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Sixth annual Higher Education Summit examines online learning

For the first time at the annual GPSS Higher Education Summit, panelists discussed the role of online learning in higher education. ­

The Higher Education Summit, in its sixth year, brings together students, faculty, and state legislators to discuss current issues affecting higher education. This year the topics included online education, state funding, and the need for student involvement in university decision-making.

Online schooling is becoming increasingly popular at the UW. In addition to a variety of online courses, there are several certificate and degree programs, including 17 online masters-degree programs.

Faculty members, however, have expressed mixed reviews about the transition.

“Some [faculty] are widely enthusiastic and others are skeptical,” said panelist David Szatmary, the vice provost of the UW’s Educational Outreach. The teachers are volunteers. No one is forced to teach an online course. … Face-to-face education at the UW will not go away.”

Panelist Marc Dupuis, a UW Ph.D. candidate and online lecturer, said one of the main challenges surrounding online instruction is keeping people engaged.

“A big issue in question in having online courses is if the format is as effective as face-to-face teaching,” Szatmary said. “You can translate almost any content into online format, but will it work for every student?”

Despite such concerns, online education does not appear to be going away either. Panelist Josh Jarrett, deputy director of Post-Secondary Success, said hesitance toward online instruction is shrinking every year. Currently, he said three out of 10 students in the United States are taking an online course.

Variations within formatting online courses have allowed the program to do well. However, Jarrett said improvements are still necessary to perfect online learning.

“We aren’t all the way there,” Jarret said. “Some aspects of face-to-face experience will not be replicated in an online environment, so it is a question of tradeoffs.”

One of the main popularities of online courses is their affordability. Jarrett said he hopes to continue to drive down the cost of education for students and that online learning provides a method.

The next panel discussed higher-education funding, with Sen. Andy Hill (45th District), Rep. Ross Hunter (48th District), and GPSS Vice President Melanie Mayock.

The panel discussed barriers to higher-education funding and called for a change in the Washington state tax policy. Hill said that since higher education does not have constitutional protections, it often gets cut when it comes to shortfalls in the budget.

Despite this, Mayock called for new revenue to fund higher education. This echoed a press conference held by GPSS and ASUW earlier Tuesday morning. The organization leaders called for an income tax to increase state revenue and, in turn, funding for education.

“It’s time for these cuts to stop,” Mayock said. “New revenue needs to be part of that solution.”

The final panel also echoed the morning’s press conference, discussing the student’s role in governing state institutions. Earlier that day, ASUW and GPSS called for a shared-governance legislation that would create student committees to help oversee university policies.

The panel consisted of Rep. Hans Zeiger (25th District), Bob Stacey, interim dean of the UW College of Arts & Sciences, and ASUW President Evan Smith.

“In my four years here I think we are doing a lot better than we have been,” Smith said. “We have seen students start to demand answers. [Students] are the biggest stakeholders in the battle. When you get students in the room, you get the right questions asked. We need to keep pushing forward.”

Reach reporter Laurel Rice at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter @laurelwrice

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