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Role of Online Learning  

What is the role of online education at your institution, in your department, and for you personally?

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At the University of New Mexico, we have online courses and some degree programs. We do not have any online courses offered from my department, so I will be the first to launch. The University is looking for more lower division science courses to attract more students (potentially from more rural parts of the state) and to provide more online choices for students to meet their natural sciences requirements. For me personally, it is an opportunity and a challenge to develop a course that promotes activity/interaction in a non face-to-face environment.

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This post was editted by Donald Reed on Jun, 2010
The number of online courses at my university has grown significantly since 1998, and continues to grow, but still composes on a few percent of the total classes offered each semester. We offer three online courses in Geology Department, all in the GE category.

I offered the first online course at my university in fall of 1998 and more than 5000 students have completed my online course over the past 12 years.

The vast majority of my teaching during the academic year (7 out of 8 classes) is online and I also teach multiple sections of my online oceanography concurrently in the winter intersession and summer sessions, as well as in special sessions during the academic year.

I am migrating my courses for majors (Tectonics, Geophysics, and Marine Geology) into a hybrid format, consisting of one class meeting each week and one web-based exercise, usually video lecture podcast, web-based research experience or electronic discussion. This August I will teach a course in a new fully online Global Studies degree program offered through several CSU campuses through an accelerated special session.

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At Bowling Green State University, there are some online degree programs. Departments that teach gen ed courses are strongly encouraged to teach online courses for the students in the online programs and others who may not be able to come to campus. The College has been twisting the arms of all science chairs to offer online sections of the gen ed courses. Last summer, I was asked to teach an online Earth Science course for in service teachers and, when I got that put together I decided to go ahead and offer our non-lab intro course online. I will teach it for the second time online starting this Monday. I'm also considering offering the intro physical geology course with the lab online next year if I can get some ideas for how to do online labs (hopefully I'll get some ideas in this workshop!).

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At NEO, we have many online courses as we are a 2 yr institution. We have online courses available for most departments. I am currently the only online course for physical sciences, and mine is technically a hybrid (we meet for 2 Sat sessions to do some face to face labs for my environmental science course). We do have a couple of hybrid biology classes in the bio dept as well. We are strongly encouraged to have as many online courses as possible. I do not currently offer my physical geology course online.

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At Penn State, online courses are often an extra source of revenue for a department because a portion of the tuition dollars go directly to the department. This is because Penn State's World Campus delivers all online courses. They collect revenue and handle registration and then depending on the cost-sharing agreement, the departments get some of that directly. So far our dean doesn't skim any off the top, but I hear that will change soon.

I am the lead faculty member for our M.Ed. in Earth Sciences program so I teach a few of the courses, recruit the other faculty who have developed and taught other courses, and so far I advise all the students. Advising students from a distance is another facet of online education that I am learning as I go along.

I think at this point each department in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State has at least one large enrollment online course for non-majors. That was the goal 5 or so years ago. Now the focus has turned more to the creation of entire programs. There is an entire BA degree in energy and policy that is about to roll out this fall and the whole thing is offered online.

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At Austin Community College, we have a large number of courses online, which is in keeping with our missing to make our classes accessible to as many students as possible. However, we are not offering any online courses in geology yet, and I'd like to be the first. (We do have one oceanography class online that falls under the GEOL header, but it's not a true geology class.)

For me personally, this is an opportunity to explore another format for teaching, and to learn new teaching techniques. I'm very excited about the opportunity to engage more non-traditional students as well.

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