Inside an Online University
Students from around the world have instant, real-time access to virtual classrooms through a dynamic online learning system capable of handling communication for thousands simultaneously.
Online university courses are developed as module-based courses across degree programs; each course consists of substantive modules and a final evaluative/integrative module. Each module includes background readings and materials written by the professor; the background component includes multimedia presentation and web-based library references. Background materials are aimed at providing college students with the knowledge needed to work on the course assignments.
Courses can include case analysis, which cover the learning objectives of the module and are instrumental in developing analytic, argumentation, writing, multi-perspective and critical thinking competencies. The project is focused on the application of the course body of knowledge and related independent research relevant to the student experience.
An online university provides student to faculty and student to student interaction and engagement, with an online discussion component intended to elicit discussion between faculty and students and among the student group with the specific goals for students to engage other students in a meaningful asynchronous exchange in response to a provocative or relevant issue statement. Faculty members then stimulate further discussion and interaction among the student group while clarifying unclear topics as needed. All modular components are consistently applied to online education programs and courses.
Information Technology is the backbone of online universities, and the strategy develops the university’s educational approach and the student learning-centered environment created by the learning model. Technology capabilities are built in a continuous development mode as additional needs arise. The IT department serves as a conduit for the development of the online university. The IT solution provides administration and faculty the ability to easily manage students’records. In addition, students are able to manage their own records through the system. Students are able to submit their assignments in a secured environment, while faculty is able to grade the papers and provide feedback through the online system.
The online university IT system can manage degree plans, transfer credits, course waivers, prerequisites, and course replacements. Alumni are able to contact the university, as well as administrators and staff, to manage alumni records. The system integrates finance and financial aid records for students and administration, and allows administrative users to manage a complete student record, from the initial student’s application, enrollments, transcripts, grade reports, statuses and more, up until graduation. For faculty, the system is incredibly important as it allows review of students’ assignments and enables feedback to students.
The integrated IT system allows online university faculty committees to assess course quality as well as student learning outcomes. Finally, since all of the above mentioned activities are archived, including students’ work and assignments, as well as faculty feedback and all assessment activities by faculty, the system provides the online university with a unique transparency and the appropriate database that may be used for comparative studies and long term education assessment activities. In addition, the system has the capacity to provide the various reports needed for administrators, staff and faculty.
A crucial component of online universities is Faculty. All faculty members (full time and part time) possess doctoral or professional terminal degrees; this requirement enhances the capacity to provide high quality online education. Another very important component of an online university is Student Services; these services include the office of the registrar, the IT department, the recruitment center, advisement center, finance department, library services and shipment department.
The learning model enables online universities to develop and improve the learning outcomes or what the learners expected to achieve by attending the University. For online degree programs offered by the University, the learning model directs the institution to: ensure that all learning outcomes are covered; reflect on the bench marking results for the common body of knowledge for each online degree; design the curricula and courses for each degree program to cover all its learning outcomes; review, assess through bench marking and improving the common body of knowledge for each degree program; and include the degree program learning outcomes in the university publications.
In order to assess education outcomes at online universities, evaluations of education as demonstrated by the course case assignments, session-long projects and threaded discussions are reviewed for course improvement. Students’ self-reflective papers, which are required in the last module of each course, are also used to assess and improve the direct learning in each course within the program. At the end of each program, the capstone course also provides a means of gauging and revising the direct learning in the particular program.
Assessments can be aligned with the learning outcomes for online university programs by performing gap analysis and revising the curricula and the program with the results in mind. At this point, the results of the multiple methods of assessing direct learning are discussed in the appropriate forums and changes are recommended to the appropriate Dean and the Provost for implementation. Course evaluations allow for assessing and improving faculty teaching effectiveness.
Additionally assessed is the feedback that a faculty provides to students on case assignments and session-long projects, as well as the quality of faculty participation in course threaded discussions. All students are surveyed for their satisfaction with the various aspects of, and input regarding, the quality of their learning experience. Exit surveys of students including all graduates solicit their feedback on various aspects of the academic program. Lastly, alumni opinions of academic programs and the program’s impact on their career are measured and reviewed.
The learning model is particularly important for online universities in the context of the development of higher education and governance. The model for online education has a built-in capacity for the best educational practices in, structuring curricula, courses and assignments, including supporting student engagement to stimulate student involvement, and it enhances the conditions for learning and individual development. Assessment of online university education outcomes leads to providing feedback which guides further improvements in policy and practices.
"I started as a student from overseas; an international student. I found the method of learning online very acceptable for me. And more importantly it was very appropriate I think for a means of education for a PhD.”