UWF Global Online Makes UWF a Leader in Online Learning
September 26, 2018 | Martha D. Saunders, Ph.D.
Back in 1998, UWF dipped a toe into what would become one of the biggest trends in higher education today: online learning.
That fall semester, 20 years ago, we launched our first fully online degree program, offering a master’s degree in instructional technology within the College of Education and Professional Studies. The World Wide Web was just 8 years old, and Blackboard wouldn’t be launched for another year.
When I was an associate dean at UWF in the 1990s, I served on the Provost’s task force for “distance learning” – something we were exploring for people who couldn’t make it to campus. It was uncharted territory. In 2000, only 8 percent of students nationally were enrolled in an online course. Many people thought the concept would just be a blip in the history of higher education. We’d try it and then probably move on. Truthfully, at the time, I was slow to believe in the benefits and feasibility of our students learning online.
And while clearly a lot has changed in the world since then, including my own views on “distance learning,” I’m happy to report that our very first online program, a master's degree in instructional technology, is still going strong today. That program, part of UWF Global Online, is now joined by seven undergraduate and 18 graduate programs, all offered fully online.
As we enter into the 20th anniversary of online learning at UWF, we’re reaching further and developing new ways to deliver online learning and connecting to the community, the region and the world.
UWF is a leader in online education in Florida
UWF is now a leader in online education in the state of Florida, with more than 42 percent of all enrollments offered online each academic year. For the 2017-2018 academic year, more than 24 percent of our undergraduates earned a degree online. Thirty-five percent of undergraduates and 80 percent of graduate students at UWF take some combination of online courses.
UWF graduates hundreds of students in fully online programs, including our programs in special education and health science, business, nursing, educational leadership, public health, education, math, English, government and information technology.
Online learning brings diversity in perspectives
There are many benefits to online learning. Our faculty members teaching online say it again and again: students in online class environments ask more questions during class than students sitting in a brick and mortar classroom. Maybe it’s because the fear of speaking up in a public setting doesn’t exist in an online environment? Offering a chance for every student to give his/her opinion or ask a question is one of the aspects I love the most about online learning. This type of learning can more deeply expose students to a broader set of perspectives from their fellow classmates.
At UWF, our online classrooms are beautifully diverse:
- Three-quarters of our students are working full or part-time
- Two-thirds are female
- More than half are married with dependents
- Half are 35 years old or older
- 20 percent are new students
Our students taking classes online find they have more freedom and more responsibility for their own learning. A professor becomes more of a “guide on the side” than a “sage on the stage.” A recent article from the Chronicle of Higher Education echoes the sentiment that online courses are not a “passive transfer of information” and that “students can have a learning community.”
The technology and multimedia used for online courses often addresses a wider range of student learning styles than do most forms of traditional classroom instruction. Studies indicate this encourages students to more actively participate in the learning process, making them more likely to perform better and remember course material.
A coordinated approach to online learning
Historically, online programs launched from individual university departments, to respond to a specific need within that field or industry. For example, the demand for qualified healthcare workers helped inform – and still propels – UWF’s online RN to BSN program for nurses.
While it’s important at UWF to keep our ears to the ground and remain flexible enough to respond to workforce needs, we know that online learning can be very labor intensive for faculty. It requires the backing and support of the entire University to be successful. A recent Inside Higher Ed article references the importance of having a central office to support online learning, reinforcing the idea that the best online learning programs begin “through a strategic institutional lens.”
UWF’s Global Online Design Team does just that. This team provides high-quality faculty support and training programs that promote excellence in online curriculum and instruction. It supports faculty in the design, development, implementation and continuous improvement of quality online and blended courses at UWF.
What’s next for UWF Global Online?
In June, we announced a new Medical Laboratory Technician to Medical Laboratory Scientist, or MLT to MLS, program. Medical laboratory technicians with an associate’s degree can apply for the new online program and earn a bachelor’s degree in clinical laboratory sciences.
Next up, we will launch our MicroMasters program, which will feature a series of graduate-level courses that are industry specific and valued by employers for their real-world relevance. UWF MicroMasters can be taken as stand-alone courses, or in some cases, applied toward the credit requirement for an accelerated master’s degree. Students in the program take three courses over approximately 12 to 18 weeks. Courses are self-paced and include readings, activities and auto-graded assessments. Students who complete the series earn a certificate in the program.
Embracing a change in how the classes of today – and tomorrow – are offered is just one of the ways UWF is able to capitalize on advances in technology and do what’s best for our students and our community.