News

Published:

October 28, 2013
 

Thoughts on Online Education


By Robert A. Scott, President, Adelphi University


There is great controversy about online education – in fact, more controversy than debate, more complaints than communication. You have seen it in the national press, as well as in academic media.

Some online education advocates seem more like missionaries who have “the” answer to how education should be provided. Some are such advocates that they are like the carpenter who thinks the hammer and saw are the only tools needed to solve a problem.

This is not the case here.

Online education represents a set of tools that can be useful in various settings, but not necessarily in every setting or for every purpose.

It also is a set of tools, not just one tool.

While MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) receive a great deal of attention because of their drama; prestigious universities as their source; vast numbers of students across the globe; peer-to-peer advising and assessment; and free tuition, they are not the only kind of online education.

MOOCs exist, and we must know how we will greet them when presented for advanced placement and credit by incoming freshman, or as transfer credit by those entering Adelphi as sophomores or juniors. We also need to know how we might use them as supplementary, not core, material for an existing course, just as we would a video, a visitor, or a visit to a lab or museum, never forgetting the old adage that great teaching requires more “guide on the side” than “sage on the stage.”

Beyond MOOCs, colleges have many ways to use the internet as a means of teaching and learning. Individual faculty use communications technologies and software systems to mount course syllabi, send and receive assignments, and stay in touch when the student or the faculty member is off-campus.

These technologies permit us to offer courses either completely or partially online, never ignoring the need for students to engage with a professor to master a body of knowledge, think critically, solve problems, and become independent thinkers.

In addition, these technologies permit us to offer complete degree programs to those who cannot regularly get to the actual classroom, including those among our 100,000 alumni who desire or need advanced study and want to continue their affiliation with Adelphi. Adults and graduate students who have already proven their success in higher education study, and who are likely to have demands on their time from work and family, make a choice audience for online and blended coursework. They are a group whom we have served in the past and can serve in new ways in the future.

Today, we have two degrees fully online, with another to be launched next summer with total faculty control and the assistance of an outside vendor for market research and outreach.

We approach online education cautiously, knowing that issues of curriculum design, quality control, assessment of learning, and faculty development are essential components. We respect faculty authority over content.

We do not, and will not, engage in top down demands or design, as is true in many other cases, especially at for-profit institutions. We did, however, appoint an advisor to the Provost, Dr. Laura Martin, to keep us appraised of developments in online learning and to work with faculty on program selection, standards for quality, and both training and support needs in conjunction with the Faculty Center for Professional Excellence.

One of the fears expressed by faculty nation-wide is that the goal of online education is to reduce reliance on full-time faculty by increasing the number of students per class and reducing the attention given to each student. Our online efforts are assuming that a professor would be responsible for a group of 25 or fewer students. We want to enhance convenience for students without diluting the quality of their academic experience.

In fact, an explicit goal of AU2015 approved by the Board of Trustees is to increase the percentage of course sections taught by full-time faculty. Toward this end, we have hired 129 new faculty positions during the past ten years. We now have 330 full-time faculty compared to the 201 we had in fall 2000. Fully 62% of you were hired in the past decade.

Our University goal is to fulfill our mission by meeting the needs of society and students. Our goal is not simply efficiency but also effectiveness; we do not want to lose talented students at any level because another institution is more effective in their approach.

Our goal for enrollment in Garden City, extension centers, and online is for about 7,000 FTE students, up from 6,800 when we set the goal. Now, as you know, we have more ground to make up.

We must use a variety of means to ensure enrollment, as well as control our costs and the cost to students and parents, without diminishing the quality of student learning or changing our mission.

Some people are opposed to online education in any form. I respect that, but such an opinion is not a veto. As an institution, we must understand the broader environment in which we compete for students, faculty, partnerships, and resources. We do not want Adelphi’s position to be weakened because others have figured out how to incorporate technologies into their strategies to improve access to learning and control costs, and we have not.

It should be known, though, that we are late to this modality. Nationally, in some disciplines such as business, more than 50% of enrollment is online at traditional universities.

Adelphi’s history is replete with examples of serving society in new ways to meet societal needs and student aspirations. These examples include preparing women to be high school teachers and leaders, alone among New York City institutions in the early 20th Century; creating a course on war and peace before World War II; creating the first collegiate program in dance as a separate department in 1938; creating one of the first baccalaureate programs in nursing in the 1940’s; becoming co-ed again almost overnight to enroll returning veterans in 1946-47; creating a university-based doctoral program in clinical psychology in 1957; creating an MBA program on the Long Island Railroad in the 1970’s; and creating programs like the Long Island Center for Non-Profit Leadership and the Community Fellows Program more recently, all in fulfillment of our mission to be the “engaged” university, serving society and preparing students for advanced study, careers, and active citizenship.

Our students will need to be experienced in online technologies in graduate school and on the job. Therefore, we need to help prepare them so that future alumni continue to applaud our faculty and our attention to student needs. Our mission commits us to “prepare a broad spectrum of graduates and undergraduates for a wide range of life pursuits while fostering a passion for knowledge,” and I will see that we continue to do just that. Online learning has to be part of the mix if we are to be competitive as an institution and if we are to prepare our graduates to be competitive when they leave. We have no choice, if we are to be true to our mission.

Thank you.

Robert A. Scott, President
Adelphi University
Garden City, NY 11530

 
 
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