At times, we may feel like victims of our own technology. We log onto computers and smart phones or talk to robot assistants sitting in our living room and expect everything to work on demand. That convenience has also worked its way into how we learn.
Since 2009, the people behind SHSU Online have worked tirelessly to ensure that education is almost as simple as asking, “Hey Sammy, what is my class about today?”
Online enrollment is the fastest growing segment in higher education. In the last six years, SHSU has increased its online credit hours from four percent to over 25 percent of the total hours taken by students. Through this progress and other focused efforts, SHSU Online has contributed to the Texas State University System leading in the state with the highest percentage of fully online students.
“We are prepared for continued growth,” said Ruth Chisum, executive director for online education. “Now we are asking ourselves, ‘What more can we do?’ Behind the scenes we are always thinking of ways to have a high impact on student success by adapting and changing our services to reach the online learners.”
As with any online interaction, there can be hiccups along the way. However, with SHSU Online someone is always available to help ensure lesson plans, syllabuses, class lectures and more are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Online learners cannot afford to lose a day’s work due to technical issues. They are busy people with tight schedules,” Daniel Walker, assistant director for online support services said. “Our support desk is the front line of helping our students in any way possible. Last year, we worked through 25,578 incidents successfully. We support students over emails or phone calls and work diligently to solve their problem as quickly as possible.”
While online students may not be visible on campus, the fulfillment of online student needs are very visible to SHSU Online through their continued development.
“There is the old stipulation of out of sight, out of mind. However, we fight against that every day and are more conscious and intentional about asking ourselves how we can better serve our online students. We want to give everyone that quality Bearkat experience, even if they don’t step foot on campus until graduation,” Chisum said.
21,855 phone calls answered in 2018
25,578 requests resolved in 2018
3,723 emails answered in 2018
5 minutes and 54 seconds average support resolution time
43 online degree programs offered
With more students logging on every year, SHSU Online has service staff dedicated entirely to bringing the classroom experience to the computer screen. There are 10 employees in the media department alone, led by Charles Henson, director of media support. With more than 250 faculty certified to teach online, Henson’s team oversees the production of hundreds of videos every year. Dedicated studio space in the Dan Rather Communications Building and a mobile studio ensure a quick turnaround of lectures.
“We want our courses to be as intimate and close to a campus course as possible,” Henson said. “We have tools available to make any presentation used in a classroom available online.”
SHSU Online is now located in University Plaza, west of I-45 in Huntsville. Housed in a former bank building, Henson and his team quite literally have a vault of equipment ready to face any challenge put in front of them by a new course or faculty member.
From accounting to zoology, you can find an array of classes in many different disciplines and know you are working towards an SHSU degree earned online, not a dot com online degree.
“We always fight the stereotypes of online courses from 10 years ago, when the video technology we have today was nonexistent. Many people expect a faceless, text-based course; that is far from what we offer,” Henson said.
“It is a degree earned online, because our team strives to keep the classroom setting the same as you would have on campus.”
— Charles Henson
Another outstanding service that may go unnoticed is the implementation of instructional designers who work with faculty to smoothly transition coursework online. Nationally, institutions average one instructional designer per 1,600 faculty. At SHSU, there are multiple designers embedded in each of the seven colleges to ensure that faculty are able to match their online competencies with the subject expertise.
“Our instructional designers know all of the best practices to work with faculty members and help them develop these courses,” vice provost Christopher Maynard said. “That is a luxury that a lot of universities don’t have and it’s something we’ve been able to implement here at Sam Houston State that really shows up in the quality of our courses in a way that is designed to help make sure that students are successful. I have started many online programs at other institutions and one thing that we do differently here is from day one the faculty members know our instructional designers.
When new faculty come in, I can guarantee they see the difference because they are probably not accustomed to that level of partnership for online delivery.”