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June 9, 2011 Volume 32, No. 31

Task forces will examine administration, teaching of distance courses


Aligning course delivery with strategic plan

The University of Missouri offered its first correspondence course in 1911. A century later, modern information technology has transformed “distance learning,” and courses that were once delivered via the U.S. mail are now offered via web-based educational tools that bring the classroom t the student.

The first online courses were offered at MU in the mid-1990s, with the first online degree program beginning in 1999. With that evolution came a need to reevaluate how students who take courses away from campus are taught and how they learn. 

Now, several months after a strategic realignment of MU’s distance learning programs, the campus has begun to evaluate how best to reorganize the university’s distance education. Meanwhile, faculty leaders are planning to study educational policies and concerns related to distance learning.

In December, the Center for Distance and Independent Study (CDIS), MU Direct and an associated marketing unit were moved from MU Extension to the administrative umbrella on the MU campus. The move came in an effort to better align course delivery with MU’s strategic direction and academic programs.

Jim Spain, vice provost for undergraduate studies, was named the interim vice provost for eLearning to give the units an administrative home during this transition.

A task force, appointed by the Provost Brian Foster and chaired by Tom Henderson, was asked to examine the transition of administrative functions of MU Direct and CDIS from MU Extension to the campus.

“It is important to note that the task force was asked to focus on recommending how the existing distance education units, previously supported by University Extension, could be administratively reorganized,” Spain said. “The task force did not address the academic issues associated with eLearning, which includes courses designed for on-campus and/or distance delivery.

This fall, MU’s Faculty Council will appoint a task force to address the academic policy issues associated with distance education and, more broadly, eLearning.

Leona Rubin, chair of the council, said the new committee will be made up of faculty members representing most campus units, including those with an existing interest in online education, as well as those who possess a “healthy reserve” about such teaching methods.

 “This group initially will work to frame the academic questions, issues and concerns surrounding online education at MU, hold forums with the general faculty to discuss the issues and ultimately work with the Provost and appropriate staff to help frame policy and process,” Rubin added.  

— Josh Murray