by John Bourhis
Online instruction at Missouri State University
Online instruction at Missouri State University originated with the creation of the Master of Science in Administrative Studies degree in fall, 1997. In the mid to late 90's, several trends led to the creation of the first fully online graduate degree at Missouri State University. First, the Coordinating Board for Higher Education in Missouri was awarding "start up" grants for the creation of new and innovative graduate programs that would meet the educational needs of Missouri residents. During this period the number of graduate degrees offered by the university doubled. Second, there was a growing interest in the concept of interdisciplinary graduate degrees in higher education. Third, distance education was starting to embrace the internet as a mainstream methodology for providing education to students at a distance.
A group of administrators and faculty worked to develop the MS in Administrative Studies degree to address these trends in graduate education and to capitalize on the funding being provided by CBHE. The initial proposal for a fully online graduate degree was not approved by the Faculty Senate in spring, 1996. Concerns about the original proposal included: skepticism over the efficacy of teaching online, locus of control for interdisciplinary degrees and concern over the potential negative impact on the MBA program. The proposal was revised over the following summer to address the core concerns and was approved by the Faculty Senate in fall, 1997. The first two online courses offered at MSU included Computer Information Systems taught by Dr. Vikram Sethi and Organizational Communication taught by Dr. John Bourhis in spring, 1998.
In spring of 1998, there were no policies or procedures in place to guide the development of online instruction at the university. Issues of compensation, administration, supervision, faculty governance and intellectual property rights as they applied to online instruction had not been discussed, let alone resolved. Online instruction was being developed within the College of Continuing Education as part of its Academic Outreach program. The MSAS program because of its interdisciplinary nature was being administered out of the Graduate College because of that college's interdisciplinary nature. Deans Ron Fairbairn and Frank Einhellig, along with Vice President Bruno Schmidt and Associate Vice President Kathy Pulley partnered to form a new committee charged with developing a set of policies and procedures to guide the development of online instruction at the university.
What is the origin of the Distance Learning and Internet-Based Instruction Policies and Procedures Committee (DIPP)?
DIPP was a committee of administrators, staff and faculty charged with developing policies and procedures for internet-based instruction at the university. Members included: Bruno Schmidt, Kathy Pulley, Ron Fairbairn, Frank Einhellig, Steve Robinett and the Chair of the Faculty Senate. The committee would often meet on a weekly basis to develop a coherent and consistent set of policies and procedures to guide the development of online instruction. Faculty and staff were frequent guests to provide input to the formulation of these policies. The DIPP committee formulated many of the policies and procedures in place today, as well as a set of guiding principles for the growth of online instruction at the university.
What were some of the guiding principles that DIPP generated for the development of online instruction at the university?
DIPP made a conscious and deliberate decision not to follow the model that was common in the late 1990's of requiring faculty to teach online as a condition of employment. DIPP was sensitive to the concerns expressed by the Faculty Senate in its rejection of the original MSAS proposal about faculty being required to teach using a format that they viewed with skepticism at the time.
DIPP preferred to use full-time faculty to teach online, especially at the graduate level. In its rejection of the original proposal, the Faculty Senate expressed its concern that the introduction of online courses, which were treated with great skepticism, would result in the hiring of a second tier of faculty loosely affiliated with the university. This was a driving factor in many of the compensation policies discussed below.
DIPP believed that the decision of what courses could be taught online and who could teach them was a departmental and not an administrative or staff prerogative.
DIPP was committed to providing the best quality of instruction online. This was one reason that the use of adjunct faculty was discouraged at the graduate level. Faculty needed to have a commitment to the institution and meet all of the same requirements for faculty teaching on campus.
DIPP believed that those who were responsible for developing and teaching online should share in the "profitability" of those courses. Ron Fairbairn, Dean of the College of Continuing Education, embraced an entrepreneurial model in which “a rising tide would raise all boats.” Faculty, departments and central administration should share in the growth and success of online instruction. This was not the typical model being followed within the state of Missouri or nationally. It was a conscious and deliberate decision made by administrators and faculty that influenced the development of online education at MSU.
What is the origin of the $55 per student supplemental payment to faculty?
DIPP approved a $55 per student supplemental payment to faculty who taught an online course offered in support of the MSAS program for several reasons. First, it was in recognition that teaching a course online involved significantly more effort and time compared to teaching the same course face-to-face. It was seen as just compensation for the additional work that faculty were expected to do associated with an online course. Second, it was a way of compensating faculty who were teaching online for the additional level of technology that was required to teach effectively. Faculty required high speed internet connections, laptops, wireless internet, mobile phones and better computers. The $55 supplemental fee provided a small measure of reimbursement for expenses incurred by faculty teaching online. Third, it was seen as a way of encouraging faculty to accept a few students over the recommended cap of 15 (for graduate courses). As online delivery grew to include undergraduate courses, this policy that was originally designed to support the MS in Administrative Studies program became university policy for all courses taught online at the university.
What is the origin of the $2400 “course buy out” for departments?
Departments that offered a course online in support of the MSAS program received $2400 per online course offered per semester. This policy was approved by DIPP for two reasons. First, DIPP did not want departments hiring adjunct faculty to teach these courses online. The $2400 could be used by a department to hire adjunct faculty to teach a face-to-face course in order to free up a full-time faculty member to teach a course online. If the online course was taught in load, the department still received the $2400 which could be used to support graduate education in the department. Second, the $2400 was seen as a way of encouraging and rewarding departments for their participation in an interdisciplinary program, especially for using full-time faculty to teach online. As in the case of the $55 supplemental payment to faculty for teaching online in the MSAS degree, this policy was applied to all courses being taught online at the university.
What is the origin of the developmental grant for courses taught online?
The original degree proposal to the CBHE included resources to assist faculty in developing courses in support of the MSAS degree. This came in the form of a grant to a faculty member developing a course for online delivery. It’s important to remember that at the time (late 1990's), support for the development of an online course was a telephone number to an instructional designer at Empire State College in New York. What is now MSU Online did not exist at the time these courses were being developed. The grant was compensation for the additional work that was required by faculty to translate a face-to-face course for delivery online in the absence of any assistance on campus. This policy was eventually applied to all courses being taught online at the university.
What happened to DIPP?
With a new university President came a new administrative structure and new administrators. The College of Continuing Education under which online instruction originated was broken up. The DIPP committee which had been responsible for managing the growth of online instruction as well as developing the policies and procedures for online instruction was dissolved. Key administrators and faculty left the university and along with them the organizational memory of why certain decisions were made ( the $55 per student supplemental payment to faculty, grants to support development of new courses, "course buy out" funds for departments and the guiding principles that shaped those decisions). Resources that were formally provided by the College of Continuing Education to support the compensation policies developed by DIPP for online instruction were turned over to the deans of the colleges in which online courses were being taught. In an era of decentralization, a void in leadership has been created that has led to a reconsideration of many issues that had previously been considered settled.