New post of deputy chancellor at UNL will lead online education efforts


More than two years after the coronavirus moved classes exclusively to Zoom, nearly 9 in 10 University of Nebraska-Lincoln students continue to enroll in at least one online course.

The ease of access to an online course and the usefulness of doing so has increased the number of credit hours that UNL students take each semester and has helped push the four-year graduation rate to its highest level in a decade.

UNL will aim to build on these successes by creating a new administrative position to work with faculty, staff and administrators to develop credit and non-credit programs, identify new markets and increase enrollment. .

The first deputy vice-chancellor for digital and online learning – a job description was released last week – will also create opportunities for learners of all ages, said Katherine Ankerson, who started as vice-chancellor. UNL Executive Chancellor in January.

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This means creating online courses for high school students seeking college credit, ensuring the online course catalog is robust enough to meet the needs of UNL students seeking college credit during summer and develop offerings for people in the workforce who are looking to learn new skills, Ankerson added.

“I want to see someone who is enterprising and collaborative, has a strong background in developing online programs, and understands the needs of diverse students,” she said.

The decision to hire “a digital and online learning champion,” according to the job posting, comes after the University of Nebraska chose to shut down its nationwide online education program. system earlier this year.

After starting with a single online degree program in 2007, University of Nebraska Online Worldwide – later shortened to NU Online – offered 34 undergraduate programs and 121 graduate programs by 2020.

NU Online enrolled 5,500 Nebraskans and 8,000 others from all states in the United States at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But, as online programs have taken off at other colleges and universities across the country and on a shoestring budget, Mary Niemiec, associate vice president for digital education, told the NU Board of Regents in December 2020 that it expected growth to slow through 2025.

“The challenge has always been how do we differentiate ourselves,” Niemiec told board members at the time. “We don’t have the money to throw at the wall and see what sticks.”

As part of its effort to cut $43 million from its budget in response to the fiscal challenges created by the pandemic, administrators opted to shut down NU Online.

This cut eight positions from Varner Hall; one of those people has been rehired in another open position at NU, spokeswoman Melissa Lee said. Two other staff members resigned.

NU then moved the online education initiative to campuses, which have the benefit of integrated branding, and where decisions can be made in collaboration with college deans, faculty members, student services offices and other departments, Lee said.

“It was an opportunity to think about the best approach for online learning and what makes the most sense at a system level and at a campus level,” Lee said. “This is an area where it makes sense for professors and deans to own it.”

The NU System Office will always offer support and seek opportunities where each of its campuses in Lincoln, Omaha and Kearney can collaborate through Jaci Lindburg, who became Associate Vice President for Digital Education in July 2021 after Niemiec’s retreat. Lindburg has one full-time staff member and one part-time staff member to support online education at the system office.

But campuses like UNL will have the flexibility to tailor the program to their strengths or change quickly to meet new employer needs or student demands.

Ankerson said the new UNL administrator – a position she considers “essential” – will work within her office with a watchful eye on the future, anticipating the changes that will occur in online teaching. as well as the needs of private industry.

They will also work closely with the Center for Transformational Teaching, which helps faculty design courses using a variety of pedagogies and technologies, as well as non-academic offices to provide student support and ensure the quality of online offerings. of the UNL.

“Online and digital learning isn’t just happening here in Lincoln or Omaha,” Ankerson said, “it’s providing opportunities across the state.”

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On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS

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