Successful Online Programs Require a Paradigm Shift

On the table at the University of Colorado Boulder is a proposal for an online engineering master’s degree program.1 It’s a breakthrough for all the right reasons: It’s being offered as a MOOC, it’s completely online, it’s asynchronous, and it’s unbundling the 3-credit courses and offering them in modules. All four are gold standards for online education, and it’s tough to decide which is the most important. For now, I’d say the unbundling. Breaking traditional semester-length courses into shorter modules is a brilliant move to make the courses doable within the framework of MOOCs. It’s a smaller hill to climb for working nontraditionals, and dropping out means making up only one module instead of an entire semester.

The best wave of the day goes to Richard Koubek, provost of LSU Baton Rouge, who says, “Our vision is LSU, anywhere, anytime, and that physical boundaries would not define the boundaries of this campus.”2 To put some teeth into their vision, LSU recently lured Sasha Thackaberry away from Southern New Hampshire University, where she was assistant vice president for academic technology. SNHU has a hugely successful online program. At LSU, she is associate vice provost for online and distance education. The goal is to grow the online student body from 800 to 30,000 in less than ten years, and Koubek has a radical gameplan. He says, “You’re not going to get there incrementally.” What we’re seeing now in online programs on most college campuses is the stagnation that comes from reliance on the old paradigm of traditional practices that reward blended approaches as the safe bridge to online growth. Koubek understands that continued reliance on F2F practices isn’t going to produce change. He says, “You have to change the paradigm.” 

An example of a wave that’s building far offshore is Kankakee High School in rural Illinois.3 Students are participating in a pilot that allows them to earn AP college credits online via the Illinois Virtual School. In Hawaii, our AP program is being augmented by a joint state Department of Education and University of Hawaii program called Early College, which allows students to take traditional and online courses in the University of Hawaii System.4 Some are earning enough credits to advance to their sophomore or junior year of college after high school. In the past, I’ve had one or two per year in my online courses, but this spring has brought a surge. I have three, and they’re all outstanding.

1Regent Committee Approves New MOOC-Delivered Engineering Master’s Degree,” CU Boulder Today, 17 Jan. 2018.
2 David Jacobs, “LSU Sets Ambitious Online Education Goal for Flagship Campus,” BusinessReport, 17 Jan. 2018.
3 John Dykstra, “Kankakee, Tri-Point Participating in Online AP Classes,” Daily Journal (Kankakee, Illinois), 24 Jan. 2018.
4 Kelli Trifonovitch, “Early College Offerings Skyrocket at Hawaiʻi High Schools,” University of Hawai’i News, 18 Dec. 2017.

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