Blackboard asked Dennis King, Director of the Virtual College and Learning Technologies at Fort Hays State University, to address reasons for his institution’s remarkable success, which includes being named the third-fastest-growing public master’s institution in the U.S. by the Chronicle of Higher Education and securing a top-20 spot in US News & World Report’s recent rankings of the best online bachelor programs.
A commitment to innovation:
Over 20 years ago, FHSU began hiring faculty with the expectation that they would teach using instructional technology. This expectation paid off when the university transitioned from videotape and ITV to online education in the late 1990s. In addition, being located in a service-oriented community has made it easy to find staff who go the extra mile for students. FHSU, a teaching university, strongly believes in providing students outstanding service from both faculty and staff.
Building up staff and technology infrastructure:
The university’s strategic planning has led to growth inside and outside of the state of Kansas. Currently, the university serves about 4,700 students on campus, 5,600 through the university’s Virtual College and 3,600 in partnerships in mainland China.
To support these students, the Virtual College is in constant contact with the FHSU’s Student Affairs offices, Computing and Telecommunications Center, and faculty support unit. Over the past few years FHSU has made its instance of Blackboard Learn available in two locations in mainland China, and recently moved to Blackboard’s managed hosting service. In addition, FHSU has online tools for tutoring, early alert, student authentication and other services.
Along with working with the centralized university offices to better align traditional and online students, the university in 2012 created a Student Engagement and Advising Center for online students. This seven-person center is an online, student-dedicated point of contact for advising and other issues related to their education.
Planning for continuous improvement:
The Virtual College monitors quality through teacher evaluations, outside consulting services, job placement rate, U.S. News and World Report online program rankings, and other evaluation methods. We use this feedback, especially student input, for continuous improvement.
Last year the Virtual College launched a new phase of the course development process and partnered with Student Affairs to identify short-term and long-term improvement projects, positioning the university to better meet the needs of adult students with prior learning experience.
This fall, the Virtual College is reducing the bottleneck in general education and popular programs by hiring new full-time temporary faculty. These faculty will keep the balance of adjuncts and full-time faculty at our current ratio. The expectation of this pilot program is increased quality and student engagement (retention).
This is just a snippet of the happenings at FHSU’s Virtual College, but these activities help us continue to offer high-quality, timely learning experiences.