Monday, October 22, 2007

UIS Online Programs Find Success with Students

By Courtney Westlake

Kaley Noel is busier than most college students are – working more than 40 hours a week at her two jobs – but fortunately for her, going to class doesn’t get in the way.

To submit her homework, take part in class discussions and even complete tests, she simply heads to her living room and turns on her computer.

The University of Illinois at Springfield began online learning in 1998 with just 30 enrollments in two classes, said Ray Schroeder, director of the Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning. UIS now offers 16 bachelors and masters degrees completely online in areas that include English, computer science, public administration, history and more.

The online programs through UIS have grown tremendously in the past few years, with an increase of 11.5 percent of online students just from fall 2006 to fall 2007.

“UIS has a wonderful online program; we have more than a thousand online majors,” Schroeder said. “This semester, very nearly one half of all our students are taking at least one online class.”

Noel, who is originally from Monmouth, came to UIS her freshman year with uncertainty about what major she wished to pursue. By her junior year, she decided on mathematics, and after a couple of semesters, she found that the upper level math courses offered at UIS are primarily online. Now, as a first semester senior, Noel is taking four online classes.

“I like the freedom of not ever having to go to class and doing things on my own time,” she said. “There are still deadlines, but you just have more freedom to do your work whenever you want, wherever you want.”

Some students living on campus are in the same situation Noel is in, but many of her online classmates are from cities and states across the country, she said. Such is the case with Colleen Joyce, who connects to her classes, and the whole university, from New Jersey.

Joyce said she began searching online for universities that would allow her to finish her degree online, which she started at her local community college.

“My main focus was to find an accredited university that would offer a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies,” she said. “I looked at many universities, and my searches always came back to UIS. Once I called and spoke with Andy Egizi, online program coordinator for Liberal Studies, I was sold.”

Joyce agrees with Noel that freedom and convenience are the biggest perks of online classes. She said she has enjoyed each of her classes, especially one on the Chinese Century, which led her to travel to China.

“If I want to travel, I do not need to worry about missing my classes because my classes come with me,” she said. “Another great thing about online classes is the convenience that is offers. You log on and do your work, within a certain time period, of course, when you want to do it.”

Noel estimates that she spends about three hours working online each night. Different classes all have different deadlines for submitting homework assignments and discussion posts, she said, so it’s important to stay organized. Noel said she has just one piece of advice for her fellow online students.

”Don't procrastinate,” she laughed. “I was really bad about that when I first started, but you get a little more responsibility as you go and learn to not wait until 10:00 at night when things are due at midnight.”

With so much success in online learning, Schroeder said the university is now looking into “blended learning” programs, in which some of the class sessions are online and the rest are traditional, “face-to-face” classes.

“We have developed a large cadre of online learning programs, and now we’re beginning to look at blended learning programs, so that we can better serve our local community by reducing the number of visits they have to make to campus,” he said.