Friday, June 8, 2012

Putting on my administrator cap: online vs on-campus enrollments?

This week I started a 2-week (online) workshop from the Sloan Consortium on Implementing the Quality Scorecard for the Administration of Online Education Programs. So far it's a pretty interesting course, and I've read through the reading materials supplied by the workshop facilitator.  One of the things that stands out, and this makes sense, is that an academic department can't go at it alone.  In order to implement a quality online program you need to reach out to many stakeholders, gatekeepers, and partners. In project management parlance, you also need a champion!

One of the things that I've been thinking about over the past few years has been this tension between the online and the on-campus sides of operation.  In most departments there is an online person and an on-campus person.  In some departments there isn't that distinction, but in the minds of people there still is that online vs. on-campus  - this comes from discussions with people on my own campus, but also discussions I've had with people at conferences and workshops.

What I've seen have been various permutations of online as adjunct to on-campus; online separate, but equal, to on campus; online-only; and on-campus only.  What I want to focus on is the online as separate, but equal, to on campus. One of the main fears of offering more courses online is that it will detract from on-campus enrollments.  The fear is that if people can do it online, they will opt to not come on-campus!  In such situations departments put a spigot on online courses, and only enroll specific students (maybe those far away from campus).  Some other strategies have been to only offer certain courses on-campus, in this way privileging on-campus students and the on-campus program - even though online and on-campus programs tend to be one in the same, and the only thing different tends to be the mode of delivery.

From a managerial perspective these tactics are wrong.  If you maintain two programs that are exact duplicates of one another, except one is online and one on-campus, you are introducing redundancies.  If both your programs are filled to capacity it's not a big deal. The major issues crop up when you only have half filled courses online and half filled courses on campus. This you aren't getting as much bang for your buck when employing resources to offer these courses.  The other issue, with offering some courses only on-campus, is that you are privileging your on-campus program in a way that shows that you don't have confidence in your own online program. If the course doesn't lend itself to online learning, then OK, but if the courses could be designed well so that they could be offered online, why not do it? If your department seems to lack confidence in your online offerings, then why would potential students feel confident in your program?

From a design (and partly a management) perspective, if you fear that your on-campus (local) students will opt for online learning instead, don't push them away by mandating that they take your program on campus! After all, there could be other accredited institutions out there competing with you that WILL accept those students online.  Instead of pushing students away, try to understand the motives of these students.  How are your on-campus courses structured?  Are they interactive and engaging? or is there someone droning on and on at the center platform?

Are courses offered too late or too early?  Can people get to your on-campus course in time?  Is your course family friendly and professional friendly? What motivates students to go online and not on campus?  As soon as you get answers to those questions, and you understand your learner demographic, you can stem the "bleeding" of the on-campus programs that you oversee. If you don't understand your students, the battle may be lost!

your thoughts?
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