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UT Knoxville Improving Online Education to Benefit Students

KNOXVILLE—The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is restructuring its online education program so students will find it easier to take courses, qualify for financial aid for those courses, and have more ties to the mainstream campus.

The Department of Distance Education and Independent Study is being phased out, and independent study courses—some of which are still done on paper and mailed back and forth between students and the office—will become fully online.

The last day for students to sign up for current independent study courses will be June 30, 2011. Students must complete those courses by December 31, 2011.

"We looked at how Top 25 universities handle distance education and independent study and realized we needed to make some changes in our program to better serve students and faculty," said Sally McMillan, vice provost for academic affairs. "We also needed to be more efficient in how we enroll students and more consistent in how we run these courses."

Independent study began decades ago to provide self-paced coursework in a flexible and accessible manner to students who were usually not on campus. Because it used the US mail as the delivery method, independent study was often referred to as "correspondence school."

Independent study courses will be transitioned into online courses that are fully integrated into the campus registration system. College departments will take full ownership of these courses.

"Although we've seen an overall drop-off in the number of students taking independent study in recent years, we've noticed that more of the students still taking these classes have been on-campus students," McMillan said. "As we transition to online, the primary audience for these courses will be UT students. However, students who are not admitted to UT can take up to fifteen hours of online courses as 'visiting students.'"

Some of the new campus-based online courses may be available as early as summer 2011. The goal is to have all of them offered at least once each academic year starting with 2011–2012.

UT's Office of Instruction Technology and the Tennessee Teaching and Learning Center will be offering summer workshops for faculty interested in creating and teaching online courses. Faculty who complete the workshops and then teach online courses will be paid stipends of up to $3,000 per class.

Published May 7, 2011

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