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IU Northwest redoubles emphasis on online learning

Newly named Center for Innovation and Scholarship in Teaching and Learning sets new direction to reflect changing pedagogical landscape


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Innovations in technology, instant access to vast resources and data, and the growth of online instruction have changed the landscape of teaching and learning. In response to the evolving pedagogy environment, Indiana University Northwest has developed a strategic plan to redouble its efforts to significantly increase the number of online courses offered. 

IU Northwest currently offers 54 online courses in studies ranging from computer science to nursing and mathematics, but has recently outlined a plan to increase online courses by 19 percent within the next 12 months. IU Northwest’s long-term plan calls for a 56 percent increase, which would bring the total online course offerings at the Northwest campus from 54 to 84 courses.

By increasing the number of online education programs, explained David Malik, Ph.D., Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, the Northwest campus will escalate educational accessibility for the citizens of Northwest Indiana, while at the same time providing additional, convenient options that allow students to complete their coursework in a timely manner, thereby helping them persist to degree completion. 

Previously known as the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL), the newly named Center for Innovation and Scholarship in Technology and Learning (CISTL) is leading the charge in carrying out the strategic plan to increase the university’s online course presence. 

"The planning of the new online design for CISTL and revisions to our Online Strategic Plan included valuable and insightful input from the 2011 Academic Affairs Online Fellow, Bala Arshanapalli, Ph.D., Gallagher-Mills Professor of Business,” Malik said. “He has been a long time faculty member involved in online offerings through the School of Business and Economics.” 

The core focus of CISTL will be to encourage good practice and scholarship of teaching and learning, promote innovations in teaching, and enhance student success. Distance learning is merely the top priority of this revamped center, which will work continuously to keep teaching and learning state-of-the-art. 

“We must use the 21st century tools to aid in curriculum advancement to help prepare our students for the professional demands of the workforce,” said CISTL Interim Director and Professor of Education Paul Blohm, Ph.D. 

“Online education allows student groups to virtually connect to work though common problems and resolve solutions via online forums and discussions. They become ‘citizen learners’ and develop skills necessary to be competitive. There are few majors I can think of who can afford to avoid learning in this type of environment,” he added. 

Blohm said IU Northwest is committed to ensuring online education offerings maintain a high level of academic integrity and program quality. 

To this end, all online classes will have similar standards and some uniformity in terms of presentation, and a set of best practices in online learning will be developed. A unit liaison in each academic college, school or division has been appointed to help with faculty training, mentoring and guidance to ensure effective, consistent and relevant development of online instruction. 

Blohm explained that the long-term objectives of CISTL include: encouraging change and innovation in the development and delivery of instruction in alternative formats and modalities – especially online instruction – and promoting online pedagogies and strategies that advance student learning. 

Even prior to the formal creation of CISTL, innovation in teaching and learning had been a priority at IU Northwest. In 2011, Information Technology Services and the School of Education collaborated to create a state-of-the-art, technology-rich collaborative learning environment. Blohm helped lead this project along with his colleague Ju Park, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology.   

Known as the “Next Generation Classroom,” the dedicated room in Hawthorn Hall features video conferencing; tables that lend themselves to collaborative work; wireless computer stations and easels on wheels; and specialized audio-visual tools that make it easy to record, distribute and replay entire lectures. 

“The Shared Vision of IU Northwest commits the campus to meeting the personal and academic needs of our student body,” Malik explained. “Because of this, distance education, in the form of online course offerings, and technology investments will continue to be a major component of the Northwest campus’s responsibility to effectively serve the citizens of Northwest Indiana.” 

University records indicate that IU Northwest students enrolled in 1,300 online credit hours during the 2009-2010 academic year. Malik estimated that student enrollment in online courses has increased since then and is now around 2,000 credit hours. 

“This growing demand shows us the importance of providing affordable, accessible resources, which will help us to attract new students, but also allow us to accommodate the diverse lifestyles of our current scholars,” Malik said.