March 8, 2016

Online Learning offers 'any study, any time, anywhere'

Paul Krause
Jason Koski/University Photography
Paul Krause, associate vice provost for online learning and eCornell CEO, speaks at a Cornell Online Learning Community meeting March 1.

The “Cornell brand” is expanding its visibility in the digital world, as the university offers more courses online.

In part, this trend grows from the work of a small group of people who were interested in advancing online learning and formed the Cornell Online Learning Community (COLC) a year ago.

At a follow-up event March 1, the group – along with several newcomers – received encouragement from high places: “We are on the ground thinking about e-learning and academic technologies,” Provost Michael Kotlikoff told the audience of more than 100 faculty and staff members gathered in G-10 Biotech. “Our students expect it.”

COLC began with representatives of the Academic Technologies division of Cornell Information Technologies, the ILR School and the School of Hotel Administration. They have been joined by eCornell, the university’s online learning subsidiary, the Center for Teaching Excellence, and staff and faculty members who are either teaching online courses or engaged in online learning.

In December, Kotlikoff created a task force to explore online learning, headed by Barbara Friedman, director of Academic Technologies, and Paul Krause ’91, associate vice provost for online learning and CEO of eCornell. The group’s mission was to “enhance and expand Cornell’s teaching programs through the integration of innovative instructional approaches and digital tools.”

One of the important questions to answer about online learning, Kotlikoff said, was “How can we distinguish Cornell in this field?”

The university launched a highly visible online learning effort 15 years ago through its for-profit subsidiary eCornell, which offers business-oriented programs drawing on faculty in the School of Hotel Administration and the ILR School. Students who complete eCornell courses receive a certificate of completion, a valuable addition to a resume, but not college credit.

“Last fall eCornell took a step forward and supported the ILR School in the launch of an online master’s program in human resource management,” Kotlikoff reported.

Meanwhile, the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions ventured into video-taped distance learning in the 1990s, working with Cornell’s now defunct Office of Distance Learning. Starting with the 1997-98 Winter Session it began offering for-credit online courses, including classes then labeled COMM 272, ECON 102, AM ST 202, GOVT 161, and ILRST 210/510. Today, it offers classes year round, including almost 40 Summer Session online credit courses, 20 Winter Session online courses, and online courses for students in China.

Recently the university launched several MOOCs (massive open online courses) that have reached more than 200,000 students worldwide. They are free to participants, who receive certificates of completion but no college credit.

Now, online courses are being offered by other units of the university. Along with MOOCs and eCornell programs, the new Cornell Online website lists courses in statistics, psychology, feline health, dinosaurs, farming, nutrition, economics and more. Some courses now offer Cornell graduate or undergraduate credit. Some are aimed specifically at students already residing on campus.

We should work to “lower the energy barriers” for faculty members who want to create online courses, Kotlikoff said. Academic Technologies (working with the Center for Teaching Excellence), eCornell and some colleges employ instructional designers who can help translate a teacher’s goals into online formats.

Following Kotlikoff onto the podium, Krause shared some of what eCornell has learned about online teaching. For example, “People won’t sit through long videos of someone talking.” On screen, he offered an example of cutting from a lecturer to an animation.

Attendees finally broke into small groups to brainstorm what COLC should do next, and how.

Soon, Krause concluded, we may have to expand Ezra Cornell’s famous statement to, “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study… any time, anywhere.”