What does online learning mean to Ontario’s university students? OUSA’s new policy paper, Online Learning, offers insights from students on what their vision for online learning is and what it could be going forward.
Students do not believe that online learning should be used as a replacement for the traditional classroom experience, but rather, that it should act as a complement to in-person academics. To reflect this sentiment, our policy paper focuses on fully-online courses and not fully-online degrees, although both are important to the future of online learning. Ideally, what online learning offers students is flexibility and greater levels of access to post-secondary education, while providing them with the same standards of quality that apply to traditional classes.
The scenarios in which online learning can be most useful are becoming more apparent. For the Ontarian working out of province or country for a term, or the busy professional who has a nine-to-five job, to the student who faces difficulties being on a university campus, the reasons for students to use online learning are growing and becoming more clear. With the release of this paper students are hopeful that the value of online learning will become as clear to policymakers as it is to them.
Tangible actions recommended by students to policymakers to improve online learning, and specifically online courses, include the following:
- The provincial government should ensure undergraduate students participating in online courses in Ontario have access to online education by investing in expanded internet access for rural, northern, and Indigenous communities;
- The provincial government should encourage institutions to gradually eliminate in person assessments for online courses, while doing the utmost to preserve academic integrity;
- Online courses should be proactively designed under consideration of the guidelines and requirements set forth by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA);
- Post-secondary institutions should ensure that students enrolled in online courses have digital access to high-quality academic and technical support services such as writing centres and IT help desks; and
- Post-secondary institutions should develop and disseminate resources for instructors to train them in online course design and delivery.
In addition to addressing the quality of fully-online courses, this paper also discusses eCampus Ontario, the province’s newly-formed consortium of universities and colleges that offer online courses. While still in its early stages, eCampus Ontario has the potential to become the one-stop-shop for online learners in the province, as well as a facilitator and promoter of online courses for students at every institution.
To achieve students’ vision for the future of eCampus Ontario and ensure it grows to effectively serve online learners, the consortium and government should adopt the following recommendations:
- eCampus Ontario should fulfill its mandate to provide a central hub for online learners in Ontario that promotes accessibility, user-friendliness and mobility;
- eCampus Ontario and the Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer (ONCAT) should engage in a collaborative relationship that facilitates the sharing of resources, knowledge, and best practices;
- eCampus Ontario and ONCAT should ensure that students have access to an entirely online and fully-transferable first year;
- eCampus Ontario should frequently seek student input on governance structures and policy decisions affecting the online learning experience, online course delivery, and ease of access; and
- eCampus Ontario should strive to be as user-friendly and interactive as possible so as to facilitate high levels of student engagement and participation.
Ultimately, students want online learning to be as accessible as possible while maintaining the same standards of quality applied to traditional courses. OUSA’s Online Learning paper outlines students’ principles that guide their vision for online learning, their concerns regarding its current state, and finally, their recommendations on how to improve the quality of online learning at every university in Ontario.
You can find the Online Learning policy here.