Published: April 4, 2018

Academic Futures Town Hall Notes

Online & Distance Education

March 19, 2018


This meeting began with the topic of online and distance education, but also included comments on how that connects to “keeping the public in public education” and the need for centralization of various service structures.


  • CSU seems to have a clear online presence (online portal, etc.)  We have different activities going on, but no clear presence or central place for students to go.
  • The technical platforms are important – they need to be smooth and operational. 
  • As a university, we need to think about how we capitalize on online programs in a way that enhances our visibility and reputation.  Topical areas are one way to do it. We have some topical areas of expertise that could be used to jumpstart/expand our online presence (e.g., sustainability, energy, climate science) that also brings CU’s unique value and strengths to the table.
  • We have a lot of things going on, but without campus-level coordination, they are hit or miss.  We don’t yet have a centralized “shop” that has the skills, knowledge, design experience, etc., to help in creating online courses.  Continuing Ed is the closest.  CE is trying to help fill the gaps, but CE doesn’t have the staff/bandwidth to help on a campus-wide level. And, it leads to issues associated with CE as a revenue center (current students have to pay extra for a CE class even though they have already paid tuition).  The campus needs to take ownership and responsibility of online courses and use a clear business model for the courses that takes into account when a student pays for them, how the credits count, and who gets the revenue.
  • Without some level of centralized support, we don’t have a coherent, cohesive approach to online education.  Some of this is due to turf issues – we have a strong entrepreneurial sense of ownership, faculty tend to want to do it themselves and do it their way.
  • Some departments are resistant to developing online courses.
  • Online courses should not be “mandated”, but faculty should not be prevented from developing online course experiences if that is what they want to do.
  • What is the audience for online education – is it targeted to the current student body or for expanding the student body?  The answers is “both”. 
    • CU has 50% fewer residential students taking online courses than our AAU peers.  Students would like the option of more online courses.
    • It also needs to be sufficient so that students who work, or who cannot be resident over the summer can continue to progress in their studies.
  • Creating online experiences for undergraduate courses is more difficult for many reasons than for graduate-level courses/programs.
  • We need to have some “crosstalk” between the online/distance education and “keeping the public in the public university” groups.  There are a lot of creative opportunities at the local and state level to develop online programs that serve the public.


  • Retraining/certification in areas experiencing downturns in industry (coal, gas, oil, etc.), targeting certification for other steady or growing industries in those areas.  This would be especially helpful in areas where they cannot create programs themselves.  For example, there are opportunities for training/certs in climate science & remote sensors – then those who are trained/certified become the supporters/sponsors for these programs in the future.
  • Online sustainability topics for rural communities – many communities feel experience a feeling of isolation.  Creating a cohort and/or “communities of practice” between rural communities creates peer-to-peer networks and builds CU’s social capital.
  • Addressing teacher shortages in rural areas – working with the Education department to both place and provide online development for teachers (rural areas have a hard time retaining teachers without development opportunities).
  • Working with local and state-level economic development organizations and community leadership organizations to create other “credentialing in place” opportunities. This includes industry specific organizations, e.g., the Colorado Clean Energy organizations. These organizations are “begging” for help from universities, including CU, but CU doesn’t have the bandwidth (and faculty do not have the incentive) to participate in these types of efforts.
  • Tying online/distance education to public service and the mission of the university provides a better motivator for faculty to create online courses than just “more revenue”. 
  • We need to find a way to fund and support these types of efforts that may not generate tons of revenue but are the “right thing to do”. This would enhance our reputation.  There are sound business practices out there that can allow us to do this.  Even if we can “just break even”, it would be good to pursue these efforts.
  • We need to figure out how we are showing up statewide with online education.
  • Part of this is an “engagement” issue with the public, especially at the local and state levels.
    • Faculty are discouraged from interacting locally in order to focus on gaining national and international recognition.  We need to create a different mindset around this – we have disconnected from the local and state communities.
    • There are some K-12 activities, but they come and go, and are decentralized with very little communication across campus, so departments/faculty have to figure out how to engage on their own.  Local school districts would love to participate in CU/K-12 activities, but there has been a lack of participation/outreach from CU.  
  • We need clearer lines of communication and accountability around this – e.g., CSU has a VP of engagement who reports to the president of the university.  This VP owns online education, K-12, community engagement, etc.  Maybe we can find a workable model for CU between our current model and CSU’s. 
  • We are currently very decentralized, and we know we have budget and funding challenges.  But centralizing can help with bandwidth – we have too many people “reinventing the wheel”.  And when a few people do it, they do it in a corner somewhere, and even if they are discovered, they don’t have the bandwidth to help others do it.
  • Some colleges/departments have put more resources into centralized staff positions within their departments to help on things like outreach and recruiting.   Others departments are reluctant to grow staff and are suffering in those areas.
  • What about defining a faculty committee to focus on outreach & engagement (beyond recruiting).  This could be done in lieu of adding staff.  Community-based research is a component of our mission and scholarly work.  Unfortunately, faculty are not incentivized to do this – they get mixed messages on how much time should be spent on “service” vs. “research”.