, Frank and Rubin said they are working to create entire graduate programs that can be taken online by working professionals. 

“You can take it at a distance and continue to think about it as a working professional,” Frank said. “You continue to do it while you take it.”

Huntsman said they are looking to create between 10 and 12 of these programs, including one in health care informatics, which is a field dealing with the protection or transfer of patient data. 

Huntsman called the upgrades a “strategic investment,” and Frank said the university is investing a lot of money into them. But Frank believes it will be worth it because these will be “the highest-quality courses at Kent.”

“I’m really heartbroken I’m not going to be here to see the end of it,” he said, because he is leaving Kent State after this semester to take the presidency at the University of New Mexico. “It’s going to be so good. It’s going to be something Kent State is incredibly proud of.”

Contact Carrie Blazina at [email protected].