Committee studying online learning issues

By Daniel J. Fitzgibbons

During its first four months, a Faculty Senate panel has begun examining a range of issues related to online learning.

Co-chaired by Marilyn Billings of the Library and Sara McComb, Finance and Operations Management, the Ad Hoc Committee on Online Learning, submitted a report on its activities to the senate on Dec. 16.

When it was established in September, the panel was charged with overseeing academic standards and issues of quality assurance with respect to all undergraduate and graduate courses taught online or in hybrid format and researching issues of comparative outcomes assessment with respect to traditional, hybrid, and online courses and programs.

The committee was also asked to recommend policy changes, as appropriate, to the Graduate Council and the Academic Matters Council. The panel may also advise the administration on the optimal technological infrastructure appropriate to effective online and technologically assisted instruction and the provision of “how-to” materials and instructional design assistance for new online instructors.

According to its report, the committee has formed subcommittees on academic standards and security; comparative outcomes; infrastructure and library; and instructional design.
Each subcommittee plans to complete a needs assessment and prepare recommendations regarding its area of concern. To date, the Academic Standards and Security subcommittee has been the only one to meet, but the others are expected to begin meeting soon, said the report.

The committee has met with Sharon Fross, vice provost for Outreach and director of Continuing Education, and UMassOnline CEO David Gray and his staff. Fross discussed her experiences with Pennsylvania State University’s World Campus, while Gray presented an overview of UMassOnline and its strategic plan.

The committee hopes to present its recommendations to the Faculty Senate next semester.