Lanny Arvan, new Chief Information Officer and Associate Dean for eLearning at the College of Business, knows first-hand how online learning tools can benefit students. One of his economics students improved from failing a first test to receiving an “A” in the course with computer-based, real-time homework assistance.
Despite having a wealth of these examples, Arvan didn’t begin his position on October 1 with a set-in-stone vision for the newly-created office. Rather, he has elected to spend his first two to three months getting a clear view of the College’s eLearning needs in order to build the strongest possible program.
“We are surveying faculty and students and will be talking with our corporate partners about the breadth and depth of needs for the College to have a first-class eLearning program,” Arvan continued. “In such a large campus environment, we’re also evaluating the resources available and the logical divisions between the campus and the College.”
Arvan will work with faculty, department heads and program administrators to facilitate the use of electronic technologies in Business courses, as well as to explore new delivery options for targeted courses, create and manage the infrastructure needed to deliver those courses, and develop a long-term strategy for eLearning initiatives. He will also oversee the activities of the Office of Information Management.
He brings a bounty of experience to the position after nearly 4 1/2 years as Assistant Chief Information Officer for Educational Technologies in the Campus Information Technology and Educational Services office. Prior to that, he spent three years as director of the Center for Educational Technologies and four years with the Sloan Center for Asynchronous Learning, both on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. His blog, Lanny on Learning Technologies, has an international audience.
After earning his Ph.D. in economics at Northwestern, Arvan embarked on his teaching career in the U of I Economics Department 25 years ago. He sees his new position as an opportunity to continue leading the advancement of eLearning technologies while also continuing to learn alongside his Business colleagues.
“I like to see directly how these efforts impact the people I’m working with,” he said. “I’m intrigued to understand how learning technology can be beneficial in a particular class setting and making explicit the mechanisms by which the technology improves learning. And I’m excited to be involved in that discovery process and in the larger design effort that ensues,” he added.
Nationally, the eLearning environment is experiencing growth of about 25 percent a year. Currently, roughly two million students participate in online learning at institutions of higher education in the United States, according to a report from the Sloan Consortium. The term eLearning generally refers to the use of technology to deliver all or portions of courses online. In cases where learning takes place both in person and via computer, the term “blended learning” is commonly used.
The U of I presented plans in September for its Global Campus initiative, projected to begin offering online degree programs by January 2008. Few traditional universities have an online presence as large as what Illinois has proposed.
Arvan sees advantages in those uncharted waters for the College of Business. “There aren’t many of our peer research universities doing this as of yet,” he said. “The University of Indiana and the University of Florida are both major public universities that have been involved in eLearning for a while. In terms of moving down the learning curve, we have some catch-up to do.”
He believes that even as the College moves forward with eLearning, it should do so gradually. “We will need to rely on including large amounts of traditional face-to-face learning until the inexperience with eLearning technologies is no longer a disadvantage,” he said. “But by taking an approach steeped in emerging technologies, we’ll end up in a good place.”
“It may be possible to leapfrog our competitors since their mainstay technology appears to be the Course Management System and a pedagogy that revolves around that highly prescriptive and task-oriented model,” Arvan said. “For example, if we can embrace blogging as a key piece of online course communication and move to an approach where students are engaged in more open-ended activities that allow them to construct their own solutions, then we’d have something more current than what the competitors offer.”
Blogging readily suits some of the college’s co-curricular offerings, particularly the existing partnership with the College of Engineering in The Hoeft Technology & Management Program. But the college’s use of eLearning approaches also will extend its teaching resources to benefit students in liberal arts and sciences, education, and fine and applied arts who are pursuing minors in business.
In addition to this collaboration creating cross-campus communities, Arvan sees the technological fit with programs such as accounting, where much of the course work is done in groups. It also would benefit programs such as the part-time MBA that must respond to the time demands of working professionals.
“With the College’s variety of students, we have a lot of information to gather in best addressing how to tailor the educational technology,” Arvan said. “I’m eager to hear from the College’s stakeholders now in order to build a program that best meets those needs.”