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Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Online learning leadership position likely to be dissolved next semester

Nosratallah Tarighi | Hatchet Photographer
Nosrat A.Tarighi
Nosratallah Tarighi | Hatchet Photographer

Officials have not picked a new leader for online learning at GW, five weeks before the current director will leave his role.

The role was specifically created for Paul Schiff Berman three years ago, but now the post might be dissolved in the coming weeks. No clear future for online learning suggests officials are rethinking or abandoning what they had said would be a top priority.

Online learning, which has become increasingly popular across higher education, was intended to become a major source of revenue for GW. Camille Funk, the director of the eDesign Shop, which Berman created to design online programs for all of GW’s departments at no cost, said she expects the University to close the vice provost’s office for online learning. Funk’s office currently reports directly to Berman, but she said she expects to report to a different office next semester.

“From what I understand, it’s being dissolved,” she said. “So he’s going back to the law school, and the interim provost is going to look for a new vice provost for us to report to, and I’m not sure who that is yet.”

When asked about the future of his position, Berman declined to give specifics and said it would depend on the priorities of the new provost, who has yet to be chosen.

“You’ll have to keep asking the new provost what he’s planning to do,” Berman said.

Provost Steven Lerman will step down at the end of the semester, and Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Planning Forrest Maltzman will fill in as interim provost while officials conduct a national search.

Berman said during his three-year tenure spearheading online education at GW, his office has “played a crucial coordinating role” in making sure that online programs are high quality and make it to market.

“This office has performed a critical role in helping schools and departments navigate the various issues related to launching programs online,” he said. “I very much hope that that important central coordinating function continues in some form.”

University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar declined to comment on whether Berman will be replaced, when that would occur and what steps are being taken while the position remains open.

“The University plans to continue expanding its capacity to provide online courses and will offer online education programs through the schools,” she said. “We have no other updates at this time.”

Lerman rolled out a 10-year strategic plan for the University two years ago, which highlighted online learning as a way to increase GW’s global presence. With years left before the end of the plan, the University has created five massive open online courses, which reach students internationally with free courses, and offers more than 100 online degree and certificate programs.

And online courses were another avenue to reach out to graduate students, whose locations or schedules might make it more difficult for them to take classes in person. GW’s agreement with D.C. has capped the number of students who can physically attend classes on campus, but online learning provides a loophole to this rule, and could generate more revenue for the University, especially after an unexpected drop in graduate enrollment last year led to budget cuts and staff layoffs.

Curt Bonk, a psychology and technology professor at Indiana University who has written several books on online learning, said GW’s office of online learning can help departments worry less about the logistics of bringing a course online, and focus more on the content of the course itself.

“You lose the momentum if people are starting to rely on the center of the unit,” he said. “And then all of sudden you dissolve it. You take the air out of the balloon.”

Bonk added that without an office to spearhead new online learning projects, the future of online learning could be shaky. When Berman leaves, it might be harder to convince departments to bring their programs online if they already exist in an in-person format.

Since the office was created three years ago, the office has created a website that aggregates all of the online course offerings at GW and encouraged departments to make use of GW’s eDesign Shop to amp up GW’s online presence.

“You also cause people to question whether online is going to be a key component in what we’re going to do, in terms of fully online and blended learning,” Bonk said.

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