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eUNH: Clicks and Mortar at UNH

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UNH Clicks and Mortar

In the summer of 2009, UNH offered seven e-courses. All filled. The 2010 J Term witnessed equal success as students signed on for the 12 e-classes available. Of the 35 online learning courses offered during the summer of 2011, 26 filled to capacity and the others were near-full.

“This response has confirmed that there is a place for online learning at UNH,” says John T. (Ted) Kirkpatrick, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and director of Justiceworks. Kirkpatrick recently released the findings of an initiative that explored the role of e-leaning at UNH.

“Our major market always will be primarily residential. Something happens in that setting that cannot be reproduced online,” Kirkpatrick says. “We’re finding that students like online courses as an adjunct but they want to be here.”

The proof of that comes with the ability, using J Term and summer classes, to finish an undergraduate degree at UNH in three years. Yet conversations with students show they want the full four years, Kirkpatrick says.

“It would be a mistake to misjudge the role of taking courses at UNH. Students do like the flexibility (of online courses) but those aren’t going to replace the residential experience,”
Kirkpatrick says.

The role, then, of eUNH is to provide flexibility and additional tools as students work toward their degree.

To clarify: e-course refers to a class taught online that doesn’t require a student to come to campus���not even for exams. Hybrid courses combine classroom and online teaching, meaning students must be physically present for part of the course. And e-learning utilizes the Web and is often called technology-enhanced learning.

The committee that explored e-learning at UNH found that many faculty members want to teach online classes. An April 2011 faculty survey revealed that 60 percent of those polled have taught or would like to teach an e-course.

“I have not heard anyone say no,” Kirkpatrick says. 

UNH IT is working to develop a series of training courses���online and face-to-face--that would certify faculty to teaching e-courses.

Done properly, combining classroom and online learning can prove to be a successful marriage, Kirkpatrick says. But a constant for UNH, where, historically, state funding has been minimal, is its reliance on undergraduate tuition to pay its bills. To “take our eye off that ball” would be a mistake, he adds.

“Online learning isn’t the way of the future, it’s a tool just like a shovel is a tool. And you need a person to use a shovel. Nothing replaces the human element,” Kirkpatrick says. “Both can coexist.

He predicts that in five years, UNH will offer 80 percent of its courses as it always has, in a classroom, and 20 percent through e-learning. In the meantime, UNH would be well served by piloting graduate level e-courses, the committee says. An online graduate certificate in geospatial applications is now in development. Kirkpatrick’s report suggests offering classes in UNH’s professionally-orientated masters as well: MEd, MBA, MPA, MSW, MPH and the new IT program at UNH-M.

Measuring the success of e-courses is key, Kirkpatrick notes. And so, beginning with the fall classes, Victor Benassi of the UNH Teaching Excellence Center will conduct a study to compare the learning outcomes of students who take an online course to those who take the same courses taught in a classroom by the same instructor during the same semester. A similar study will be done in the spring.

Determining which courses to offer, how often, and when are questions that will be answered as the assessment of eUNH continues. UNH IT has indicated it can sustain support for up to 150 e-courses each semester, including summer and J Term. The immediate suggestions from the e-learning initiative include offering:

  • 36 e-courses in J Term 2012
  • 70 e-courses and 50 hybrid courses in summer 2012
  • 20 e-courses in fall 2012
  • 20 e-courses in spring 2013

Whether those numbers will be maintained will be based, in part, on enrollment numbers and favorable evaluations.

One thing that is known is there will always be place for brick and mortar classroom learning at UNH.

“Think LL Bean: you can go to their store or you can shop online. We’re LL Bean; the store is thriving but you can still buy shoes from us online,” Kirkpatrick says.

He credits President Mark Huddleston for pressing UNH to initiate e-courses. He was concerned that other flagship universities have been developing a robust e-learning community and UNH has been lagging behind. And we have: other state universities are offering scores of e-courses.

(Note: UNH launched its remote access learning pilot in 1997 so distance learning has existed here for more than a decade.)

“It’s true that we are late to the game,” Kirkpatrick says. “But we have a ready store of faculty willing to teach. And there is clearly a demand among students--faculty and students are not bound by time and space anymore. But it is also clear that we will always be a residential university. ”