Even before the coronavirus pandemic propelled UNLV into remote learning in the spring, online courses at UNLV were prevalent.
“There’s been a steady decrease in the number of students that have never taken an online course,” said Elizabeth Barrie, the director of the Office of Online Education. She recently presented during The State of Online Education webinar event. It highlighted some of the initiatives and cross-campus partnerships that contribute to student achievement and shared how faculty prepared for online learning through the summer.
She noted that 95% of students who graduated in spring 2020 with an undergraduate degree had taken at least one online course. And, compared to past years, there has been an increase in the number of students who have taken more than 30 credits, or two semesters, online.
Across all ethnicities, the average age of online-only students ranges between 26-33 years at the undergraduate level. At the graduate level, that range is 29-42 years.
Barrie emphasized the importance of this data. “When we’re trying to provide support for online-only students, it’s Online Ed’s responsibility to take a closer look,” she said. “(These students) may have different needs, and we want to make sure that they’re not overlooked.”
Learning from Spring 2020
UNLV’s sudden shift to remote teaching in the spring offered a chance to listen more to student voices in improving the quality of education at UNLV.
Public administration professors Jessica Word and Jayce Farmer are the 2019 Digital Teaching Research Fellows. They surveyed students in a public affairs master’s program to determine how they were affected by the rapid transition to online learning. They found that most students had positive views. “The other thing that was really encouraging is that most of the students had a good enough experience that even if we were going to have to continue remotely — as we did this fall — upwards of 85% of our graduate students said they planned to continue,” Word said.
The study also found that, despite not meeting on campus, most students overwhelmingly had a feeling of connectedness with their peers and faculty members due to the webinar-style format and live-chats. It made a huge difference in how they viewed the course, and the overall transition, Word stated. “Since a lot of us were locked in our houses, that was an important concept for us to think about in terms of connecting students back to campus.”
Word and Farmer plan on conducting a second round of the study after the fall semester.
Support for Online Students
The Office of Online Education has worked alongside other offices and departments to build an ecosystem that provides as many resources and support for students as possible.
Carlee Todd, associate director for New Student Orientation and Transition Program, worked with the Office of Online Education to build a pre-orientation course for students on WebCampus. The students completed modules on such topics as health, wellness, and safety; academic enrichment and support services; and academic advising and class registration. Almost 6,000 students completed the pre-orientation course, including 94% of first-time freshmen. When asked in a post survey if they felt better prepared to attend UNLV after taking the course, 94% of first-year students agreed.
“Carlee reached out, even before the pandemic, so that the Office of Admissions and the Office of Online Education can work together to meet the students’ needs,” Barrie said. “That’s the vision of this online learning ecosystem.”
The Starting Strong webinar at UNLV town hall served as another way to develop the ecosystem. Online Education offered the livestream and featured panelists from academic advising, information technology, CSUN, the Academic Success Center, and faculty members provided tips and resources for students transitioning to remote learning.
More than 1,800 faculty members participated in online teaching sessions through nearly 1,200 webinars, workshops, and other sessions this past summer. “We’re going to (continue to) work on scaling out the support,” Barrie said. “Our office is dedicated to working with, and providing resources to, faculty in order to ensure student success in the online environment.”