August 22, 2014

University of Florida Online launches first undergraduate programs this month

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UF Online

Moran, C. (2013) UF expands opportunities for four-year degrees UF News, September 27

State University System of Florida (2013) UF Online Comprehensive Business Plan, 2013-2019 Gainsville, FL: State University System of Florida Board of Governors

What is being offered?

The University of Florida at Gainsville, part of the Florida State University System, is offering the first courses this month in the state’s first fully online four-year bachelor’s degree programs. UF Online classes start in January for those completing a bachelor’s degree. The first freshmen courses start in August (enrolment is now open).

UF Online starts in January with five majors:

  • Business administration
  • Criminology and law
  • Environmental management
  • Health education and behavior
  • Sport management

Two more majors will be added in June: biology and psychology. UF Online plans to grow the program to 35 majors by 2019. Students enrolling as freshmen will be able to complete the whole degree program online.

In many cases online courses will be exactly the same in content as the on-campus versions, with a special online section designated for UF Online students. Online and on campus students will take the same exams.

UF Online courses will be exclusively online, so no “blended” program options will be offered except in those cases where a clinical or lab course is required. Thus students have to make a choice: online or on-campus.

What problem is this solving?

Until now, student access to UF has been limited by the difference between supply and demand. Because the UF campus is filled to capacity, the number of freshmen enrolling each year has remained steady at about 6,400. Since the turn of the millennium, though, the annual number of applicants has surged nearly 60 percent to more than 29,000. UF has had to turn away thousands of students who meet admissions criteria. There will no longer be a limit to the size of the freshman class at the University of Florida. The State University System’s first fully online bachelor’s degree programs will place a UF education within reach of any first-time-in-college student who qualifies for admission.

Course and faculty development

Online courses will be developed by a team of content experts and creative professionals that include faculty, instructional designers (IDs), librarians, videographers, graphic designers, and programmers, using the ADDIE model.

UF Online faculty will be required to participate in the University of Florida Faculty Institute. This online workshop takes approximately 7-10 hours and walks faculty through the course design process. Emphasis is placed upon pedagogy rather than technology. Additional development opportunities will be available to the UF Online faculty and teaching assistants.

More details, including quality assurance methods and choice of LMSs (Canvas or Sakai) are contained in the Comprehensive Business Plan

Learner support

The university is developing an orientation specifically for online students. UF is expanding its academic advising and career services, and is expanding its counseling resources to best serve distance students.

Costs for students

The state legislature caps online tuition for in-state students at 75 percent of the price of on-campus classes. Out-of-state students will pay market rates. In-state online students will not only save on tuition, but they also will be exempt from many on-campus fees. In addition, the university estimates that students will save an estimated $8,400 a year in room and board costs they would incur if they moved to Gainesville (presumably, parents will now be expected to pick up the room and board costs, as even online students have to eat and sleep somewhere.)

The cost for the state

The state legislature is providing UF Online with $15 million in start-up costs for one year year, then $5 million annually.

Comments

Good for Florida. Florida’s higher education system has long been a leader in educational technologies.  Robert Gagné and his colleagues at Florida State University were pioneers in educational research and design. The University of Central Florida has long been a leader in hybrid and blended learning. The University of Florida has one of the highest reputations for state universities in the USA and also has a long history of quality online programs mainly at graduate level. Now this new initiative opens up undergraduate university education to anyone that meets the qualifications for entry to the state higher education system.

Note though that at least initially UF Online is focusing on established best practices in online learning, based particularly on the ADDIE model and LMSs. It will be interesting to see if UF Online becomes more adventurous with social media and open educational resources as it becomes more established.

It will also be interesting to see what kind of students opt for the online programs, and how the university will decide on which students will get campus courses and which online. Will for instance the students with the highest qualifications opt for campus-based courses and what will that do for the reputation of the online programs?

In the meantime, I wish every success to this initiative. It is a good example of how online learning can increase productivity by opening up access without major capital costs, and by reducing costs to students. It also appears to be a model that is reproducible if successful for other states and post-secondary educational jurisdictions, so it is well worth watching how it develops. What a good way to start the new year.

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  1. […] online learning has less overhead costs for buildings and land, etc. A good example of this is the recent creation of UF Online in Florida to accommodate the many qualified applicants who cannot find places on campus in the […]

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