A brief history of online education at Loyola

Loyola’s experience with online education dates back to the 1980s and the work of the Loyola Institute for Ministry’s extension program (LIMEX), and later, in the 1990s, the School of Nursing’s Off-Campus Learning Program (OCLP – now known as the Distance Learning Program, or DLP). More recently, online education at Loyola has developed across three areas: online degree programs, online courses, and hybrid courses. 

In 2004, the School of Nursing launched Loyola’s first online degree program, the Master of Science in Health Care Systems Management. Since then, the program has graduated over 600 students. Nursing has also launched Loyola’s first online doctoral degree program, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. The DNP program is the first of its kind in Louisiana and began with a cohort of 25 students.

The Department of Criminal Justice began offering a Master of Science in Criminal Justice Administration degree online in 2010.

Finally, the Loyola Institute for Ministry has started offering two online degree programs: the Master of Pastoral Studies degree and the Master of Religious Education degree. LIM plans to enroll 125 students over the next 5 year period.

 The second online initiative that has gained momentum over the past 3 years is the undergraduate summer session. Loyola’s post-Katrina realities led to a number of changes with the university’s online academic presence, one of which was the relocation of the Blackboard server to an off-site hosted solution within Blackboard’s organization. Experimentation with individual online course offerings began in the “Spring II” semester of 2006. Instructional design consultants from JesuitNet were brought to the university to train faculty on competency-based instruction online, which led to an internalized training process for faculty who wished to offer online courses in the summer of 2007. Training sessions were built on the best practices of both JesuitNet and Regis University, echoing Loyola’s commitment to the Ignatian vision of education in the online environment. That year, 17 courses were offered, enrolling over 250 students. There were 18 courses offered in summer 2008, with enrollments of nearly 200 students and a completion rate of 94%. A total of 38 courses were offered in summer 2009, enrolling over 350 students with a completion rate of 95%. There were 32 courses offered in summer 2010, enrolling over 350 students with a completion rate of 92%. And, in summer 2011, there were 36 courses offered, enrolling over 450 students with a 96% completion rate. The flexibility of online courses during summer session has proved a popular choice for students and faculty alike, and the variety of courses (both major-level and common curriculum) has been beneficial for students. 

Finally, hybrid courses have become increasingly popular year-round. Prior to the beginning of each semester, all courses listed in LORA are created in Blackboard, which automatically gives every Loyola course an online presence. The Monroe Library’s electronic reserve system places course readings directly into Blackboard, which drives more student traffic to the online environment. Beyond Blackboard’s service as a repository for documents and course materials, many faculty members have experimented with a variety of hybrid technologies to facilitate learning anytime / anywhere, assuming an Internet connection. These hybrid technologies include (but are not limited to) streaming audio and video, webcasting, blogging, course wikis, work in virtual worlds (Second Life, etc.), Google Docs, live chat (both text-based and video, for synchronous communication), and social networking sites. A recent survey of Loyola faculty indicated that faculty members are most interested in exploring the possibilities for developing hybrid courses; to this end, work is currently being completed to institutionalize priorities for adoption of and training for various hybrid technologies. This work will undoubtedly continue well into the future considering the ephemerality of specific software and web sites. Attention should be focused not only on hybrid courses but also traditional courses taught on campus; faculty members should be recursive in their instructional practices and reflect on pedagogy and the deconstruction of teaching and learning methods in the space of technology rather than laborious hands-on training of particular (and specific) technologies.