Academic Affairs

Online Learning at Ferris

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is responsible for the quality of online courses?
The quality of online courses is the responsibility of the Colleges, the departments, the programs, and individual faculty members who teach the courses – just as is true for face-to-face and blended courses.  The University provides assistance to faculty through the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning to develop higher-quality courses, in any mode – including online and face-to-face.  FCTL and Media Services personnel can provide assistance with instructional design, technology implementation, and graphics or media development, among other services.

Who selects the faculty who teach online courses?
Faculty are reviewed and appointed by the College through which the course is offered.  Faculty who teach online are screened in the same ways as faculty who teach face-to-face, except that online faculty typically have one additional requirement.   Many departments have a faculty review process that includes faculty who teach in the department who decide whether a prospective faculty member has the proper experience to teach selected courses.  Sometimes it is a department head who reviews.  In all cases, similar qualifications are expected.  Individuals are identified as having been approved for particular courses within the program, department, or college.  The one additional consideration given to online faculty credentials is whether they have been trained in the use of the FerrisConnect system or the department chair/head of the area concludes that the individual has the required skills based upon prior teaching at Ferris or elsewhere.  This exception is made at the discretion of the department head.  In some cases, the College of Professional and Technological Studies will assist with identification of prospective faculty, but credentials are always submitted through the appropriate College and decisions about which faculty members are deemed to be qualified are made within the College.

How do we decide which courses can/should be offered online?
Decisions about which courses will be offered online are made at the Department and College level.  The decision to offer a course online may be prompted by a number of variables.  Sometimes an individual faculty member will want to offer a course online and will develop the course for this delivery method.  Sometimes students will request that a course be offered online, and the department may respond to this interest.  Sometimes CPTS identifies courses that would assist off-campus students to complete their degrees and/or provide greater efficiency for the university (such as combining students at two or more sites to make a full class).  When these needs/desires become known, it is the responsibility of the department leadership to determine whether they will offer the course online, whether the course should be developed if it has not previously been developed, etc.  It is widely understood that not all classes lend themselves equally well to online delivery; nevertheless, across the country, an increasing number of courses are successfully taking advantage of technology and online delivery.

How are online courses evaluated?
Online courses are evaluated by the same methods as face-to-face courses and in a variety of ways.  Some instructors select the online course as one that they will have the SAI administered for – but for full-time faculty, this choice is at the faculty member’s discretion.  Adjunct faculty have their online section evaluated every semester.  Two SAI forms are available for use in online courses.  One is the traditional set of questions in the SAI, that most faculty who have offered an opinion believe has limited or no utility for the online course.  During the 2007-08 academic year, the Advancing Online Task Force produced an alternative form that could either be substituted for the SAI for those who were not required to have the SAI for their annual faculty evaluation process or as a supplement (additional questions that could be inserted before the traditional SAI). 

Many faculty are using the new form that is offered online, but student response rates have been extremely low.  Response rates improve when faculty members associate points or other credit with completion of the form, yet some are reluctant to link points to completion of the form.  More effort must be directed here to increase response rates.

In most semesters, there is an online course survey formerly conducted through CPTS (the former UCEL) and now being administered by Institutional Research where students are asked a variety of questions about their satisfaction with their online student services, the effectiveness of online instruction, and their beliefs about the quality of their learning experience.  Results from these surveys are available for the past several years.  Because a similar form is not administered for face-to-face sections, we are presently unable to compare the relative effectiveness of online sections with face-to-face sections. 

The best evaluation of the quality of online courses is to assess the extent to which intended learning outcomes have been met.  To date, there is limited information available about what, how much, and how well students have learned in either the face-to-face or online sections.  As TracDat is more fully implemented and as the University approaches its reaccreditation visit in 2010-11, we anticipate that additional perspective on the relative learning success of students will be available for analysis.  In February 2009, Colleges can add the courses to the TracDat database and we urge those programs with both face-to-face and online options to begin to report on comparative success rates on learning outcomes.

Who owns the online course?
If course development has been paid for by the University, the University owns the course.  If the faculty member has developed it independently, it is owned by the individual faculty member, except as noted below.  When a faculty member’s course is used by another faculty member, the faculty member may request to be paid a royalty for the use of the course for a limited time, as long as the faculty member keeps the course updated.  Information about this process is available on the University’s academic affairs website, in the section called “online initiatives.” 

The University’s Intellectual Property policy is included as Appendix A in the FFA contract and explains the ownership provisions.  It can be found at this location:
Page 73, item 3 reads:   “If a work is created by a bargaining unit member within the scope of his or her employment on the employer’s time or using the employer’s resources, Copyright Law specifies that the employer owns the copyright in the work, absent an agreement to the contrary.  This is known as the ‘work for hire’ doctrine.  4.  There has historically been an ‘academic exception’ to the ‘work for hire’ doctrine.  The academic tradition has been that faculty own the copyright on course materials and books that they produce.  The University’s implementation of this exception is set forth under the ownership rights section of this Agreement. 

Page 74, Section F reads:  “Intellectual Property developed on the employee’s own initiative, outside his/her scope of University responsibilities, and without use of substantial University resources (as defined in this Agreement) is owned by the creator.  If the Intellectual Property bears a reasonable relationship to his/her employment responsibilities, then it is the employee’s obligation to show that the Intellectual Property was developed according to these criteria.  

Faculty shall have personal ownership of books, journal articles, other written reports of scholarly activity, creative works of fiction, textbooks, tests, course-related materials, slides, transparencies, bibliographies, music, and art work and any other material that would fall within the “academic exception” to the ‘work for hire doctrine’ and which were created without substantial University support. 

Section d:  Intellectual Property, which is not described elsewhere in this Agreement and is developed with substantial University support, will be owned by the University.” 

Cutting through the legalese, the University owns all of its courses and has the right to review the content of them.  However, course materials used exclusively by the faculty member are considered to be owned by the faculty member, according to the “academic exception.”  If substantial university resources have been used in the development, or if the faculty member has been paid or given re-assigned time for development, the University owns the course materials. 

Are online courses as good as face-to-face courses?
Extensive research suggests that online courses can be at least as effective as face-to-face courses.  The variation between face-to-face and online is no greater than the variation between one face-to-face section and another.  Key to developing a quality online course is that one recognizes the significant differences between the virtual and on-ground classrooms and adapts the pedagogy to fit these differences.   Good instructional design is key to the development of online courses, just as it is important for face-to-face.  However, more needs to be well planned in advance for the online environment.  At Ferris, professionals in the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning and many faculty and faculty trainers are knowledgeable about best practices in online learning.  Ferris faculty are encouraged to utilize the Center’s services as they develop and improve online courses.

How far should we grow in online?
President Eisler’s view is that we should grow as much as we are capable of doing well.  At the same time, Ferris has built a significant infrastructure in Big Rapids that needs to continue to be efficiently utilized.  Thus, most believe that the online enrollment should not be instead of on-campus growth but should in fact enhance and expand that growth.  At present, the Ferris resources to support online are limited, so unlimited enrollment growth is not possible.  At the same time, it is online offerings that are growing fastest both at Ferris and across the nation.  This evolving delivery system is in demand from prospective students, and if they are unable to get what they want from Ferris in an online format, they will likely find it elsewhere.  All said, Ferris has built its planning based upon annual increases of a minimum of 10 percent, but we have experienced 20-30% growth in each of the past several semesters.  To grow further, we need additional program offerings in our inventory and an enhanced support system.  This added support is limited by the availability of resources, because the University’s total revenues have not increased significantly – we have a shifting demand for the programming.  Some suggest that on-campus students should primarily be offered a blended option, not a fully online section. 

Do faculty who teach online have to be trained first?
Yes.  To be provided with a course shell for building or importing an online course, faculty members must be on the list of individuals who have been trained.  Department heads/chairs may make exceptions to this for individuals who have other appropriate training or experience.  FerrisConnect training is available in an online format, through individualized instruction, and through group training programs.  All are announced regularly.  Contact the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning for options that fit your schedule.  Some consideration has been given to requiring that Ferris instructors have achieved a Level 4 Certification before they are approved to teach an online course; others reject this notion, because reaching the certification is no guarantee that the pedagogy is being employed.  It is common for universities to require that faculty be trained in the use of the tool and online pedagogy.  Some Colleges are providing peer mentors for new online faculty.  Some universities or colleges are providing coaches for adjunct instructors who teach online.

How are decisions made about who gets paid to develop online courses?
Historically, the University Center for Extended Learning (now the College of Professional and Technological Studies) has paid for the development of online courses that are designed to meet the off-campus audience needs. With the academic year 2009-10, the development rate is $1,857.64 per credit. Reassigned time is also occasionally utilized for development. Individuals who wish to develop an online course that has not previously been developed for online delivery may request that they be paid for this development by submitting a request through their departments and the College and then to the College of Professional and Technological Studies. The Course Development Agreement is contained within the FFA contract as Appendix C. CPTS, in consultation with the online coordination through the Office of Academic Affairs, will determine whether funds are available to develop the course and whether it serves our distant clientele. Not all requests are honored. Each course is only paid once, and it is then available for other faculty members to use when the developing instructor chooses not to offer it or there are more sections that need to be covered. Recently, the E-Learning Management Advisory Team, faced with scarce resources, did not recommend budgeting funding for online development in the next academic year. Instead, they propose to develop a system for development of modules and strategies that would have broader appeal for online and blended courses. Paying for course development has not resulted in the sharing of full courses that was originally envisioned and seems counter to the Ferris and academic cultures, where individual faculty want the freedom to create their own instructional materials.

How reliable is the FerrisConnect System?
The FerrisConnect (Blackboard/WebCT Vista) system has been very reliable.  Regular monthly maintenance is scheduled and down times are communicated broadly.  On occasion, problems with the system are not the FerrisConnect platform but are instead either Internet service interruptions, computer incompatibilities, MyFSU downtime, or other factors.  “Uptime” with the system is thought to be at least 99.5%.  Planned outages are done in consultation with faculty to determine the least disruptive times, often resulting in the IT Staff’s being on campus on holidays and other breaks.  The ITS staff has been asked to provide the campus community with monthly statistics concerning system availability.

How are class sizes determined?
Class sizes were thought to be at the same size as approved by the Curriculum Committee when courses were approved or revised.  However, in some departments, special consideration has been allowed for online sections because they were thought to be more time intensive.  Some believed these to be “pilot” activities, but the subject of class size has become one of significant concern for many.  Therefore, there is a moratorium placed by the Office of Academic Affairs on changing any course caps until a university policy is developed.  During early 2008 a proposal was submitted to the FFA for their consideration.  That proposal – that suggested that cap sizes for face-to-face and online should be the same – was not considered acceptable without further review.  Subsequently, in November 2008, the Academic Affairs Office proposed that a task force be appointed to make recommendations on this topic.  The recommended composition of the task force is 3 from Senate; 3 from FFA; and 3 administrators appointed by the Office of Academic Affairs.  As of February 10, 2009, members of the task force have not yet been appointed and both entities (FFA and Senate) have been reminded of the need to address this topic.

How many students are enrolled in online courses at Ferris?
During the fall of 2008, 7541 SCH were produced through online instruction.  Sixty-six percent of these enrollments were generated by students who are coded through an off-campus program.  That represented an unduplicated head count of 1950 students (nearly one in six students).  In Spring 2009, that unduplicated number increased to 2227 with 8,606 SCH.  Online courses represent close to 6% of the University’s total student credit hour production (SCH).  With a steep growth curve, close to 10% of the University’s enrollment is anticipated to be online in the not-too-distant future. 

Who is served by online courses?
Two thirds of the students in the fall and spring semesters are students enrolled through off-campus locations.  Because of the insufficient number of online offerings to meet student demand, a priority system has been put into place.  Students at a distance are given first priority to enroll for online sections.  Then sections are opened for Big Rapids campus coded students.  This has led to consternation for many, including those who believe that each student should have equal access to an online section.  It has also led to a major processing headache for CPTS as they manage wait lists that get up to 450 students for any semester.  As classes started in Spring 2009, there were still more than 200 students on wait lists.  Among the concerns some in the Colleges have is the cannibalization of face-to-face sections, resulting in lower productivity and shifting schedule needs for on-campus offerings.  Another concern is assessing the readiness level of students.  However, two developments are beginning to minimize that concern.  First, more faculty are reporting that students are more online-ready than in previous years.   Second, by Fall 2009 we expect to have a university system in place that will assure that any student who enrolls in an online course has demonstrated at least minimal competency in using a computer for an online experience.  Some individual instructors and/or some program personnel want to talk with each prospective student before they may enroll.  Therefore, who may enroll varies significantly from program to program.  This is one of the areas where the University needs to establish more consistent processes, while respecting the rights of the Colleges, because this variation is sometimes confusing to our students and creates processing complications.

Why can’t all students enroll at any time for an online course?
The number of available sections is insufficient to meet current demand.  Online sections typically fill shortly after registration begins.  Much of this backlog is in the Humanities, where we either need to add additional teaching capacity or decide whether we will serve on-campus students at all.  The departments often want to manage this student demand because the students are often enrolled in face-to-face sections, and when they can get into an online section, they drop the face-to-face option.  The university faces a dilemma of having fewer online options than our student population is demanding.  In some cases, there is a shortage of current faculty who are prepared or willing to teach fully online.  This gap between student interests and program responsiveness is the subject of continuing dialogue.  In the Department of Languages and Literature, current online faculty are assisting other faculty to be prepared to teach fully online, since those courses are also in high demand.  At some universities, on-campus students may only enroll after the face-to-face sections are filled.  However, in a competitive environment and with an increasingly tech-savvy student who wants online options, Ferris’ inability to meet students’ demands may put us at a strategic disadvantage at a time when student enrollments are especially critical to our continued viability.

Are students required to complete an online orientation?
Students have not been required to complete an online orientation.  However, both the Advancing Online Task Force and the E-Learning Management Advisory Team have been discussing this issue.  Many believe that students should demonstrate their basic computer abilities, including adequate connection speed, before enrolling for an online course.  Others do not favor this additional potential barrier.  At its last Fall 2008 meeting, the Advancing Online group suggested that this decision continue to be left to the discretion of individual instructors.  At a subsequent meeting, the E-Learning Management Advisory Team did not wish to perpetuate this inconsistency.  They are exploring a method by which individuals who have demonstrated minimal online skills (log in to FerrisConnect, send an e-mail attachment, post to a discussion thread, etc.) would have a notation on their student record that would enable them to enroll for any future online section.  The vehicle for assuring this competency has not yet been determined, but these ideas have been floated:  (1) all incoming freshmen get an hour of instruction in the FSUS 100 course and their “check-off” would occur then, (2) the Testing Office receive “tests” that would be submitted by transfer students (a test that would not take more than 20 minutes), and (3) the Records Office adds a column to the student record that must be checked before a student may register for an online course (in essence, a “hold”).  The Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning will work with faculty to develop this possible test for easy administration and evaluation.  Note that these are ideas being explored, and no final decisions have been made.

At the present time, it is the responsibility of individual faculty members to incorporate any desired “orientation” into their pre-entry communications.  The most feasible approach is for the completion of an online orientation to be the first assignment for students in every course.  Individual faculty could then tailor the orientation to meet particular expectations.   Enid Carlson-Nagel, Bill Knapp, and others in the FCTL will place orientation modules within the FerrisConnect platform for use and/or adaptation by any faculty member using the system.

How can I keep up-to-date on what’s happening with online learning at Ferris?
Online learning is one of the more active interest areas at Ferris, in part because of its dramatic growth.  Individual colleges are developing their plans for new program offerings and/or expanded course availability.  Enrollment services has an interest in being able to meet the preferred offerings for prospective and enrolled students.  Watch the Academic Affairs website for information as it becomes available.  All minutes from the active groups will be posted there, along with their charges:

Who is planning for online at Ferris?
The Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs is responsible overall for online courses and programs.  Specifically, Associate VPAA Robbie Teahen is heading up this initiative for the office.  There are multiple groups involved.  A group convened in summer 2008, the E-Learning Management Advisory Team (E-MAT) has taken responsibility for setting strategic directions for online.  They have thus far proposed goals; identified target audiences; reconfirmed the fact that their mission is to support the Ferris mission, vision, and values; reviewed current budgets; identified priority audiences; identified priority issues; and developed a three-year budget proposal.  They have been meeting bi-weekly throughout the fall 2008 and spring 2009 semesters.  This group is chaired by Associate Vice President Robbie Teahen. 

The Advancing Online Task Force has existed for a few years and the focus of their current work is to focus on improvements to the teaching/learning process.  In the 2007-08 academic year they proposed an alternative SAI form for online instruction and have been providing extensive input to the question of student orientations.  Kimn Carlton-Smith chairs this group.

The FerrisConnect advisory board and related committees have been collapsed into the FerrisConnect Advisory Board (FAB) effective Fall 2008.  During the fall of 2008, Gloria Lukusa-Barnett led this group that is comprised primarily of FerrisConnect trainers.  In Spring 2009, Mary Holmes leads the group.  The FAB’s focus is on the instructional technology associated with online instruction, whether blended, face-to-face, or fully online.  They provide guidance to the Information Technology about technology priorities, serve as testers of system improvements, and recommend enhancements.  They also plan and deliver training, through the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning. 

In the fall of 2008, an additional committee was appointed by the Senate that will be chaired by John Schmidt.  Their primary focus is to serve as a conduit of information to and from the Senate from the varied online initiatives.

What Other Questions Do You Have?
Our goal will be to make this a living document, updated regularly.  If you have other questions, let us know what they are!  Write to Robbie Teahen at and we will see that your question is answered to the best of our ability, that your concern, if it is such, is heard, and that we keep this document as current as we can as the earth shifts beneath our feet.

Last updated: Feb. 12, 2009

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