Ohio State’s Office of Distance Education and eLearning has an army of people working behind the scenes to keep the university’s online classroom experience at the top of its game.
DELTA, the Distance Education Learning and Teaching Academy, represents in some ways how Ohio State — and higher education as a whole — has changed in recent years. As online classes increase in popularity, the university is trying to adapt to the change and continue to provide education online.
“You’ve got a new clientele, if you will,” said Marcia Ham, the Distance Education Professional Development Manager. “The student population is changing and so we have more and more students who are working full-time, who have families, who have different schedules and so the online classroom helps them get the education they need in a manner that suits their lifestyle.”
Ham said those who took online courses were once called non-traditional students, however now they are viewed more and more as traditional.
DELTA is tasked with training Ohio State faculty in utilizing the vast number of tools available in an online classroom to help them be better online instructors. In essence, they teach the teachers.
“We also spend a lot of time thinking about how to get students interacting with each other because it turns out group-work and being in the course with other humans is really important,” said Henry Griffy, faculty department liason for DELTA.
Ohio State was recently ranked No. 1 by U.S. News for online bachelor’s programs and No. 2 by the same source for best online nursing programs in the country.
“One of the things that Ohio State is doing differently than some other institutions is we’ve woven distance education into the fabric of the institution. So in other words, Ohio State didn’t go out and create a separate college of online learning,” said Jen Simmons, Director of Distance Education. “If we want to offer some sort of nursing degree, the College of Nursing is the decision maker in that.”
Simmons said online program admissions decisions are made in the same way as in-person admissions.
“Basically, everything that your on-campus student has access to, with the exception of the physical resources, online students have access to,” Simmons said.
There are certain requirements within each department that need to be met for an online course to be approved, and a system of checks and balances to work through that DELTA also assists with.
“It’s a pretty daunting obstacle course but we’ve gotten pretty good at running it,” Griffy said.
There are two main challenges when creating an online course, according to Griffy, Simmons, and Ham. One challenge is time and the other is making full use of all the tools available. DELTA helps overcome those challenges by creating workshops to educate and expedite the process, making sure people are well equipped to work with those tools.
“It turns out online learning can be incredibly rich. There are all kinds of tools,” Griffy said. “One of the challenges is finding out how to really leverage them and make it awesome for the student.”
It might be apparent to some who frequent online courses that many have similar layouts and set-ups. This can be attributed to DELTA.
“We do a lot through templates and building materials that give faculty a head start so that all the courses have a really nice look and feel and include really robust syllabi,” Griffy said.
Ham said the perception of online learning’s role in higher education is changing.
“There are still skeptics when you talk about adoptions and change in technology or a process of doing something,” she said. “But now, with all the technologies that can help make a course quite robust and actually help an instructor be able to facilitate a course in ways that are not possible face-to-face, it makes it even richer in some ways. It’s becoming almost an expectation now that an institution such as OSU will have online opportunities.”