New Faculty Senate committee looks to future of online classes, ensures quality

Gianna Holiday, Associate News Editor

A new ad hoc committee of App State faculty members will soon take on the job of ensuring quality online courses for university students. 

Faculty Senate Chair Michael Behrent said he believes the Ad Hoc Committee on Quality Online Teaching and Learning is important for App State’s future in online classes.

“There are a whole lot of concerns right now in higher education in what the future of higher education is. There is a lot of talk about how students of the future might be different from students of the present. There may be a lot of non-traditional students,” Behrent said. 

There was considerable interest in the committee after its proposal by Ben Powell, a  former Faculty Senate member who was appointed to the position of interim vice provost for online learning. 

Krista Terry, associate professor of instructional technology, said the initial challenge is identifying what makes App State’s online classes unique and different from those offered elsewhere. A second challenge is identifying how “quality” online classes would be defined. 

“I’d say some faculty have a lot of anxiety about online teaching; some feel that it is a form of lesser education, that it is a way of cheaping education,” Behrent said. “This committee is based on the assumption that online education is not only the way of the future, but it can also be very good education if it is done right.”

Terry’s goal will focus on “collaborating with multiple stakeholders in the UNC System to design, develop and deliver a competency-based online learning program focused on learning design and instructional innovation.”

The first task of the committee is to establish App State’s online identity and evaluate the courses, similar to how App State uses course evaluations to assess on-campus classes.

“The idea is that as we move toward increasingly emphasizing online education, we need to have some framework, some kind of structure in place that monitors the quality of our online offerings that is comparable to the way we have for our classroom teachings,” Terry said.

The significance of online education to the university comes after US News and World Report’s published a list of “2019 Best Online Programs,” in which App State was named in both  “Best Online Bachelor’s Programs” and “Best Online Graduate Education Programs.”

Currently, one-third of App State’s students are enrolled in an online course, and more than 6,000 students enrolled in online courses this fall alone. Over 300 courses are offered online each year, totaling over 700 available course sections.

“Part of the goal is to reach 20,000 students by the year 2020,” Terry said. “As our enrollment increases, we want to make sure those who are taking classes, whether online or on campus, are able to get a quality education regardless of where they are.”

The resolution for the ad hoc committee ultimately passed with a vote of 25 to eight.

“Eighteen to 22-year-olds will always be crucial to the mission, but there is a lot of talk about people going back to school, training people who need new job skills to go back into the job market, older people, educating veterans,” Behrent said. “Online education can be particularly appealing to students of these categories so we have to think about that.”