Lowell Sun Online

Popularity of Web courses is growing at UMass Lowell

August 21, 2001

By STEFANIE SCARLETT
Sun Staff

LOWELL -- Future school administrators now can get more of the training they need in unique classrooms, thanks to University of Massachusetts Lowell's expanded online program.

Building on the success of its undergraduate online courses, the university will begin offering online classes at the graduate level this fall, for both a graduate-degree program and for two graduate-certificate programs, this fall.

The master's program in educational administration will draw students interested in being assistant principals, principals and superintendents. It was developed in response to a request from the Graduate School of Education, said Jacqueline Moloney, dean of continuing studies and corporate education.

It is geared toward preparing students for the certification tests and other requirements they need to become school administrators.

Online classes will also be offered in two certificate programs -- photonics and optoelectronics, and clinical pathology -- and will include four courses that can be applied to future degree programs.

"We find that with telecommunications moving toward fiber optics, there is a lot of research (and) companies need people trained in this," Moloney said. "The demand has been so great, we can barely keep up with the need for corporate education in this area."

The clinical pathology program is aimed at those working in the biotechnology field and medical labs.

Twenty students have already signed up for courses in the new master's program. Fall registration continues through Aug. 29, and classes start Sept. 4.

So far, fall enrollment in UMass Lowell's online courses is near 1,800 students, about 300 more than in the spring semester, said Steven Tello, associate director of distance learning.

While online courses are more expensive than on-campus courses -- tuition for fall ranges from $600 to $1,200 per class -- they give students more flexibility in juggling family, school and work commitments.

"This is ideal for people who are working professionals. Their ability to get to a set class every week is diminished. It's not realistic," Moloney said.

In UMass Lowell's online program, lectures are posted online, and students and professors meet each week in chat rooms to have real-time discussions.

The challenge in teaching online is to keep open the channels of communication, said Associate Professor Ann Marie Hurley.

"Because we don't have that weekly contact in the face-to-face environment, sometimes students can feel very disconnected," she said.

Many online courses soon will include streaming video, which will help in that effort, she added.

UMass Lowell's online program started in 1996 with five online courses. This fall, it will offer 21 new courses, bringing its total cyber catalog to 80. There also is a waiting list of faculty who want to be trained to teach online, Tello said.

UMass Lowell offers two online undergraduate degrees -- information technology and liberal arts -- as well as several associates degree programs.

Last year, 5,000 students were enrolled in UMass Lowell's online program program. That could climb to 6,000 by the end of the coming academic year. About 80 percent of students live within 60 miles of campus, while the rest hail from around the world.

Each semester, UMass Lowell asks students to evaluate the program, and about 95 percent say they would take another online course in the future, Tello said.

Classes represent all areas of the university: computer ethics, engineering, French culture, history and philosophy. Online science courses with lab components also are available using simulation software, he said. For example, a chemistry student can mix ingredients for an experiment, and if they get the ratios wrong, their work "blows up" onscreen.

Lowell will continue expanding its online course offerings in the future. The goal is to have a master's degree program from each UMass Lowell college by next fall and some day, a doctoral program.

Currently, Moloney and Tello are getting ready to launch a graduate-level business-management certificate program in January.

For more information about online courses at UMass Lowell, call (800) 480-3190 or visit the Web site http://continuinged.uml.edu/online.

Stefanie Scarlett's e-mail address is sscarlett@lowellsun.com