The Exploding University: Innovating New Structures in Courses, Semesters and Disciplines

Concurrent Session 10

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Participants will discuss the evolution in online learning and emerging forms and formats of higher education. New pressures force educators to consider servicing vocational needs, recombine courses into specialized majors or certificates, and expand international outreach. In response, educators are creatively interrogating the concept of the “course” and what should constitute a “semester” or term of study.


Kyle Nicholas is Master Lecturer and Director of Online Programs in the department of Communication and Theatre Arts at Old Dominion University. He earned his M.A. at the University of Washington, and a Ph.D. at the University of Texas, Austin.

Extended Abstract

Many universities boast mature, fully online programs in a number of fields, while others are just beginning to create online courses. As demographic shifts foretell declining enrollments and higher education institutions – no matter how new or mature – face pressure to compete for students, learning innovators need to adapt and explore. Some efforts in this direction include servicing vocational needs, recombining courses into specialized majors, creating certificate programs, and expanding international outreach. In all of these cases educators are creatively interrogating the concept of the “course” and what should constitute a “semester” or term of study.

Beyond capturing new markets, these new types of educational structures may be more sensitive to the needs of underserved populations, especially first generation college students and those returning from the workforce.  And they may make more “sense” to digital natives used to scanning and combining a wide range of information.

This conversation invites attendees to discuss this evolution in online learning and its antecedents to unearth emerging forms and formats of higher education. To prime the conversation I will first identify what some of these new arrangements are and ask for other examples. Once these are identified the conversation will transcend description to explore some of the following critical questions:

  • Why are alternative “course” and “semester” structures appealing?
  • Who are they intended to serve?
  • What are the key institutional challenges they present?
  • What opportunities do they create, for faculty, for students, for higher education institutions?

Responses to these questions will be collected via Twitter #.

Then, (in small groups if warranted) I expect we will want to discuss:

  • How faculty and students perceive these new formats.
  • What the challenges are in coordinating and integrating these new types of programs into traditional university structures.
  • How best to communicate the advantages of such programs.
  • Which innovations can best support these new educational arrangements.
  • How emerging pedagogies contribute.
  • What the benefits and challenges are of top-down and bottom-up strategies to implementing new formats.

This discussion will be important to both administrators and faculty who are already wrestling with these changes or who anticipate innovating new course and semester formats to meet societal and institutional needs.