By MIKE LEONARD
Indiana University President Michael McRobbie told the university trustees that the attention being paid to online education is about the “fourth wave” he’s seen of intense interest and often, exaggerated claims.
IU has been engaged and exploring but cautious, following a philosophy the president still endorses: “Not to bet the farm on any one approach.”
IU administrators said the time now appears to be right for a massive push into online education, however. In fact, the university looks well-positioned to become a major player in the online field.
Penn State University is seen as a national leader, with 90 online programs and 12,000 students enrolled. The University of Massachusetts is an even bigger player, with just under 100 programs and 30,000 students online.
Without a major initiative, IU has nonetheless “organically” created 109 programs, but is serving just 5,000 students.
“We need to do much better in marketing our programs,” said Barbara Bichelmeyer, associate vice president for university academic policy and planning and director of IU’s Office of Online Education. She’s also interim chancellor at Indiana University Southeast.
She said the possibility for IU’s reach is endless, ranging from in-state to national and international learners.
IU has four overarching goals in online education, said John Applegate, executive vice president for university academic affairs: reaching more students, creating a strong, quality brand in a dynamic online market, supporting student success and creating a major source of revenue at a time when existing revenue streams are projected to be “stressed.”
“We are a large university, and that’s an advantage we should make use of,” Applegate said. “Another is the economies of scale. We have the capacity to scale up without having to recreate infrastructure. One of the most exciting consequences to me is that we have the capacity to really invest in quality. One of our chief goals is to develop a high quality experience and leverage our existing brand. We have a very strong brand,” he said.
Bichelmeyer said it’s clear from the latest data that online education can be just as good as or better than the traditional brick-and-mortar classroom. It also can work well within the residential experience at a campus such as Bloomington, Applegate said. “It’s not an either/or choice. There are a lot of students who are on a residential campus who want to try something new.”
The modern Internet, dubbed “Web 2.0,” offers the ability for online learners to get a truly interactive online experience, Bichelmeyer said, observing that “good education is highly interactive.”
The director of online education for IU said the “flipped classroom” is becoming increasingly successful, for example. In a flipped classroom, students view a lecture or presentation online and then attend a class physically to discuss the presentation.
Trustee Pat Shoulders and the IU administrators agreed that IU was wise to not jump headlong into the latest online craze, the Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC.
It’s still difficult, they said, to see how MOOCs can be monetized and made worth the investment in them, although they continue to present an interesting opportunity for students worldwide to take an IU class or program.
“Our reputation is being a guarantor of quality,” Bichelmeyer said.
“Our greatest asset in this is the IU faculty,” Applegate agreed. “We need to involve them in how we do business.”