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UK Perspectives: University To Expand Reach With New Online Courses

Tom Godell
UK Associate Provost Kathi Kern.

The University of Kentucky is poised to dramatically expand its online course offerings to better serve the citizens of Kentucky (and the world). UK Associate Provost Kathi Kern recently stopped by our studios to  provide us with an overview of the project.

UK Perspectives with Associate Provost Kathi Kern

January 18, 2019

Tom Godell: From on campus to online today on UK perspectives. I'm Tom Godell. Nationally, more than a quarter of college students have enrolled in at least one online course. At UK nearly one thousand students are in the process of completing online degrees. Now, the university is poised to grow its online program and reach more students in this region and across the globe. Spearheading that effort is Associate Provost Kathi Kern. Welcome to UK Perspectives.

Dr. Kathi Kern: Thanks, Tom.

Godell: How and why is UK expanding its online offerings?

Kern: Well, you know, the landscape of higher education is really changing, and we are bringing new technologies into the classroom on campus, but we're also harnessing technology to reach more students who maybe can't, for whatever reason, come to campus for classes. So we are looking at how we might better serve the people of the state of Kentucky through more outreach and more programs that people can take online to improve in their career or to get another credential or to just study something that they didn't have a chance to study earlier in life.

Godell: There seems to be a perception that online programs are maybe less rigorous or not as meaningful as a classroom experience. So how do you respond to that?

Kern: Well, it's not the case. And it's certainly not what even the educational research tells us. We often find the experience working with faculty that they feel like developing, designing and teaching online makes them better teachers, because we do so much planning and preparation. It's not the same. You can't run in at the last minute and blow the dust off your lecture notes and deliver a class. You've probably thought a lot about that class ahead of time. Prepared it. Maybe designed a video or some simulation for the students. So there's a lot less of the last minute nature of teaching in the online experience. So people design with the same learning outcomes, with the same objectives. They've had to really think about if the students are at a distance, how can they best learn this material? So really, it's every bit as rigorous as what we do in the traditional classroom.

Godell: What about from the student side? How well do they retain the material that they learn online? Is there any difference between a university course in a building and online?

Kern: Well, it's interesting. There have been a number of studies that have looked at that. And one of the things that happens with online is we find that students review the material more frequently. So they have the option, if they're watching a ten minute lecture on a topic, they have the option of watching it again. And the professor builds in questions. You play posit. You stop, and you ask the students a question to check for whether or not they're learning. And with adult learners we do find particularly a higher completion rate online because they can work it around their busy, complicated lives. They can do their studying when they can do it, particularly for courses that are asynchronous.

Godell: For me, one of the great benefits of a university education was the opportunity to be face-to-face with other students from diverse backgrounds. How do you address that in the online world?

Kern: Well, we find that is one of the biggest challenges, but we've made so much headway in that. So at UK we use Zoom to bring people together. And faculty will have office hours, and they will have students working in groups, and they can use Zoom conferencing to meet as a group. Some faculty have actual timed meetings where they'll say, every Sunday night, the class is going to meet for a little bit of time. So there are lots of options. The faculty have lots of different ways to engage students. And so we have to challenge ourselves to do that, right? It's not going to be exactly like a face-to-face, but what are the indispensable things that you want to do with people face-to-face and how do we build and create a class that does that?

Godell: When you spoke to the Board of Trustees last semester, you mentioned that this online expansion aligns with UK's land grant mission in the 21st century. So tell us a little bit more about that.

Kern: Yeah. I'm a history professor, Tom. So I think about that a lot. I think about this legislation, the land grant from 1862 and what that was meant to do. And the language in that legislation is so interesting because it talks about sharing the new knowledge in mechanical arts and agriculture, but not to omit the classical studies and scientific studies with the common people. And they specifically used in the legislation of 1862 the industrialized class. So it was really meant to be a moment in American history where higher education went from being something for the elite only exclusively to being something that that would benefit everybody and would benefit the state. So that to me is at the heart of the mission, right? We are the university for the people in the state of Kentucky, and how do we retool that? How do we reconceptualize that historic mission for the 21st century?

Godell: One very important audience for this expansion of online programs is former students who are seeking to complete degrees. So talk about how that aligns with UK as mission.

Kern: Sure. We are participating in a statewide program called Project Graduate, and we have identified so many students who have enough credits to get a college degree, but they don't have a college degree. So we are auditing those transcripts. We are reaching out to those students. We are coming up with a plan for completion for them and in many cases that means an online course.

Godell: Yeah. They could be anywhere, right? They could be in Paducah or in Oregon and want to complete their UK degree. And this gives them that opportunity?

Kern: That's right. It does, and it's something that eventually we hope to mechanize. At this point we're using a lot of labor to track down those students and to go through their transcripts and to present them with a plan for graduation. But the response has been great. And we even have anecdotes of a student we've reached then telling another student, hey, I'm actually finishing my degree. So we're really we're really proud of that. And we hope to be able to continue and to do that. We have a pilot right now in the College of Arts and Sciences: one thousand students with one hundred twenty credit hours. That's enough for a degree. So we have to, in some cases, make exceptions or we have to find that one or two, you know, missing courses and get those to the students online. But we're doing that work, and we hope to expand that through all of our colleges.

Godell: What are some of the existing online programs that UK offers, and where do you see the university focusing its efforts for the next batch of online offerings?

Kern: We have some really strong programs, and I'm afraid if I start listing them I'll forget something that's really important. But we've had online at UK or we've had distance learning at UK for really long time. And there was the connection with KET and the TV courses. And in my office, I have great historic photos of people, professors being filmed on TV for the early version of distance learning. So we've always had a commitment to distance learning, but we've had some programs that have really made a mark nationally. One of them is our Masters in Applied Statistics. We've had since 2009 a Master's Degree in Library Science that has drawn a lot of students. We have a digital mapping, a GIS-oriented digital mapping program. And we are trying to build those programs, and there are many more. We have 36 existing programs and we are about to introduce 26 more for the future. So we've tried to look at the breadth of offerings. We've tried to focus on the adult learner and on graduate certificates and Master's Degrees. We have a few undergraduate programs, but we want to start at the Masters level and with our adult learners and get good at what we're doing before we have fully online undergraduate degrees. We have a few of those in their infancy, but we're really focusing on the graduate students and the graduate degrees. And we have a number of new programs that we're excited about. And in all of them we try to pay attention to what adult learners need. Where are the growth opportunities in our state? What are the workforce needs in our state? And with all of those we we looked at the market analysis as we were making the decisions of which programs to start with this first round of new programs. So for example we're doing an LPN, which is Licensed Practical Nurse, to BSN. We have a lot of folks out there who work in our hospitals, and we have a nursing shortage. So we're designing a program that will allow LPNs to work on their Bachelor's Degree in an online setting, and apply all the clinical experience that they've had to that degree as well. So we're excited about that. We have a degree in distillation.

Godell: How appropriate for Kentucky!

Kern: Distillation, wine and brewing studies, an undergraduate certificate. And this is hosted by the College of Agriculture, but with additional courses from Engineering and Arts and Sciences. And the idea here is to provide graduates with a knowledge of this multi-billion dollar national and international industry. The courses cover the breadth of the beverage alcohol industry, and it has a lot of industry partnerships. This has been very popular face-to-face. We expect that we're going to be able to attract a lot of people who can't necessarily come to Lexington, but who would benefit from learning more about bourbon and wine and beer.

Godell: Are you finding that most of the students are coming from Kentucky or are you getting them from all around the United States?

Kern: We have a map. Sorry, I didn't bring it with me. But we have a map right now where all of our distance learning students are. And 1400 of them are from the state of Kentucky. So this is typical in online education, that students choose a school within a hundred mile radius, often within a fifty mile radius. But we often have programs that, you know, that will have an appeal. I think that the distillation (program) may very well have an appeal to students in other states. So, yes, we expect mostly students from Kentucky, but we hope to get international students and students from around the country.

Godell: That's interesting that with a project that is online that literally could be accessed from anywhere, and yet most of the students come from within a small radius.

Kern: Well, I think it has a lot to do with "Who do you trust?" Right? What school has a good reputation in your area? And people in our state feel really good about UK in many ways, so I think it connects in that way. They love UK; they will trust us for their online program

Godell: Well thank you. This is very exciting and hopefully we can have you back to get an update as as this develops.

Kern: I would love that!

Godell: Our guest has been UK Associate Provost Kathi Kern. You can hear more of our conversation at WUKY dot org. For 91.3 WUKY, I'm Tom Godell.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Tom Godell has been the General Manager of WUKY since April 2004. Earlier in his career he served as Senior Producer with WBHM in Birmingham AL, Program Director of WLRH in Huntsville AL, and Associate Director of Broadcasting for Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. He is a dog lover, cycling enthusiast, second baseman (willing to play anytime, anywhere), and music fanatic. His writings on music have appeared in the American Record Guide, Fanfare magazine, the All Music Guide, and RCA Records.