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NEWSLETTER: VOL V, #2, November 15, 1999

Green Bay's Extended Degree Program broadens Online Course Offerings
by Jennifer Smith

Serving a diverse, non-traditional undergraduate population, the Extended Degree Program at UW-Green Bay is plunging further into the world of online distance education in order to fulfill its mission. Founded in 1978, the Extended Degree Program aims to make an undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies accessible to a student body that must often balance the demands of education with work and family responsibilities. While online education has been available through the program for a few years in the form of an information technology course, this fall finds Green Bay expanding class offerings and including general education courses in addition to more technical coursework.

These developments in Web-based learning have been shepherded by Dr. Dorothy (Dottie) Stepien, the director of the Extended Degree Program, and Dr. Xiaoxing (Peter) Han, coordinator for distance learning technology, in addition to a staff of five others. Outreach specialists Trudy Jacobsen and Cynthia Thomas, administrative assistants Bev Hendricks and Jan Moran, and online program assistant Rob Herda also provide crucial support. Han is new to Green Bay, having joined the staff in May, 1999. He previously taught online courses at the University of Phoenix. Together, Extended Degree staff have tackled the challenges inherent in creating an infrastructure for online education and preparing faculty and students for teaching and learning in this new, virtual environment.

This season, nine new online courses will be offered via the Extended Degree Program. The program operates on a nontraditional academic calendar, with courses beginning every month. The first new internet course began on September 11 and the other new offerings will become available through the rest of the year.

Some of the groundwork for Green Bay's more in-depth venture into online education was laid last summer, when a seminar was held in August, 1998, to assist and train faculty who had already agreed to offer their courses electronically. The seminar addressed a wide variety of topics, from instructional design to using WebCT (the software used to manage the courses) to injecting one's own personality into an online course. Other areas of discussion included copyright issues and learning how to encourage students' taking an active role in online learning. In retrospect, the Extended Degree program staff feels that WebCT information was provided too soon -- at the time of the seminar, the instructors hadn't developed their courses -- but, otherwise, the session was a success.

The August 1998 seminar was followed by monthly meetings with faculty, a visit from a Learning Innovations employee from Madison (LI is a department of UW Extension), and, once Han was hired, one-on-one consultation with faculty. Han focused on helping instructors define the structure and layout of their courses, and he also worked on providing useful documentation for faculty. On the student end of the equation, Han devised a mandatory online orientation program for students. This online orientation is augmented by on-campus workshops.

Thus far, students seem excited by this new method of earning a degree. Early studies -- before the actual development of the online courses -- revealed students' interest in distance learning opportunities and gleaned practical information, such as what sort of computers the students owned and what they would be willing to pay for distance education. Once development of the online courses was underway, students were kept abreast of course offerings and hardware and software requirements via the Extended Degree Program's newsletter. Initially, 70 students (out of a total of approximately 270 active Extended Degree students) enrolled for this fall's online offerings, although five students withdrew after internet course fees were decided upon by the regents. UW-Green Bay students pay $109.00 in tuition per course credit with an additional distance education fee of $45.00 per course credit, bringing their total cost to $154.00 per credit for internet courses offered completely asynchronously.

Like UW-Green Bay faculty, students and their computer skills have grown along with the expansion of online course offerings. Seven of this fall's new courses were beta-tested over the summer by students who were paid to report on their experiences. Some students commented that the professors did not give them opportunities to introduce themselves to their virtual classmates, while others noted that they did not wish to eliminate face-to-face meetings altogether. Others worried about preventing cheating during test-taking. The comments of the beta-testers led faculty to think more carefully about setting up clear expectations between faculty and students.

A number of the faculty members developing online courses had only modest computer experience before taking on the redesign of their courses. Humanities Professor Mike Murphy, Associate Dean, had surfed the web and used e-mail and word processing software, but had never developed a web page. He found that there were some inherent difficulties in working with WebCT; as he comments, the software is "not very intuitive" and sometimes requires numerous steps to accomplish tasks. On the positive side, Murphy found that the courseware makes student tracking and course management easy. He also felt that the online format was ideally suited to allowing students to access course materials at any time; WebCT tracking data showed that students were logging on frequently, often late at night or early in the morning. In terms of his own teaching approach, Murphy found that having to redesign his Humanities I course helped him focus anew on the course's objectives, which also improved his traditional, on-campus courses. Murphy has also been pleasantly surprised by the "rich resources" of the web and highlights well-done sites each week that relate to what the class is currently studying. February 2000 will see Murphy's second foray into online teaching with the start of Humanities II.

Assistant Professor Lisa Poupart, also the acting chair of the American Indian Studies Program, began her venture into online teaching with roughly the same level of computer expertise as Professor Murphy. Her course on Native Americans in Wisconsin is slated to begin in March, 2000, and underwent beta-testing over the summer. Poupart stated that her biggest challenge in preparing an online course was overcoming her own fears and limitations about technology. However, she commented that she received good technical support from Peter Han and also from Rob Herda, an LTE project assistant. Poupart is still adjusting to the inherent differences between online and traditional, face-to-face instruction. Since the subject matter she covers involves talk about sensitive issues like racism and stereotyping, the fluid interaction of a classroom discussion is desirable. She also finds it challenging to convey her own personality and teaching style in an online format. Poupart is pleased, though, that distance education may make education more accessible to various populations, from those who don't live near a college or university to prison populations and beyond.

As Green Bay's Extended Degree Program moves forward, staff will continue to address issues of technical support, course design, and appropriate training for faculty and students so that they can teach and learn effectively using the new technologies.

To read about online course management, see Dr. Han's article in the Teaching Scholars Forum section of this issue of TTT, "Exploring an Effective and Efficient Online Course Management Model."

To visit the Extended Degree Program at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, click here.