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Encouraging a robust portfolio of online general education courses

April 10, 2015

It is fascinating to reflect on the constantly changing landscape of online education. Just a few years ago, we could not open an issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education without reading about MOOCs. Of course, MOOCs remain popular but how they will become an integrated part of the critical strategy of higher education remains to be seen. At the same time, with pressure from student demand, institutions have ramped up their offerings of online courses. 

At RIT, the Innovative Learning Institute has strategically focused on graduate online education. One simple reason for this is the healthy market of students interested in such online opportunities. Additionally, because there are few technical labs typically associated with graduate coursework, it is more straightforward to put graduate-level courses online. RIT currently has 24 graduate programs and 188 graduate courses available online. 

But what about undergraduate online courses? Currently, we have 138 such courses and this number is growing each semester. By analyzing data culled from summer enrollments, we have learned that our students have a preference for online courses during intersession, summer, and while they are on co-op or away for study abroad. The impacts are far-reaching; when we offer undergraduate online courses, students in our global campuses can also enroll and benefit from a greater selection of courses.  Simply put, students need to take these courses and they have a preference for taking them online during the non-semester based sessions. 

Currently, we have just one undergraduate, fully online degree program - the applied arts and science B.S. degree offered by the Center for Multidisciplinary Studies. But soon the B.S. in advanced technical leadership online will be offered and we expect this program to have healthy enrollments.

Based on student demand and in light of the growing number of online undergraduate programs, students need a healthy selection of general education courses offered online. To this end, I have asked Neil Hair and his ILI team to target a comprehensive collection of online general education courses that can be offered online on a regular basis. It is unreasonable to assume that every general education course will be offered online. But in order to best serve our students, it is sensible to offer a sufficient number of online general education courses that students—including those in a fully online program or at one of our global campuses, enrolled in the summer, intersession, on co-op or studying abroad—have sufficient choices in online general education courses. As a result, I look forward to seeing a full portfolio of general education courses available online. 

To this end, the ILI has identified funds and resources to support faculty in developing online general education courses. I am encouraged by the response from faculty interested in getting engaged in online teaching and I appreciate their leadership. It is my hope that we will soon reach our target and better serve the needs of our students.