New Online Learning Initiative Lauded

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Windsor Star/Dave Waddell

The Ontario government’s announcement this week of a $42-million investment to increase post-secondary online learning is being welcomed by the University of Windsor and St. Clair College.

Ontario Online is expected to launch in 2015.

“This is clearly a priority of the government and it’s a priority of the University of Windsor,” said Leo Groarke, U of W provost and vice-president academic.

“Their direction is part of the future of post-secondary education. The University of Windsor plans to be an active part of that.”

The university set up the Office of Open Learning about a year ago to expand its online offerings.

Last summer, the university also secured a $350,000 government grant to equip 15 classrooms with the latest technology to increase the number of ways of disseminating classes to a wider audience.

“We have a significant online presence,” said Groarke, who expects online courses to cost the same as regular classroom instruction.

“We want to move to offer entire degree programs online, not just individual courses.”

Irene Moore Davis, St. Clair College’s manager of continuing education, said the demand for online learning has been growing steadily at the college.

“This announcement is extremely exciting,” Moore Davis said. “All institutions, looking forward, expect the numbers of online students to rise.

“It’s good to have leadership co-ordinating things to ensure quality and make sure options are available.”

Moore Davis said 2,400 part-time students at the college take courses online while virtually all of the 8,400 full-time students have a component of online learning in their curriculum.

The college offers 40 online courses taught by its faculty.

In addition, St. Clair is part of a consortium of the province’s community colleges known as Ontario Learn which offers online courses from the other partners.

“That enables us to offer over 100 courses per semester online,” said Moore Davis, who believes earning college diplomas online will be possible soon.

Alan Wright, vice-provost of teaching and learning at the university, said the U of W offers about 90 online courses per semester. There are approximately 3,000 online registrations for those courses.

“We want to be a serious player in (Ontario Online),” said Wright, who said Windsor is one of two universities taking the lead on three of the 17 projects in the area of innovation and productivity the provincial government is funding.

“This is an area of growth for the future.”

The ultimate goal is any institution participating in Online Ontario would recognize the credits achieved online through the program.

Moore Davis said all the college’s academic managers are going through their courses to identify which ones can be converted to online learning.

“We’re gathering information to provide to the organizers to make sure we get in on the ground floor,” Moore Davis said.

“This concept will allow us to expand beyond our traditional market in this area.”

The new online programing offered by Ontario Online will lean heavily on technology that allows live streaming of classes, participation in discussions and small-group work. It will also allow students to access the class at any time of the day.

“It’s kind of super-organized Skyping,” Wright said.

Education officials don’t expect online learning to reduce the numbers of students in the classroom.

“We don’t see this as displacing the current model of education,” Groarke said.

“We see it as moving to a model being made available for different types of students and faculty members.”

Rob Crawford, president of the University of Windsor Student Alliance, said enhancing online offerings in Ontario benefits all students.

“From a student perspective, it gives greater access to post-secondary education,” Crawford said. “We have a huge commuter component to our student population that’ll benefit.

“I think there’ll be a high demand for this.”

Crawford said his only concern is there isn’t a cutting of in-class course options if an online class is offered.

“It needs to be available both in-class and online, so students have the option that best suits them,” Crawford said. “Online learning isn’t for everyone.”