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UNG online class presence increases by leaps and bounds

Cayse Wilson is an online student success advisor. She helps students navigate online classes at University of North Georgia.

Almost every University of North Georgia (UNG) student has experienced, at times, the pangs of disappointment when registering for classes. The necessary English class is filled, or the required biology lab conflicts with another.

UNG, however, implemented a solution several years ago to soothe the souls of frustrated students. It offers online classes through UNG Online and general education online classes through eCore. eCore is the University System of Georgia's (USG) fully online core curriculum, which UNG and other USG institutions partner.

UNG Online are classes designed by UNG faculty with the support of the Distance Education and Technology Integration (DETI) staff. UNG Online classes are then taught by UNG faculty.

"The undergraduate online classes provide the opportunity for students to have a full schedule to offset any classes that may be at the same time," said Irene Kokkala, director of DETI.

Helping students take 12 to 15 credit hours falls in line with the Complete College Georgia and 15 to Finish initiatives implemented by USG.

The online offerings are working. Since 2013, the number of students taking classes through UNG Online has more than doubled. In fall 2013, 2,158 students registered to take classes online. In fall 2017, the number increased to 4,456 students, a 106 percent increase.

The increase is even higher for eCore classes. In fall 2014, 454 students registered for eCore. Three years later, 1,674 students registered, marking a 268 percent increase.

Kokkala explained the increase is because of the overall increase of students at UNG. Stephanie Hulsey, online student success coordinator, said the number could exponentially increase overtime.

"Even if we double the number of class sections offered online, we'd still fill it," she said. "The demand is there."

Student enrollment is not the only increase the online classes have experienced. The class offerings have increased as well. For UNG Online, 90 courses and 138 sections were offered in fall 2013. That number grew to 148 courses and 449 sections by fall 2017.

Kokkala said the increase had several factors, but pointed to the development of online graduate classes as a main component.

"Some graduate programs come in an online format like the Masters of Public Administration and new education doctoral program," she said. "But only 7.52 percent of the credit hours are offered online."

Online classes are still a popular product for UNG and USG, as it allows students to take classes at a more convenient time.

"With online courses, you don't have to be there Tuesday and Thursday at 9 a.m.," Kokkala said. " A lot of students prefer to take online courses in the summer. It allows them to keep up with their studies while they can work a job."

UNG students don't navigate the online class world alone. To assist students through the process, the university employs an online student success team, which Hulsey coordinates.

"I am a liaison to help new online students get started," she said. "If any issues or roadblocks arise, I help them through it. We coach them. We encourage them to stay in the class and give them resources to help them succeed."

The assistance is impacting students like Victoria Walker. The sophomore majoring in elementary education took eCore classes as a dual-enrolled student to get ahead. She continued that trend as a freshman.

"My classes were either full or didn't fit my schedule," Walker said. "With eCore, I was able to make my own schedule."

This semester, she is taking her first UNG Online class, Exploring Learning and Teaching. Walker enrolled in it because the face-to-face class conflicted with another course that she could not substitute.

"I like it a lot," the 20-year-old Blairsville native said. "And as much as I love my classes, it's not for everyone. You need a lot of time management and self-awareness to what you are doing."

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