Higher Ed Holdings Helps UTA Professors Expand Reach of Courses Online
Teachers Advance Careers with Accessible, Affordable, Online Degree Programs
By Dave Sorter
At the University of Texas at Arlington, administrators and faculty members are embracing online learning because of the way it fits students today.
“For us, it’s about meeting a need. It’s what students are demanding,” said Dr. Jeanne Gerlach, the university’s associate vice president of K-16 Initiatives and Dean of the College of Education. “Many students grew up using technology, and it’s the platform they want to use for their course work. We see some students (in online courses) who are much more tech savvy than even we are.”
UTA has been at the forefront of online learning through its participation in the University of Texas System’s TeleCampus program, but it broadened its distance-learning offerings this 2008-09 academic year by partnering with Higher Ed Holdings to help distribute UTA’s College of Education and College of Nursing degree programs.
The Dallas-based company delivers the university’s courses through high-quality production and chat-room capabilities that facilitate discussion among students and instructors. It also funds student support services including academic coaching and student recruitment.
UTA’s new online offerings at the education college have begun attracting students in the first semester and enrollment is expected to grow significantly as the word spreads, Gerlach said. “On line options provide access to people who can’t make it to campus” she added. “The world is changing; we must change with it.”
Work and family life make an on-campus university program untenable for a lot of working teachers, said Dr. Ann Cavallo, a UTA professor who designs and supervises the online courses at the education college. Travel also is an obstacle, especially for someone who works full-time trying to negotiate rush-hour traffic to get to class. Distance learners, on the other hand, have the flexibility that comes with being able to time-shift their studies. They can watch the video presentations when they want, work their assignments around their schedules and join discussions and chat rooms at their leisure.
“The online platform makes it extremely accessible; a lot of teachers cannot take on-campus courses for a variety of reasons, but they are able to take them online,” Cavallo said.
Equally important is affordability – especially in an economic downturn such as the one we are currently experiencing.
The new 18-month online degree programs at UTA costs classmates $4,950. The cost would be about double that amount if they took the class on campus. And it’s even more of a bargain compared to for-profit providers like the University of Phoenix, which is three to four times more for a master’s in curriculum and instruction.
“That’s one of the beauties of these programs,” Gerlach said. “Students have had access issues, but affordability is a greater issue.”
According to Measuring Up 2008, a report by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, college tuition continues to outpace family income and the price of necessities such as medical care, food and housing. If the trends of the last quarter-century continue, the policy center found, higher education will fall beyond the reach of most Americans and greatly exacerbate the debt burdens of those who do enroll.
UTA is riding a wave of interest in online learning that saw more than 4 million college and university students nationwide taking at least one online course at the start of the 2008-2009 school year. The move online is working to counter declines since the early 1990s in enrollment of working-age adults in college-level education or training, a trend identified in the Measuring Up 2008 report. The study found that college enrollment is “fairly flat in the United States, with mostly small improvements in some states and declines in others.”
States that are improving include Texas, where Higher Ed Holdings’ works with UTA and Lamar University in Beaumont to help make it possible for more students with jobs and families to expand their education.
At UTA, those who hold teaching jobs can earn a master’s degree online, which can lead to valuable stipends for holding an advance degree.
Cavallo said the online programs using the Higher Ed Holdings platform will help teachers advance in their careers with opportunities for promotion to department head or other administration positions. “Our focus is on teachers in K-12 schools, and if one wants to be a curriculum director for a school district, this program would give them the background to do that,” she said.
The university is partnering with Higher Ed Holdings to offer three programs leading to a Master of Education Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. Areas of emphasis are literacy studies, mathematics education and science education. UTA will add a leadership and policy emphasis later in 2009. The online platform also delivers the school’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, which started in September.
Dr. Ernest Johnson, a professor of education at UTA who is developing the internship components and two courses for the new education leadership and policy studies program, taught a previous online course and said the format does not hinder what is being taught – it just expands the potential reach of the course material.
“The feedback I received was ‘I felt like I was in the classroom even though I was not in the classroom,’” Johnson said.
At the same time, the online experience can add elements that go beyond what one might encounter in a campus-based program.
In both her online programs at UTA, Cavallo gives instruction that demonstrates and engages the students – who are also K-12 teachers – in activities they can take to their classrooms and use with their own students. They report the results back to Cavallo and to one another on discussion boards. “That way, the students are talking about their learning experiences and sharing how they have applied the activities in their classrooms,” Cavallo said.
The partnership with Higher Ed Holdings is exposing the entire faculty of the participating school to today’s methods of delivery. That the professors also are learning to work with today’s technology helps alleviate some of the skepticism about online learning among tradition-oriented faculty members.
“It’s really exciting for us to learn new methods of instruction and new technology,” Gerlach said.
And with these new programs come the resources and scholarship of a highly regarded university. “The students will experience a program and ultimately earn a degree that carries with it the high level of scholarship and prestige of this particular university,” Cavallo said.
The Measuring Up 2008 report concludes that low-cost, high-quality online degree programs will be necessary to attract future generations of students. Universities have begun to recognize that meeting students’ needs means offering online degree programs that provide the same quality of education as those available on campus, a flexible schedule conducive to work and family life, and affordable tuition.
Gerlach said the UTA community has embraced online learning for those very reasons. “It is the present,” she said. “And it certainly is the future.”