Improved distance learning support leads to online enrollment increase
Though the University has consistently experienced double-digit growth in online enrollment over the last four years, the quality of online learning has remained uncontrolled and is still in development.
Online enrollment increased more than 38 percent, soaring from 13,875 students in 2007 to 36,376 in 2011. The average online enrollment increase was more than 5,600 students each year, though the number of course sections only increased by 75 on average.
The University is doing more with fewer resources, said Nancy Herron, assistant director of Education Outreach.
“We’re getting more bang for our buck,” she said.
Most of the work involved in keeping pace with the swift increase in online class enrollment can be credited to Herron’s small department of less than 20 employees.
Her staff serve as advocates for students who are enrolled in distance education. When these students have problems with their online classes, she and her staff are the people to call.
Herron said that course quality is a major concern to her department, and that the issue hinges largely on the way instructors deliver content and information in online classes — quality lies in the hand of each instructor.
“We currently don’t have any quality control,” Herron said.
“We have instructional designers. We hope that the faculty members work with them, and for the most part they do. The job of the instructional designers is to help them (instructors) determine the best way to present the materials they have to the students.”
Psychology junior Jana Godino said her online math class could have been better had her instructor arranged the material differently. She said she received the most help by looking up concepts on Youtube.
“I felt like I was teaching myself math,” Godino said.
Her professor’s contact hours were limited and she had work at those times. Godino said she finished the class with a C but expected to fail.
“I’m not really good with math,” she said. “So it was a little harder for me than it would be if I took it in person.”
Taking a class online and taking one in person should feel nearly the same, Tammy Hoskins said.
As educational technology director, she recently drafted the Online Course Recommended Guidelines, which is pending approval from the deans of each college.
The guidelines recommend best practices on how instructors can deliver course materials, setting quality control in place for online classes, she said.
Hoskins said these guidelines help improve online courses by setting standards that increase interactions between instructors, students, their peers and the course content. One major area addressed is communications.
“Instead of it being one way or even two way, now it’s multiple connections,” Hoskins said.
The guideline also sets a standard for distributing course information such as syllabuses, the instructor’s contact information and his or her preferred contact hours. Hoskins said the approved guidelines would require instructors to post this information online prior to the beginning of each semester.
In Fall 2006, the University offered 132 online sections, in which 5,029 students enrolled. Those numbers were trumped in Summer 2011 when 169 sections were offered with 6,375 enrolled. In Spring 2011, the University offered 245 sections with 14,815 students enrolled. The most students recorded in a semester at the time of this report were 15,186 in Fall 2010 when 231 sections were offered.
“UH currently leads Texas in online enrollment. The University offered its first online class in 1997 and its first online degree program in 2003. Students may choose from a total of seven online degree programs currently offered. Two additional programs are being considered,” said Nancy Herron, assistant director of educational outreach.
In previous years, the University also offered courses via tape and TV. Those courses we completely eradicated in 2009 due to lack of interest.
“We watch our enrollment closely,” Herron said. “It got to a point where we couldn’t justify offering them with the amount of money we had to pay for it.”