Advancing our Agenda with Educational Technology

At the close of a talk with a community group last week, I was asked if I was worried about the future of traditional institutions, like the University of Utah, with online competitors gaining acceptance with employers and offering credentials and degrees at lower cost. The question was a little surprising, given that the group was mostly senior citizens interested in the university but not directly linked to it. Clearly, the dialogue about disruption in higher education – the perspective that traditional, residential institutions of higher education are vulnerable to displacement by lower cost online courses and degrees – is underway both within and beyond the academy.  My view is that the advances in learning technologies offer significant opportunities for us at the University of Utah to consider how online teaching and learning can promote our goal of student success and how we might strategically capitalize on innovations in online education to strengthen our institution.

Ray Schroeder Chairs Online Learning Initiative Group

> Ray Schroeder chairs Online Learning Initiative Group

The U has a significant portfolio of online courses and a few online certificate and degree programs. In Fall 2013, 28 percent of our students enrolled in at least one course, as a supplement to their face-to-face courses. Clearly, our students are attracted to online learning opportunities, most likely for the flexibility afforded by online courses, given our students’ substantial work and family obligations.

What are the strategic next steps for our online portfolio, and which institutional goals could be advanced through strategic growth?

•    Expanded online offerings, particularly critical upper-division courses in large enrollment majors, when appropriate for course content, could facilitate our undergraduates’ timely degree completion.
•    Consistency, quality, and access in core gateway math, science, and writing courses could be enhanced through well-designed online courses and/or discussion sections.
•    Access to a U of U certificate or baccalaureate program, in an area of particular demand, could be provided to rural, under-served areas of Utah and the intermountain region through online programming. The BS Nursing program is an example of an existing U of U online program that is meeting critical needs in Utah and beyond. One-year professional masters programs in allied health, business, and data analytics are examples of high-demand degrees that may be a fit for our faculty.

What are the barriers to U faculty, programs, and departments moving in some of these promising directions with online education? Certainly, we will need to improve our infrastructure to support faculty as they explore and expand online educational opportunities, including instructional design support and increased opportunities for learning about how online teaching and learning can be optimized. In addition, we need seed funding to help programs and departments develop high quality courses, certificates, and programs in online and/or hybrid formats. Finally, we need to apply a strategic lens to the efforts in which we invest, in order to use early successes to create momentum and a financial base for continued investments.

To meet these needs and begin the design of a strategic online portfolio for the U, we have developed an RFP process to bring forward innovative ideas and identify departments and programs particularly interested in expanding online offerings. I hope that you will consider this opportunity, not because of anxiety about disruption in higher education, but because of the opportunities that online education can afford us, to better meet the needs of our students, to expand access to high-quality Utah programs, and to strengthen our resource base to drive up quality across the institution. I look forward to working with you to move the U from being engaged in online education to leading innovation in quality online learning.

Request for Proposal Documentation and Process Details  (PDF)
Proposal Coversheet Template (Word doc)

 

Listening and Learning to Develop Campus Strategy

Dear Colleagues,

Since joining the campus on August 1, I have had the pleasure to meet many of you during visits to the colleges and departments. I appreciate the warm welcome you have extended as I join the University of Utah, sharing with me your current goals, your perceptions of strength and challenge on campus, and your aspirations for the future. What I see is a University with remarkable opportunities built on a sound foundation of excellence and innovation, and a tremendous spirit of good will among colleagues. I am deeply impressed by the vision, energy, creativity and talent of our people, and excited about our potential to partner to advance the University of Utah to even greater levels in the years ahead.

As an academic leader for the main campus, my role is to build a vision for the future based on our shared aspirations, guide and enable continued excellence, identify and facilitate critical opportunities, and implement strategies and infrastructure investments that ensure innovation and vibrancy in scholarship, education, and outreach.

There are several consistent themes in the input that I heard during my listening and learning tour around campus, for example:

  • Many units are actively committed to the success of our undergraduates. You are creating scholarships to attract top talent independent of financial background, implementing course-based interventions to increase graduation rates, and promoting engaged learning experiences that prepare leaders and citizens for the 21st century. Taking these efforts to a more uniform and comprehensive level may be the next step. The importance of sufficient support to attract the best graduate students was also highlighted in several college visits.
  • Colleges are working to attract and retain top faculty talent to work within and across disciplines. Interdisciplinary efforts can face barriers, and recruiting and keeping strong scholars requires sufficient compensation, peers in related areas, and diversity to advance the institution. As the flagship university, we have a particular responsibility for the generation and dissemination of knowledge that is relevant to societal challenges.
  • Several units asked about a strategic agenda for educational technology, indicating that it would be timely to evaluate our campus plans and opportunities for using technology to enhance learning and promote graduation rates for on-campus students, increase access to a U education for those who cannot relocate or leave employment to attend, and build new programs that meet demands.
  • Needs in infrastructure were highlighted in several dialogues, such as reconsideration of the current campus budget model, enhancing physical facilities, and developing a plan for long-term financial health in a public research university.

These themes, arising from conversations with you, can help form the core of our work together. To refine how to proceed, several working groups have been formed, among them a Campus Budget Principles and Process working group, a Task Force to Enhance Graduation Rates, and a team focused on enhancing private support for the U. Thanks to all who are lending a hand in these working groups; you strengthen our university for years to come through your contributions.

This semester, I hope to refine these early ideas as we develop a strategy for the future vitality of our campus. Your input is key. I extend special gratitude for all who participated in the listening and learning effort in Fall 2013, and look forward to hearing from many more of you in the months ahead.

Thank you for the warm welcome to the University of Utah.

Ruth