Academic departments to take control of eLearning through faculty committee

The committee was formed in response to academic departments' concerns about changes in MU’s eLearning programs.

In response to concerns over the proposal to realign MU’s eLearning program, a faculty committee will be organized in the fall to develop curriculum for online courses.

Interim Vice Provost for eLearning Jim Spain said the shifts in the program will be mainly administrative. The report, released Feb. 25, was developed by former MU Extension Director Tom Henderson at the request of the UM System.

“That report included input from a wide range of campus constituents — including administrators, staff involved in teaching and learning online and faculty that have extensive experience in distance education programs,” Spain said.

Under the plan, MU Direct and the Center for Distance and Independent Study will be moved out of the MU Extension program and into the academic administrative structure of MU. Spain said he intends to have this process finished by the end of summer.

Once the change is made, a faculty council will meet in the fall to determine the details of the new programs.

“A faculty committee will be convened to develop policies, procedures and guidelines that will, in essence, be the policies that this new organization will implement in guiding what courses are offered and how those would be organized and coordinated,” Spain said.

In response to the realignment report, the mathematics department released a statement expressing its concerns that new online courses would not meet the academic standards of the university and were “focused on squeezing out short-term profits.”

“Under the guise of a bland business plan, the ‘eLearning realignment report’ makes a number of radical assumptions and proposals about the basic structure of academic decision making at MU,” the letter stated.

The letter also raised concerns that the low standards of online coursework would jeopardize MU’s membership in the Association of American Universities, an organization of 62 leading research universities. AAU recently removed the University of Nebraska from its members, the first time a university had lost membership in the 111-year history of the organization.

Mathematics department officials declined requests for interviews.

Spain said several departments had filed letters regarding their concerns about the report.

“We’re in the process of preparing a response to each one of those departments,” he said. “The faculty committee that we have planned this fall is in direct response to the questions and concerns raised by faculty on campus.”

The letter from the mathematics department suggested that individual departments should maintain full responsibility for development of online coursework and hiring of instructors for these courses. Spain said the faculty council will provide each department an opportunity to take control of their online programs.

Online courses cost as much as on-campus courses. Spain said MU’s online programs were aimed at “place-bound” students who were not able to be in Columbia.

“The online courses offer flexibility as far as scheduling and allow the courses to be accessible to students who can’t be on campus,” he said. “They allow MU’s programs to be accessible to a broader range of students not only here in Missouri, but in other states and nations.”

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