Online presence may trim University fat

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Blueprint for the Future

Editor’s note: This is the second in a four-part, weekly series examining System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s plan to increase efficiency across UT institutions.

Online advising will increase across the UT System to ease degree planning and more emphasis will be placed on online classes and learning tools.

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s Framework for Excellence Action Plan focuses on cutting instructional costs by utilizing more online courses and increasing graduation rates by helping students better understand how to navigate through their degree plans with online advising.

The UT System Board of Regents are discussing a $10 million partnership with the website MyEdu to enhance advising. MyEdu provides class grade histories, faculty reviews, a schedule planner and degree planner. Frank Lyman, MyEdu senior vice president of marketing and business development, said the site’s tools help students manage their course workload each semester and map out a path to degree completion.

“That’s what got the interest of the regents and the community the last few years,” Lyman said.

He said 30,000 UT undergraduate students have registered and logged into MyEdu in the past year.

The objective to improve graduation rates includes making the transfer process into UT institutions go more smoothly.

“I would like to see those students have a seamless transfer and graduate in four years,” Cigarroa said when he introduced the framework Aug. 25.

In an effort to include more online learning in classes, which began before Cigarroa’s framework came out, UT is partnering with Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and its Department of Physics, according to a UT press release. The technology developed through this partnership will be applied through the Course Transformation Program at UT Austin.

The Course Transformation Program will redesign eight to 10 lower division courses or course sequences over a five year period which began this semester, said Gretchen Ritter , vice provost of undergraduate education and faculty governance.

“The goal is to provide students with more tools and opportunities to master the core concepts and academic skills they need to be successful in these courses,” Ritter said.

She said the University’s Center for Teaching and Learning is putting $2.5 million towards the integration of online exercises, videos, animations and learning modules.

“It will allow instructors to shift to a more active learning format during the class periods,” Ritter said.

She said the first courses to be redesigned will be Introductory Biology, Principles of Chemistry and Data Analysis for the Health Sciences.

This summer marketing senior Nathan Chang took the online course The Psychology of Advertising in Video Games and would stream the professor’s lectures. He said the main advantage was the ability to participate from home, but he thinks the instant messaging system made it easier for some of the 23 students in his class to not actively participate. He said the physical presence of a class is helpful in terms of talking to the professor, but online tools such as discussion boards save time.

“It’s up to the professor to build in ways to make sure every student interacts,” Chang said. “I think you can take the positive from each and it would work.”