Online initiatives in post-secondary education

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Photo by Andreas Patsiaouros

Photo by Andreas Patsiaouros

With new capabilities in technology being implemented within school systems, much attention is being drawn to the notion of how significant the role of online learning is and if the standards of such practices are where they should be.

Wilfrid Laurier University offers 120 online courses with about 18,000 registrations a year, according to Sandy Hughes, director for the centre for teaching innovation and excellence at Laurier.

“We used to develop six or seven in a year and now we have about 15 on the go, so there’s a lot of demand.” Hughes said. “We’re starting to look a lot more at fully online programs and credentials.”

Laurier is one of many schools that have taken notice of the advantages of online learning and the new technological advances that are at our disposal. This includes new program software, digital video and social media, which have all become an influencing factor in recent years on the way students are taught.

The focus of Laurier’s online initiatives is to create more opportunities for the convenience of the students and identify the needs to make an effective online learning experience.

Hughes explained the kind of government funding the school systems are receiving towards such online initiatives.

“[The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities] is putting together a new Ontario consortium for all the colleges and universities to have a central portal,” Hughes explained.

As part of that, for the last two years $1.1 million in funding has been provided to Laurier by the government. This funding is broken down into three types of projects: the first part goes towards online courses of which nine have been approved and are already available, three that are under development for September and two modules.

The second part goes to research projects to identify the individual strengths and needs of the schools, and the third and largest part is for a separate project of productivity innovation fund. Its purpose is to analyze the learning outcomes of both in class and online courses and how and if they are being met by the students.

Jennifer Renton, a third-year year chemistry student shared her thoughts on the matter.

“I think [online courses] are great. They’re expensive, but I find them really beneficial because in the summer I can learn while I work … as it fits my schedule.”

She found that courses directly relating to her major within the science department are largely less available online than others, however.

Students who take an abundance of online courses become familiar with the online fee that comes with them.

Hughes explained that the fee itself hasn’t really changed in 25 years, but it used to accommodate very different things. There used to be a lot of hard copy materials, but now it covers the use of the streaming server and licensing fees.

Jeff Dinsmore, a fourth-year year chemistry student has taken a total six online courses, completing his full psychology minor online.

“For the most part it’s a self-taught regiment — which I enjoy — however I feel like it’s still posting lecture slides online.”

“I know that there’s profs in class who take the time to make their own videos and post them … that’s not being done in an online course which would make the most sense,” he continued.

Hughes was optimistic in explaining that Laurier’s online initiatives are open and welcoming to the addition of more subjects available online and more innovations that may be implemented in the future, such as simulations and imbedded modules.


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