Online and distance education initiative is gaining steam

Laptop open to online education

Momentum has been building since a December conversation with the Board of Trustees of the University of Oregon that centered on how the university approaches online education.

On Wednesday, May 2, the team spearheading the initiative will host a town hall meeting to hear from faculty, staff and students about the best way to enhance, deliver and grow online course offerings. The meeting is 11 a.m. to noon in the Knight Library Browsing Room.

“As we dive deeper into data about how our students embrace online classes, we have found a significant demand,” said Scott Pratt, executive vice provost for academic affairs. “More than 6,000 students took UO online courses last year and many of our students are also taking online courses elsewhere. Clearly, there is a demand for alternatives that we should respond to.”

The search is underway for an associate vice provost for online and distance education who will lead and champion the effort in collaboration with academic leadership, deans and faculty members.

“We have made progress in finding the areas where there is significant interest in online learning and where we can also maintain high standards of academic quality that are core to UO’s reputation,” Pratt said. “We are now looking to bring someone on who will wake up every morning thinking about moving our online initiatives forward both to support undergraduate student success and expand the reach and impact of our graduate education.”

Jayanth Banavar, the UO’s provost and senior vice president, said online and hybrid courses can help students get into courses that are essential to earning a degree.

“I see this as a critical area of investment that will be of direct benefit to our students and create many opportunities to grow our academic offerings,” he said.

Adriene Lim, dean of university libraries and chair of the search committee, said the successful candidate “will be someone who can research, recommend, plan and lead the delivery of new online or hybrid courses, programs, certificates and degrees that align with the mission of the UO.”

“This individual will bring a collaborative approach that takes advantage of our strengths, in ways that meet educational market demands in Oregon, the region and around the world,” she said.

One of the primary objectives for the position is strengthening the infrastructure for online and distance education, including developing a new business model, coordinating decision-making with academic leadership and creating collaborations with Information Services and UO Libraries. Other goals include creating partnerships with Student Services and Enrollment Management for helping online students settle in and ensuring they receive all student services.

“Key to our success is the creation of quality controls and strong connections to the marketplace,” Pratt said. “At the core, this is about delivering UO-quality programs to students, no matter where they are. That will involve working with faculty to develop courses. It will involve working with many units across campus to carry out these programs effectively.”

According to Pratt, work will continue on identifying program strategies and delivery systems as the search progresses. He anticipates the new associate vice provost will begin work in September.