Editorial: ‘Global Campus’: Proceed with caution

By Daily Illini Editorial Board

Few things in the world of education are as stigmatized as online learning.

But a recently released proposal from the University’s Board of Trustees seeks to expand Illinois’ online sector in a project called “Global Campus.” The initiative would offer more than just the current online classes available to enrolled undergrads; it would also include degree, certificate and outreach programs available primarily through the Web.

An online campus could open doors for many who are physically unable to attend the University. Also, a high-caliber program, in which, for example, students could learn about Middle Eastern politics from an expert stationed in the Middle East, would be highly beneficial for this University.

At the same time, we are reminded of the online failures experienced by New York University and Cornell University during the dotcom craze and the poor reputation of the University of Phoenix Online. If the Board of Trustees is serious about extending the opportunity of a University degree to online learners, it must proceed with caution and with the consideration that a poor-quality online program could degrade the prestige of degrees offered by the entire University of Illinois.

The first step the Board can take to ensure the quality of this enterprise is maintaining the same admissions standards as those at the three existing campuses. Enrollment caps could also prove useful.

But the only way to maintain prestige in the long term is to maintain the quality of the education offered. Global Campus will need to surpass other online classes and create a true learning environment in cyberspace, complete with interaction between students with different backgrounds and beliefs and direct feedback from instructors. The online classes cannot consist solely of a posted syllabus and a collection of online writing assignments, as do some online classes currently available here.

But the world of the Internet is much different from what it was during the 1990s. Video conferencing is available to nearly anyone worldwide, and any virtual classroom must include this and other tools to create a comprehensive, effective learning environment.

Finally, any administrator involved in this program must understand that an online learning initiative is not a way to make quick funds for the University. There must be a genuine approach to teaching people who cannot devote four years to living on campus.

At Friday’s Board meeting, Trustee Kenneth Schmidt expressed our exact sentiments when he said that Global Campus must be “the premier in the field or it should not be done at all.”