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Enrollment for online courses at Rutgers has been growing faster than the national average since they were first offered in 1996.
This upcoming spring semester, more than 2,000 fully online courses are being offered at the University, said Antonius Bittmann, the associate vice president of online programs in the Division of Continuing Studies. In comparison with the previous academic year, the University offered 1,154 online courses in Fall 2017 and 1,596 in Spring 2018.
“I anticipate online education to continue on its growth trajectory for the foreseeable future, though explosive growth in the early years has now given way to more modest annual increases,” Bittmann said.
Students are required to pay an additional $100 course fee when registering for online courses. The fee goes toward paying for the technology and people needed to support an online class. This includes annual licensing fees, instructional technology staff and state authorization fees, which are required in order to comply with federal and state regulations, he said.
The highest number of online course enrollments are for Mason Gross School of the Arts, which was due to the broad range of introductory courses for non-majors.
One such introductory online course is Social Media for the Arts, which is taught by Associate Professor Marshall Sponder and aims to teach students about the digital marketing tools necessary to promote their work to an online audience.
Building each of the online courses took more than 300 hours of preparation, due to their uniqueness and the work required to maintain and update the class, Sponder said.
“Speaking for myself, teaching an online course is a different beast altogether from teaching an in-person course, and online courses are much harder to build and manage,” he said. “Not everyone is cut out for this, but it comes naturally to me.
There were many learning curves with running an online curriculum, Sponder said. The specific platform in which courses were offered could affect how the learning experience is for students, and from an administrative standpoint, professors need to learn to deliver an online course effectively.
To train professors how to teach courses online, the University created Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) in 2017, said Richard Novak, the vice president of the Division of Continuing Studies. Dedicated to assisting faculty in the design and teaching of online courses, the service offers workshop sessions that teach skills such as how to increase student engagement and academic honesty.
Online courses, especially well-designed and well-taught ones, would benefit students due to their convenience, Novak said. On-campus students with busy schedules could find a course to accommodate their needs, while those who do not live on-campus could still have access to higher education.
“Online courses have become much more mainstream, and as younger students use online tools in middle school and high school, they are expecting at least the same in college,” he said.
Despite its benefits, online courses also present certain challenges. There are particular regulations for online learning, which have resulted in additional costs for the University in order to comply with them. Online courses were required to be accessible for those with disabilities and registered in every state where online learners lived in compliance with the Department of Defense Veterans' Principles of Excellence.
While online courses have grown at Rutgers, online education is unlikely to take over traditional classroom instruction, Bittmann said.
“There is something special and authentic about people getting together and communicating in the same physical space. Technology has not been able to replicate that experience, though it is getting close,” he said.