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Expanding Opportunity with Online Learning

We shop online, get our news online, even meet our spouses online. It seems natural that the popularity of online education is exploding. Last year, almost 11,000 GW students took at least one course fully or partially online and demand is growing. These courses offer students flexibility, both in terms of time and location, and expanded opportunities for interaction and learning.

The GW Libraries and Academic Innovation provides support for the entire lifecycle of online learning—from course creation to implementation—to create a dynamic academic experience and maintain GW’s high standard of teaching and learning.

Online courses at GW aren’t novel electives, but are fully integrated into existing academic programs. The deans in each school provide strategic leadership in planning for new online courses to meet the needs of their students. Sometimes this involves creating an online version of an introductory course so that this requirement can be more easily met by students during the summer, or offering a new course that just makes sense in a digital format. In 2015, GW offered almost 100,000 credit hours fully or partially online.

With many faculty members having never taken an online course in their own studies, the thought of creating a course online can be daunting. The eDesign Shop, University Teaching and Learning Center, and Instructional Technology Lab work together to create a seamless web of support for this transition.

GW’s eDesign Shop serves as a central location for creating high-quality online courses. This team of instructional designers, videographers, and multimedia specialists work with faculty to make GW’s online offerings as engaging, informative, and academically rigorous as their traditional in-person counterparts.Staff in the eDesign Shop collaborate with faculty to identify course content, but they also work with each faculty member’s individual teaching styles and strengths to establish how to best present it online.

The University Teaching and Learning Center (UTLC) helps faculty meet the challenges of teaching in this new and unfamiliar environment. Staff at the UTLC are developing an online module for instructors to learn how to build an online community through meaningful interactions, highlighting best practices for communicating the expectations of a course in a way that fosters independent work.

The Instructional Technology Lab assists faculty in understanding the many technology tools involved in online courses and then deciding how and when to use them. Professionals offer workshops, one-on-one consultations, hands-on guidance, and lab space that faculty can use to test out new and unfamiliar tools.

Students in online courses also require support to make the most of their educational experience. “The GW Libraries’ support of online classes differs in how we interact, but the research content is the same as in-person classes,” says Joscelyn Leventhal, distance education/off-campus services librarian.“Online, off-campus, and distance students have equal access to all of the services and resources available at GW Libraries, regardless of where they are located. We can all come together from anywhere.”

Beyond course design and creation, online learning at GW is a collaboration between schools and multiple university entities, led by Dean of GW Libraries and Academic Innovation Geneva Henry. “There are so many elements that go into making an online class successful,” says Dean Henry, “Recruiting students, managing enrollment,providing student services, obtaining authorizations and satisfying regulations for each state are just some of our work to grow our online opportunities.” Just as in any higher education institution, each program offered online must be authorized by all 50 states. Over the summer, GW became a member of the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA), which provides authorization to operate in a majority of U.S. states, easing the burden of compliance.

The modern university is moving away from the traditional divide of online and in-person courses to a continuum that ranges from fully online to hybrid to in-person courses that use online technologies. GW continues to be a leader in online learning and in the integration of all pedagogical aspects to online courses ensuring the continued excellence of a GW education, whether delivered on campus or around the world.

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