With registration for the spring semester beginning on Nov. 14, many students are browsing the UNM course catalog to start piecing together their class schedule.
Some may notice a number of courses available online for the first time. Students may also notice that many of the new classes aren’t actually new — they’re online sections of courses already held on campus.
UNM Extended Learning is developing online sections for classes in high demand to add to the online course directory.
Debby Knotts, the executive director of UNMEL, said that she hopes to create more easily available classes for students trying to meet requirements for their degrees.
“Some of (the online class development) is based on need. If we have courses that have long wait lists and there’s a need for students to be able to have an opportunity to get into a class, that’s one potential need (for a new section),” Knotts said.
Knotts said there has been a steady growth in online enrollment of about 11 percent per year and she expects to see it continue to grow. As this number increases, UNMEL experiences more pressure to add sections and increase the overall number of courses offered online.
Knotts said UNM currently offers about 1,000 online course sections, with about 50 new courses per year. For the last half of 2016-2017, there are currently 536 online sections listed for spring 2017, 20 of which will be new to the online list — though these numbers are subject to change, she said.
While students are seeing their options increase in the course catalog, there is a lot of ambiguity surrounding how online classes work at UNM. Some may wonder things like: How do classes become available as online courses? Where can people find statistics and other information? What resources are available for online students?
The Daily Lobo spoke with experts of UNM Online about the process that goes into the formulation of these classes and the trends surrounding them.
How online classes are made
The process for developing online sections is by no means uniform at UNM. It varies by multiple factors including department, semester, instructor and more.
There is even variation within individual departments on how to create online courses.
How online English courses are developed depends on the course, said Tiffany Bourelle, the co-director of the Electronic Composition (eComp) program in the English Department.
Bourelle teaches the courses for online English instruction, and which classes instructors take depends on what course they’re going to teach. The eComp program is for those teaching ENGL 110 and 120, and the Electronic Technical Communication program is for those who plan to teach ENGL 219.
Instructors in the ETC program design their own ENGL 219 course shells throughout their semester under Bourelle’s instruction.
The teachers then work with UNMEL to evaluate the course’s quality according to the Quality Matters rubric created by the Quality Matters program, an international organization focused on reviewing and certifying the quality of online courses.
After revision, the courses then go through the department’s advisors for registration Bourelle said.
Bourelle said this process is typically used for graduate students who teach online courses on campus.
The process for professors teaching online can be much more straightforward; Knotts said they use the UNM Learn course shell to design their own online classes.
Julianne Newmark is a professional writing professor in the English Department who will teach two new online English courses in spring 2017: ENGL 290 and ENGL 414. She said she will design the new courses herself.
Newmark said she didn’t have any difficulty getting these classes online.
“I asked our department chair and the undergraduate advisor who schedules everything, ‘Can they be online?’ and they were like, ‘Yes.’ It was as simple as that,” she said. “There’s probably much more of a backstory that I’m not aware of, but from my perspective they’re very open to it.”
She said at New Mexico Tech, the institution Newmark previously taught at, there was resistance to putting classes online in writing and rhetoric. At UNM, however, there is a “culture of acceptance” surrounding online education that she appreciates, she said.
Newmark said she is involved in ongoing research in the English department about the development of online English courses.
Last semester, she and Bourelle worked with Joseph Bartolotta, an English professor and the director of the core writing program and professional writing internship program. The group worked on an experiment for students to perform usability testing on ENGL 219 courses developed in Bourelle’s class.
For the test, Newmark assigned her on-campus ENGL 290 students to spend 30 minutes testing the course shells. The students then had to write reflections and recommendation reports to provide feedback for both Bartolotta and the course designers about effectiveness of the course shells tested and about the usability testing experience.
Though she called the usability testing unit the highlight of last semester, she said it may be a while before the department is able to do it again due to the time-consuming nature of the research.
Bartolotta said their team is now focusing instead on trying to offer most of the courses for the professional writing minor online.
Quality certification of online classes
According to the Quality Matters website, the program is “a faculty-centered, peer review process that is designed to certify the quality of online and blended courses.”
The program consists of three components: The QM rubric, which can be found on page 14 of this PDF, the peer review process and QM professional development.
The rubric is a set of general standards in eight areas of course quality, including learning objectives, course activities and course technology. Knotts said UNM instructors do not have to follow the standards in its entirety.
“We try to be sensitive to faculty’s right to choose how to teach their classes,” Knotts said.
She said this is why not all online courses are equal in the sense of what works best for instructors and students as individuals. Knotts said instructors don’t have to follow a “cookie-cutter” format.
QM professional development involves workshops held by the organization to educate and certify instructors in the techniques of creating online classes.
In addition to the Quality Matters program, UNM online course instructors have the option to submit their course for recognition as a UNM Online Best Practice Course, a collaborative initiative from UNMEL, the Center for Teaching Excellence and the UNM Online Course Advisory Council.
Courses that meet the eligibility requirements are reviewed by a panel of faculty. If a course meets the requirements, it receives the Golden PAW Seal of Approval, which is noted on the online course website as UNM Best Practice Certified.
Instructors whose courses receive the seal are awarded with a $2,000 stipend for redesign and a certification letter, as well as UNMEL payment of a $1,000 course review fee if submitted for a national Quality Matters review.
UNM Online statistics and trends
There are currently no resources available for people to view statistics regarding specific UNM online growth, student usage or demographics of online students.
The most recent enrollment data for online classes can be found on the last page of the Fall 2016 UNM Office of Analytics Official Enrollment Report for the main campus.
According to the report — which does not distinguish between on-campus students and those taking online classes exclusively — the number of students enrolled in online classes has increased by 34 percent in the last five years.
Knotts said there is currently no information about the growth in the number of online courses. However, she said dividing the online student credit hours in the report will give an estimate of how many sections students are enrolled in.
According to our calculations, the number of online sections enrolled in has increased from 10,255 in 2012 to 14,001 in 2016, representing a 37 percent growth.
Though there is no other information available for online course statistics, Knotts did share some data UNMEL has collected for a separate report that’s not available to the public.
Knotts said the following data was pulled on Oct. 6 for online-exclusive students (on campus students taking online classes not included).
- Albuquerque has 2,585 exclusively online students.
- Of those, 1,624 are in New Mexico.
- Of the New Mexico students, 868 are in Bernalillo County. The rest are in 28 other counties.
- Student headcount in other states include: 42 in Arizona, 23 in California, 18 in Colorado, 21 in Texas and three outside of the United States.
- Student ages range from 18 to 75.
- Average age is in the 40s.
Resources for online students
Until last week, there were not many resources available for online students outside of tutors and advisors.
On Oct. 26, UNMEL and ASUNM emailed a survey to 7,600 online students asking if they would be interested in joining the new Online Student Association, a student organization exclusively for students who take online classes.
Knotts said 61 students responded within 48 hours with intent to join. Online students, however, are not the only population interested in this new resource.
Celeste Mattiaccio, a senior double majoring in English and linguistics, is an embedded CAPS tutor for online English 110 and 120 courses. Mattiaccio said she thinks UNM online students need more support to create a better sense of community.
“The online tutoring team is one of the primary groups of people on campus who are interested in promoting online courses ... and seeing students in online courses succeed,” she said. “They’re kind of a neglected demographic of UNM students.”
She said she is interested in getting involved with an online resource for students because there are a lot of people who can’t come to campus often. She said those students don’t have access to much support groups or community like the rest of the student population.
“They deserve to have a sense of community and feel like a UNM student just as much as the rest of us do because they’re working just as hard,” Mattiaccio said.
For more information about the Online Student Association, contact UNMEL or the Associated Students of UNM.
Skylar Griego is a culture reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TDLBooks.