Iowa State Online program reconstructs virtual learning


Iowa State is developing a program to restructure its online learning under the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching.

In an effort to bring together faculty and students along with implementing the best learning practices from around the nation, Iowa State has proposed a new online learning program to restructure the online learning experience.

The program, dubbed Iowa State Online, will restructure and combine its online education staff, improving the quality of course design. The plan is set to launch Jan 1, 2023, and has received $600,000 in funding from President Wendy Wintersteen. The plan will become a part of the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT).

Ann Marie VanDerZanden, associate provost for academic programs, expressed the motives behind the new program. Upon analyzing the general online learning programs on campus, the impact of COVID-19 and the Board of Regents’ online learning task force, it was clear that improving the opportunities for workforce development was necessary.

“I think that there’s two broad areas that we had goals around,” VanDerZanden said. “One of them is quality instruction and student experience, and the other area is around online program growth and innovation.”

VanDerZanden explained the restructuring of CELT and the addition of Iowa State Online to the organization enhances the faculty and staff experience in developing courses and allows for the creation of a seamless high-quality online course for all Iowa State students.

“By doing this restructuring of CELT, which was already providing support and faculty development around face-to-face and hybrid courses, adding the Iowa State Online component to their portfolio allows them to bring expertise across all different types of courses, which supports all of our learners including our on-campus students who are taking a course online for flexibility,” VanDerZanden said.

Expanding the CELT to include online programs creates four pedagogical focuses: Iowa State Online, instructor development, course design and quality and enterprise instructional technology, according to Iowa State University’s Inside Iowa State website.

“It would be a way for somebody to earn their degree at a different institution but get that really unique expertise that we have at Iowa State to build up their degree,” VanDerZanden said.

Establishing a new program that is meeting workforce needs and creating a cohesive Iowa State Online brand will provide a reliable source for students across the country taking Iowa State courses online.

VanDerZanden explained that there is no intent to become a nonprofit, online institution. Iowa State is a residential campus and will continue to prioritize this. Iowa State Online will have a focused and strategic approach to deciding what programs will be offered and make decisions as an institution that continues to generate adequate revenue and offset the costs of the online courses.

“I think that any kind of communication is good, and so if you’re putting money towards it, it’s probably going to be beneficial,” said McKenna Ihde, a freshman majoring in pre-architecture. “As far as allocating funding and improvement anywhere else, I’m not sure what else could be improved.”

Ihde highlighted having a single online source helps students access everything in one place. She believes that due dates, scheduling and other important information are not always up to date, so instructor training for the new online program would be beneficial.

“I think the current Iowa State learning structure is great,” said Evan Shiber, a sophomore majoring in cyber security engineering. “Having Canvas as an easily accessible content source pairs well with the benefits of in-person learning.”

Shiber described the pros and cons of online learning, explaining that while online courses allow work to be done from any location, communication and collaborative discussions are made much more difficult through an online learning program.

“I like the idea of more online classes, even for those of us who do go here because it’s nice to be able to work with your schedule,” said Caroline Dickhausen, a sophomore double-majoring in genetics and psychology. “If you have classes that are only available at 6 p.m. or later, it’s really inconvenient.”

Dickhausen emphasized the importance of flexibility in her schedule as a student balancing classes with work. She hopes for more online sections in classes with limited sections. Dickhausen also mentioned her enjoyment of online classes that are not specific to her major such as general electives.

“I’m really used to Canvas since I used it in high school, but there definitely is a difference between how professors set up Canvas that really can impact the clarity and expectations of the class,” said Kathryn Burns, a senior majoring in world languages and cultures. “Overall, the online classes have been well-organized, but having just one dominant layout style would be helpful so students don’t have to spend the first few weeks trying to figure out how the professor organizes the class.”

Burns explained that the university should make efforts regarding online learning and its layout. Although all of her classes are currently in-person, she believes that online courses allow for more diversity as students don’t need to be located in Ames. The flexibility helps students balance their everyday life such as school and work.