UTC expanding online course offerings

UTC expanding online course offerings

May 30th, 2013 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

A sign marks an entrance to the UTC campus.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

POLL: Are online classes better?

Courses offered online this fall

* At UTC: English 1010: Rhetoric and Composition I

* At UT Martin: Music 111 (Masterpieces of Music)

* At Board of Regents Universities: College algebra, introductory chemistry (for non-chemistry majors)

Tennessee Board of Regents Universities:

• Austin Peay State

• East Tennessee State

• Middle Tennessee State

• Tennessee State

• Tennessee Technological University

• University of Memphis

Source: UT, Board of Regents systems

Does a teacher really need to be right there in front of you, staring, speaking, accidentally spitting?

Leaders in the University of Tennessee System and the Tennessee Board of Regents don't know yet. But they want to find out.

They want to know whether students learn just as well from online courses as in a classroom, and they plan to study the performance of students from, among other places, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

This fall, about 1,500 UTC students will take English 1010: Rhetoric and Composition. Most will take the course in front of a living, breathing instructor. But some will take the class online. And all will pay the same amount.

The plan is part of an 18-month partnership announced Wednesday between the state's higher education systems and Coursera, a company that works with universities around the country to develop online classes. Tennessee is one of 10 states to partner with Coursera this week.

Students at UT Martin and at six other universities that are part of the Board of Regents system also will take online classes through Coursera this fall. Come spring, students at UT Knoxville may, as well.

For each Coursera class offered, the state will pay the company $3,000. Coursera also will get $25 for each student enrolled. And the state will dedicate $53,000 to building each online course. Lectures must be taped, instructive animations drawn.

The partnership is part of Gov. Bill Haslam's "Drive to 55" plan to boost the percentage of Tennessee residents with at least an associate degree to 55 percent by 2025. Right now that rate is 32 percent.

To raise that figure, the state will need more people in college classes. That means either hiring more professors or putting a heavier burden on those already employed.

Online courses could be an elixir. If students taking the class on the Internet perform just as well as those in the lecture hall, the state could expand the program and educate more people with the same number of taxpayer-funded teachers.

"Once the course is put in the platform, it could be less work," said Katie High, the UT system's vice president for academic affairs and student success. It could be "less time-intensive than it is currently."

State universities have offered online classes for years. But higher education leaders say Coursera offers a more effective product, with classes divided into 12-minute chunks that often feature animation.

UT System President Joe DiPietro said he liked how Coursera classes engage students. He also praised the company's technology support, its ability to provide quick feedback from students to teachers and its ability to test whether students are learning.

DiPietro and High don't yet know how administrators will measure student success, but leaders from the UT system and the Board of Regents will create a plan next week.

They also don't know whether, for the next 18 months, a student will have a choice between the online and in-classroom courses. They expect about 100 UTC students to take the class online this fall.

But live or online, the class will cost the same. The specific price for taking English 1010 next year is difficult to nail down now. It depends on how many other classes a student takes and whether overall tuition increases this summer, as is expected.

But if UTC students took 12 credits last fall, English 1010 cost them about $900 if they were from Tennessee. Those from out of state paid about $1,350.

Contact Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.