2019 was another good year for the IU Online Conference. Attendance was at an all-time high, with a record audience of 423 faculty, academic advisors, instructional designers, student service providers, and administrators from IU's seven campuses. Presenters spoke about the innovations, best practices, and techniques that make IU a standout in online education. The IU Online conference has established itself as a venue for learning and networking for a broad audience, including presenters from other universities and even one who took part via video from Germany.
In his opening remarks, "Changing Technology in a Changing Environment," Executive Vice President for University Academic Affairs John Applegate numbered online education among "disruptive technologies" that "introduce massive change, are unpredictable, and remake our experience of the world." Change on such a level is so disruptive to the status quo that it "attracts and repels us," and we are wise to "maximize gains, and mitigate or minimize losses." Online education faces such challenges as enrollment, addressing multiple complex audiences, retention, instructional change, cost control, competition, and matching the high-touch services of traditional institutions. IU's Authenticity Model, the support of presidential and campus leadership, and the growth in collaborative degrees are just some of the drivers behind the steady increase in IU's online enrollment. Applegate said we must "continue to evolve to meet the needs of new generations of students and keep pace with the changing IT landscape."
Conference sessions demonstrated how the IU community is doing just that. Presenters discussed new means of connecting online students to peers and professional mentors. Attendees learned ways to create engaging e-learning content with the Technology Tool Finder, ensure courses meet learning outcomes with Quality Matters, and help students make the best use of faculty feedback with such tools as Google Docs. The redesigned process for developing and delivering collaborative degree programs—which pares the process from 24-plus months to 12 to 14 months—helps IU stay current with emerging demand for new content. Efforts to enhance student engagement and retention include the IU Online success coaching model, new services for graduate students, and an initiative to assess and meet the needs of military and veteran students.
Over lunch a keynote panel of chief online education officers from peer institutions spoke with Associate Vice President and Director of Online Education Chris Foley about issues and challenges in online education. Adam Fein (University of North Texas), Robert Griffiths (The Ohio State University), and Mary Niemiec (University of Nebraska Online) spent an hour talking about the characteristics and expectations of online students and about the challenges and benefits of their own organization's approach to online education.
They agreed that creating a successful online model can mean building a "coalition of the willing" given that online teaching may not figure into promotion and tenure decisions. They discussed different approaches to meeting the demand for online degrees while their universities grapple with ways to incentivize online teaching. One university provides a financial incentive while others, like IU, provide a rich array of expertise in course design, development, and delivery. Finally, the panelists considered the future of online education. They explored the impact of such resource-sharing consortia as Unizin and about the ability of 5G networks to bring more immediacy to online higher education.
Watch our website for conference slides, and look for an article in the spring edition of this newsletter for results of the post-conference survey. Planning for next year's conference, which will be held on October 30, 2020, is already underway, so get your proposals ready!