After a revenue shortfall of more than $270 million, Tennessee lawmakers opted not to increase funding for higher education as a whole during this year's legislative session.
But they did find enough cash to double funding for an online learning experiment that University of Tennessee officials say is giving universities a fresh way to reach students.
Legislators approved the allocation of an additional $1 million to a pilot program using platforms developed by two education technology leaders that use tools such as video lectures to put a different spin on even the most basic courses.
The program is a partnership between the UT system and the Tennessee Board of Regents. Both University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Chattanooga State Community College are participating.
"I certainly would have to admit to some surprise given the climate that we had," India Lane, director of the program for the UT system, said of the continued funding for the project. "I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to continue working with the investment."
Though UT offers other online courses, Lane said the program, which is using class platforms developed by Coursera and edX, has helped UT move more quickly to explore what works and what doesn't in the evolving online learning landscape.
UTC lecturer Tiffany Mitchell taught English rhetoric and Composition II through Coursera. She said in a news release that its video components were useful but added that she used outside tools to promote interaction during the course.
In the fall, UTC will offer an upper-level education course through edX, but most courses offered through the program have been general education classes.
Even on-campus students are using online options and the program has catered to them, Lane said.
"The reality is that today, a lot of our students that are on campus are taking at least one online course while they're taking other traditional courses," Lane said. "They're kind of mixing it up these days and that's the way that many students like to learn. It helps them fit something into their schedule. It helps them to create some flexibility."
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