Arizona universities expand online courses
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
On the Web:
The Arizona Universities Network at www.azun.net
Web class enrollment has risen
Individual course registrations for online classes at UA, ASU and NAU
Arizona’s universities will deliver more than 115,000 credit hours to students via the internet this year.
The growing demand for distance-learning services has the Arizona Board of Regents expanding online course offerings at the three state universities.
The Arizona Universities Network – AZUN for short – and a new Web portal linking all the online course offerings at the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University are part of an effort now, led by NAU, to harness the growth in demand for online courses.
AZUN replaces the former Arizona Regents University, which was created five years ago as a precursor to an entirely online university, a separate entity offering its own degrees.
Those plans have been scaled back, but AZUN is expected to have greater visibility and will offer better service to students looking to supplement their course schedule with online classes.
Students at any of the state universities can take any course offered through AZUN and have it count toward their degree program.
“The idea is to make it seamless for students to be able to look for courses and take those courses regardless of which institution and make that as simple as possible,” said Fred Hurst, vice president for extended programs and dean of distance learning at NAU.
Being able to take classes online regardless of which university offers the credits can be a major step in relieving problems with class availability, which was cited in a student-government survey as the leading concern for UA students.
“It allows students to access courses at the other institutions and what’s a really high-demand course at one institution might not be at another,” Hurst said.
The number of individual course registrations at the three state universities has more than quadrupled in the last four years. This year, the universities are expected to have 52,000 individual course registrations. “The fact that almost every one of these Web courses is filled tells us the demand will grow,” Hurst said.
Cristal Parkinson, a 28-year-old UA staff member and part-time student, augments her class schedule with online courses. Most of her courses are in classrooms, but this semester she’s taking criminology classes through NAU.
“Especially with their criminal justice classes, it’s difficult to fit a class into my work schedule,” she said. “That’s the big draw for me. I can still have my workweek and not interfere with my education.”
Through the class Web site, Parkinson participates in message-board discussions with other students, gets assignments and submits papers.
“Even though you’re not face to face, you’re still having that classroom interaction,” she said. “It’s essentially the same as a regular class.”
Parkinson, a psychology major and a criminal justice minor, estimates she’s taken 10 percent or 15 percent of her classes online, some from the UA and some from NAU. She’d prefer a degree program entirely online if it were available.
“Right now it’s supplemental to my core requirements,” she said. “But if there were something out there I could go start to finish online and have it as rigorous as in the classroom I would be all for it. I would love it.”
Parkinson said she has already wiped out a semester by taking online courses. She’ll graduate in another two or three semesters, depending on which classes she can fit into her schedule.
One benefit of taking online classes is the removal of time constraints. Parkinson said she can relax for a while after work before focusing on homework. And during the day, she’s not stressed out from rushing from one class to another or from work to class.
“In the way of effort and requirements, it’s the same as any other class,” she said. “It would work for anybody, even the full-time students, they may not be able to get what they need through the U of A. It would work for anybody who is looking for a class that they really need.”
Mark Hickman, a UA civil engineering associate professor, teaches an online course in traffic engineering, with all assignments and material identical to the classroom version.
“The main advantage is, I get to have a large number of students in the class. I get to educate people all over the state and get the class materials off to a broader audience,” he said.
“It’s a much different learning environment. Compared to your standard lecture class, it transfers the responsibility for learning a little bit onto the student. The students have to be a little more self-directed to keep up with the material.”
Hickman said he’s had a positive experience with online teaching and is trying to do more classes online.
“One of the advantages in Arizona teaching courses at a distance like this is there is expertise at each of the three universities, which isn’t really duplicated,” he said. “By doing that, we all work complementary in such a way we can provide an integrated curriculum between the three universities.”
Online classes are also growing in popularity at for-profit schools like the University of Phoenix, but tuition is much higher than at the state universities.
“It’s going to be a very competitive product in education,” said Regent Robert Bulla. “There are a lot of different avenues out there to get e-learning courses, but we’re going to have one of the finest avenues in the country.”
Bulla said the new AZUN Web site is focused on convenience for the students. Within the next year, students will be able to register and pay online
“We’re hoping to speed up the time to graduation,” he said. “The convenience we’ve created for the students is going to be terrific.”
The same factors that make online courses convenient for nontraditional students also make the courses attractive to on-campus students, Hurst said.
Students can get around scheduling conflicts with online courses and since current students have grown up with computers, they would naturally gravitate to online classes.
The first online course in the state started in about 1994 but widespread course availability online has emerged in just the last five or six years, Hurst said. Five years ago NAU offered the state’s first degree program that could be completed entirely online.
NAU is still the only university to offer degrees entirely online, but it has expanded to 13 different bachelor’s programs.
Bulla called AZUN “the wave of the future.”
“Over the next five to eight years you’re going to see a lot of integration with the online courses and the classroom courses,” Bulla said. “This is going to be the focal point, the glue that hangs it all together.”
Contact reporter Eric Swedlund at 573-4115 or at email@example.com.