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SUNY unveils new online course initiative

Online classes blah blah (JESUS PICHARDO / THE STATESMAN)
Open SUNY will offer eight fully online degree programs targeted towards New York State students. (JESUS PICHARDO / THE STATESMAN)

The State University of New York announced a new online course initiative on Jan. 14 that will offer students a way to complete entire degree programs online, positioning the university to follow an increasingly important trend in online education.

The program, called Open SUNY, was unveiled by SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher during her State of the University Address and will offer eight fully online degree programs through a collaboration across SUNY campuses.

First envisioned in 2009, the project will be a medium for students to sign up for courses, obtain textbooks and take the classes all online and at their own pace.

Though the program has the capacity to serve students out-of-state and abroad, Open SUNY is targeted to serve New York residents by offering opportunities to engage in certification and degree programs for those who might not be able to easily get to a campus, or who may have to balance a family and career in addition to education.

Six campuses will be collaborating to offer associate’s degrees in clinical laboratory technician and tourism management; bachelor’s degrees in human resources management, information systems, nursing and electrical engineering; and masters degrees in business administration and health services administration.

Though several SUNY campuses, including Stony Brook University, already offer online courses through the SUNY Learning Network and other means, Open SUNY was created to be a step above these online programs as a joint effort to provide online education to students.

“What we’ve traditionally done with the SUNY Learning Network is that we’ve supported individual campuses to do what they want to do,” Associate Provost for Academic Technology and Information Services Carey Hatch said. “So overall, now we’re spending time thinking about how we can…take advantage of the best of what happens on each campus.”

Stony Brook’s most recent foray into online education, a Massive Open Online Course in digital arts that launched in August 2013, will be incorporated under the Open SUNY brand.

In creating this strengthened network of campuses, each college was selected to host certain majors based on highly select criteria. Hatch pointed out that these campuses were singled out based on the programs each individual college already had in place, along with the respective opportunities for growth in each region.

“There are things we want to see happen within Open SUNY,” Hatch said. “We might be putting some incentive programs in place so that if a college would want to follow up on those incentives and do something, we’d be more than happy to see them do it.”

Stony Brook was selected to host the B.S. in electrical engineering, which is a relatively young program at the university. SUNY officials decided that providing the degree would fill a major area of need within New York State, emphasizing Stony Brook’s unique role as a major science research university within the SUNY network.

The remaining seven Open SUNY degree programs are set to be hosted by SUNY Broome Community College, SUNY Delhi, Empire State College, Finger Lakes Community College and SUNY Oswego.

One of the major new initiatives in support of Open SUNY is the Center for Online Teaching and Excellence, which has been created to provide professional development opportunities for online faculty. Partner campuses may also provide some of these opportunities.

SUNY is currently focusing on getting the word out about the program to students and current SUNY staff through web-based seminars and open.suny.edu, a central portal for access to access many features of Open SUNY.

One such feature is the “Readiness Assessment,” which allows students to gauge whether online learning is right for them. The website is also home to the “Navigator,” which John McDonald, Open SUNY’s communication and project manager, said is “the most comprehensive collection of degree programs and courses that SUNY has ever compiled that’s searchable and all in one location” in a phone interview.

In the future, Open SUNY plans to add more degrees, expand to more campuses and extend to new projects—such as minor programs or collaborative courses—across multiple campuses.

While current faculty will contribute to these programs, Open SUNY expects to grow to serve an additional 100,000 students within the next three years, requiring a greater expansion of staff in the future.

Though the goal seems ambitious, Open SUNY has appeal for many students.

“We have over 150 online degree programs that are fully online, and over 350 that are 50 percent or more online, so we really have a rich history,” Hatch said. “People have realized that there are significant changes taking place in how higher education is delivering instruction, and we need to be thinking about what that means to the State University of New York and our role as a public university within our state.

“There’s a digital learning revolution coming, and we need to be at the forefront.”

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