Digital age spurs expansion of hybrid curriculum

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College presidents may see more merit in online courses than average Americans, according to a recent study by Pew Research Center.

Approximately 51 percent of college presidents the center polled said online classes serve the same value as traditional courses, while only 29 percent of adult Americans agreed.

“The fact that colleges are offering more online courses may change the way students pursue their degree,” said Kim Parker, Senior Researcher at the Pew Social & Demographic Trends Project and co-author of the study. “It sounds like colleges are moving forward and experimenting with degree plans as college students have grown up in a digital world.”

Gretchen Ritter, the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and Faculty Governance, is leading a new initiative at UT called the Course Transformation Program. One facet of the program is to develop hybrid courses that mix traditional in-person classes with online classes.

Ritter said the value of online courses, in comparison to traditional classes, depends on subject matter, design of the course, the teacher, the school offering the course and logistics of the student’s life.

“[The research] also shows that hybrid course delivery, some learning exercises done online, some in the classroom, can be more effective than either traditional lecture formats or wholly online courses,” Ritter said. “I believe we will see more hybrid and online courses, the latter mostly in the summer, offered at UT in the years to come.”

Richard Mattingly, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs at the College of Education, said while the online courses UT offers are equal to traditional courses in terms of a learning experience, it is hard to compare with other schools.

“I think it is difficult to know the quality of online courses at different institutions,” Mattingly said.

Although UT does not offer degrees that are completely attainable through online courses, students can take online courses through the University Extension program to obtain credits toward their majors. Though these courses are self-paced, they are often on the same semester timeline as regular courses.

The cost of a typical online course for all students is around $500 to $700 and does not include the cost of textbooks. The courses are directed by UT professors who send the students the coursework. There is usually an exam at the end of the semester, which serves as the final for the course.

European studies junior Laura Peppe took her government class online this past summer, and said there are good and bad sides to it.

“The pros are that you can work on your pace and you can get your coursework done if you have internet access,” Peppe said. “But the cons are that it’s expensive and you don’t have classmates to help you with difficult material.”

Printed on August 30, 2011 as: UT embracing digital age by offering hybrid curriculum