Online course expansion aims to meet needs of new-age students

Friday, June 18, 2010 | 4:25 p.m. CDT; updated 3:40 p.m. CDT, Saturday, June 19, 2010

COLUMBIA — Students are not the same as they were 20 years ago.

Today they blog, tweet, text, listen to iTunes and write a paper all at once. They are technology addicts who are constantly multitasking — in and out of the classroom.


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Many traditional classrooms have failed to meet the needs of this new student generation. That's why the University of Missouri System aims to address the ever-changing student learning styles by spending $482,000 to develop 124 new online courses.

The new online courses will include diverse offerings such as agroforestry, dental hygiene, criminology and financial engineering. UM also plans to employ several strategies to help faculty learn how to use new technological tools in traditional classrooms. The project will affect all four UM System campuses.

Steven Graham, senior associate vice president for academic affairs, said today's students want to communicate digitally and use technology in multiple areas of their life.

"That's how they learn. That's how they think," Graham said.

Writing on a chalkboard or listening to a lecture for an hour often doesn't satisfy students' technological cravings. Graham is excited about giving UM faculty the chance to expand the ways they use online discussion forums, educational YouTube videos and other technology in classes to help make material come alive.  

Zac March was hired as the director of electronic learning, or eLearning, in May 2009.

Faculty members won't be required to change their teaching techniques or to incorporate new technology, but UM is trying to make multiple resources available for faculty who are interested.

Fifty-five faculty members attended a workshop June 2 to 3 to learn how to use mixed media in the classroom. Faculty were able to pick and choose which tools to learn about.

"It  was kind of like speed dating for eLearning," March said about one of the workshop sessions.

March described the workshop as a hub of faculty creativity and a good networking tool. More workshops are being planned, and March said spots are filling quickly.

Faculty also have the help of 15 eMentors who work across the four campuses. The eMentors are faculty members enthusiastic about using technology in teaching with extensive experience to share.

"Oh, I would imagine there will be a lot of anxious and frustrated folks out there who want to teach online but experience anxiety," eMentor Shawna Strickland said.

The mentors work to stop this anxiety and get faculty comfortable with using technology in class.

Funding for the new online courses came from savings over the past few years and reallocating money in the budget. Because the funding was generated from a request for proposal, the project requires one-time funding. Money is not expected  to be added to the project every year to keep the new online classes running.

Graham said he's unsure how soon tuition revenue from the new classes will make up for the initial $482,000 investment.

Graham said UM was very purposeful and frugal in developing the program but sees the classes as a long-term investment. He also does not anticipate any increase in tuition for online courses.

Videos that demonstrate why the UM System is focusing on using technology for learning

Video description: "This short but powerful video summarizes some of the most important characteristics of students today — how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime. The video was created by Dr. Michael Wesch and 200 students enrolled in Introduction to Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University during the Spring of 2007," from the UM System website.

Video description: "This video explores the changes in the way we find, store, create, critique, and share information. This video was created as a conversation starter, and works especially well when brainstorming with people about the near future and the skills needed in order to harness, evaluate, and create information effectively. The video was created by Dr. Michael Wesch at Kansas State University, Fall 2007," from the UM System website.

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Mark Bullen June 28, 2010 | 11:26 a.m.

All the credible research on this issue clearly suggests this is not a generational issue. Clearly the proliferation of digital technology is having an impact but we do not yet understand the implications for education. To stereotype all students of a particular age as technology addicts who constantly multitask and then make institutional decisions about teaching approaches is irresponsible.

See The Net Gen Skeptic for more on this:

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