Keeping Illinois at the Top in Online Education

05/23/2018

Illinois.edu-site-oaibIn 1960, PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations) was created on campus. From PLATO, many modern-day concepts were birthed, including forums, message boards, online testing, email, chat rooms, and more.

  • In 1996, the School of Information Science’s online LEEP (Library Education Experimental Program), the university’s first fully-online program, was and is still ranked #1 in the US.
  • In 2016, the Gies College of Business launched its online MBA, the iMBA, with Coursera. The program has attracted students from 46 states and 56 countries countries and is being hailed as a breakthrough by Poets & Quants, the leading voice in the graduate business education market.

Now, a student advisory board, consisting of 13 students spanning five colleges and seven programs, has been created to ensure the university has a strong student voice in its online leadership role.

The Online Innovation Advisory Board (OIAB), formed at the beginning of the 2017-18 academic year by the Office of the Provost, provides a forum for nonresidential (online) Illinois students to engage with one another and the campus about issues and needs related to the operation of the university’s online courses and programs.

“Our instructors and administrators care about the student experience,” says Adam Fein, assistant provost for educational innovation. “The OIAB is a forum for just that—giving students a platform to tell us what they think.”

Driving Change in Online Programs

“I found the experience to be eye-opening regarding the amount of influence we have to help each other drive change in our respective programs within the university,” says Denise O’Brien-Peterson, co-chair of the committee and an iMBA student in the Gies College of Business.

O’Brien-Peterson says the board has helped to create a consistency and connectivity among students and has driven continuous program improvements.

“The inaugural year of the OIAB was one where we established a goal of identifying and sharing best practices across eight online programs,” O’Brien-Peterson says. “The experience provided me insights into the other Illinois online programs I was unaware existed.”

Providing a Space for Dialogue

Jamie Makatche, a master’s student in Library & Information Science and a fellow committee member, speaks of the power in bringing students from diverse programs together.

 “Having an advisory board made up of students from across the different online programs provides a space for dialogue among students and an avenue for students to provide feedback and ideas to administrators,” she says. “This type of information-sharing was not happening before the OIAB, and my hope is that the increased dialogue builds the Illinois online community across schools and programs.”

O’Brien-Peterson says that increase dialogue is helping to make Illinois online courses and programs stand out.

“The Illinois online experience is unique in the network students have an opportunity to develop with each other and faculty,” she says. “While the programs are online, the connections created make the programs different from other universities.”

Building Academic Communities and Improving Processes

Based on her experience with the board in its first year, Makatche suggests that online programs build academic communities focused on scholarship and real-world application. “That will look different depending on the field or size of the program, but I believe that all online students are looking for opportunities to network, learn, and grow,” she says.

Henny Wong, another board member and a student in the Master of Human Resource and Industrial Relations program, believes the OIAB laid important groundwork in its initial year. “I think the pain points we identified and the suggestions we provided to improve processes and technology used by and provided to online students should give current and future students hope,” he says. “There are people out there who want online students to get the most out of these programs.”

Blazing Trails in the Online Space

Eric Ice-Gipson, co-chair of the board and a student in the iMBA program, speaks of the range of online programs at Illinois. “There is a wide gulf of ideas on how to best run a given program,” he says. “We need to continue the collaborative efforts to engage students, faculty, and program directors, to reach outside our individual program walls and involve other colleges and professors who have backgrounds in delivering excellent online programs or courses. And we don’t want to forget about the brick and mortar people, as they too may have ideas on how to improve and trail blaze the online space.”

The idea of trailblazing, particularly for professional students, is echoed by O’Brien-Peterson.

“Illinois is driving change in education,” she says. “The online programs at Illinois align with how we work and live. We live in a 24/7 world where information and people are always connected, and the way Illinois has created and adapted programs aligns with the way professionals want and need to learn.

“Students have the ability to influence change from within their respective programs and feel empowered to be a part of something game-changing in education.”

Makatche says she was attracted to Illinois because the faculty at the iSchool are leaders in providing a robust online learning experience.

“I feel privileged to be part of an online learning program that was one of the first online programs in the country,” she says. “The LEEP program began in 1996, and has been the forerunner in online library education ever since.”

The OIAB is intent on keeping not only LEEP, but all of its online students and their programs, at the fore.

Illinois Online by the Numbers

  • 94 The number of online degree and certificate program options from 10 academic colleges
  • 60+ Countries represented by Illinois’ online students
  • 617 Online courses offered in academic year 2017-18
  • 11,874 Enrollments in Illinois Online summer courses
  • The first university in the world to offer a MOOC-based degree with Coursera
  • 72,385 Enrollments in Illinois online courses in 2017-18
  • 25% The increase in online enrollments from 2016-17 to 2017-18
  • 84% The percent of Illinois winter online students who said the quality of interaction with online instructors was the same or better than that in most face-to-face courses