ECU is a national leader in online programs ::

By Abbey Slattery, WRAL Digital Solutions

This article was written for our sponsor, East Carolina University.

Even before COVID-19, distance learning was on the rise.

Now on the heels of the pandemic, online higher education programs are more popular than ever before. According to Admissionly, around one-third of college students take at least one class online. Additionally, more than 3 million students complete their higher education online.

At East Carolina University, online learning programs are nothing new. In fact, the school has been involved in online learning for over 20 years.

“We were one of the first early adopters of online learning in the state, and that’s how we’ve become a leader in online learning. We want to continue living up to that reputation and make sure that we have the best online offerings in terms of quality and innovative offerings,” said Allen Guidry, the interim vice provost for academic affairs at ECU.

ECU has recently started building the ECU Collaborative for Online Learning. This will serve as infrastructure to support online students and faculty in program development, delivery and everything else related to online learning. Guidry has been leading the team in this effort for the past few years.

The collaborative will help improve online offerings, but ECU has already put considerable effort into refining its remote programs and working within areas of need. In fact, 29% of the school’s students are online-only.

“We have over 100 undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as certificate and licensure programs that you can do online. We have a vast portfolio, particularly in the undergraduate space in degree completion. We’re working on identifying some of the degree completion and new programs that people may want to have a full online learning experience available,” said Guidry. “We’re trying to be responsive to the emerging adult higher education market. That’s a space of great opportunity for us as an access institution to provide access to adult learners throughout the state, but particularly within our region, as they’re looking to reskill or upskill.”

Guidry cites the pandemic as a driving force in the increased popularity of online learning for adults. Additionally, not all online learners are looking for a degree. Many students are interested in upskilling within their industry in order to secure credentials for job advancement, especially as workforce demands grow across the state.

Since many adults have family responsibilities and jobs outside of school, ECU offers flexible learning options.

“We offered over 1,830 sections in the fall that were asynchronous, which is much more flexible for students’ schedules. Let’s say you have to work during the day. You can do that coursework at night, or if you have to work night shifts, you could do the coursework in the morning. We’re focused on building programs that provide flexibility,” said Guidry. “The other part of this is the support that they’re going to need. On our student affairs side, we actually have a group of people looking at how to bring elements of campus to online learners. We have, for instance, a pottery class in Raleigh where our adult online learners can come to participate and meet other ECU students in the process. They can’t necessarily make it to campus, but they can use that as an opportunity to network.”

Many of ECU’s online courses are also Quality-Matters certified, which is a continuous process that evaluates and ensures the quality of online and hybrid courses and helps boost student engagement. In the past two years alone, ECU has seen a waterfall of courses and faculty seeking out this certification. The school is also looking into tools like communication interfaces and chatbots to help answer questions and keep students connected.

All of this contributes to the “wraparound” environment that ECU is cultivating for online learners of all ages.

“What we’re trying to do is build a community of Pirates among our online students. People don’t always realize what we have at ECU. When you step onto that campus, it really is a strong community,” said Guidry. “We’re in the process of figuring out how we create an engaged campus feeling for our online learners. We have an entire team of people from all over campus — from academics, student affairs, technology, career services — that are looking at how we build that inclusive environment for our online students.”

“As we continue to grow, we’re looking at what the market’s demanding, what students need and what our capacity is,” he finished. “We’re going to grow thoughtfully, and we’re going to make sure we can bring the resources that will make our students successful, as well. We want to provide the highest quality online learning experience that students can have.”

This article was written for our sponsor, East Carolina University.

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