Online course redesign coming by next fall

A plan is on the horizon to revamp Missouri Southern’s online classes.

Dean of Graduate Programs Jo Kroll said the idea is to create a uniform “look and feel” with all of Missouri Southern’s online classes, so that they all appear similar, which should make Southern’s online classes more similar in structure and design to each other than to another university’s online class. The new plan would give Southern’s distance learning more of a branding.

The end result, Kroll said, is to have a “professional-looking environment that no matter where the students are in the world, taking our classes, they know they’re taking it from MSSU.”

Southern isn’t forging new territory, Kroll said. The school is just joining the trend seen at other universities.

“It’s really just following along with what the rest of higher education has been doing as far as distance education for the past 10 years,” Kroll said.

The plan will be fully implemented for fall 2011 classes. The school will still use Blackboard for online courses, and added that the changes have “to fit the culture” of Southern as an institution.

The decision isn’t Kroll’s alone; to bring these changes at Southern requires collaboration on several levels. The plans were discussed by deans, the academic affairs office, the executive council and academic policies committee. To make it official, the Board of Governors will have to vote on “a lot of aspects of it,” Kroll said.

A 2010 study presented at the November WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies annual conference found that the biggest inhibitors of institutional efforts to expand online education are internal rather than external. It lists budget resources and faculty resistance as top challenges.

There was definite apprehension expressed by faculty members in the Nov. 1 Faculty Senate meeting when Kroll did a presentation for the Senate on upcoming changes to distance education. Since then, Kroll has met with a several departments to explain how the changes will affect each one individually.

One department head said the faculty members were more receptive to the changes when they could talk to Kroll with fewer people in the room.

“Our experience has been that anyone who sat down and talked to her one-on-one about this stuff got things cleared up pretty quickly,” said Dr. David Locher, social sciences department head.

There will be benefits to the faculty members who convert their classes to the new structure. When a faculty member wants to create a new online course, Kroll proposes that Southern will pay a faculty member $5,000. Updating a course would earn $2,500 and redesigning a course (if course goals have changed) will earn $3,000.

If all goes as planned, the new online class structure will pave the way for Southern’s enrollment to increase, which will in turn enhance Southern’s budget.

“It’s certainly going to build the online program, but with the number of enrollments that we’re going to anticipate, the funds that are generated from that will help build new buildings, hire new faculty, support professional development [and] provide resources that we wouldn’t be able to provide any other way,” Kroll said.