TCU developed a summer undergraduate online program aimed at decreasing time-to-degree by making TCU Core courses more available. These courses were built in a year-long development process that ensured, engagement, quality, and rigor. This program enrolled 120 students in eight different courses in the summer of 2018; we expect to offer 12 different courses (14 sections total) in the summer of 2019. The courses are only available to currently admitted TCU students.

This two-year pilot program will conclude at the end of the 2019 summer term. The Koehler Center will use the 2019-2020 academic year to review the results of this program and seek input on whether the university would like to further invest in this program.

The information below details the rationale, development timeline, and data collection and distribution for the pilot program. This framework will serve as a resource if the university decides to grow the program in the future.

Guiding Principles: Undergraduate Online Course Offerings

All Undergraduate online courses, either new or changed from face-to-face to online delivery, must follow the University Policy for Distance Learning and Web-Enhanced Courses and the New Course/New Program Approval Process prior to being taught. This includes proper approval as an online course by all required university and departmental committees. Permission from the instructor’s chair and dean will be required.

All TCU instructors teaching an online course must complete the required training on effective online pedagogies and on TCU’s Learning Management System, as stated in the University Policy for Distance Learning and Web-Enhanced Courses prior to the official start date of their course. All courses must receive a pre-OSAT score of at least 70%.

Undergraduate online courses will only be offered in summer terms; they will not be offered in Fall or Spring terms.


Summer Undergraduate Online Pilot Program FAQ

Texas Christian University (TCU) had a two-year pilot program in which a select group of TCU CORE and other undergraduate courses were offered online during the 2018 and 2019 summer terms. The Instructors who taught summer undergraduate online pilot courses were all eFaculty certified— meaning they had completed all of TCU’s requirements to teach online—and were teaching existing, university-approved courses. Online summer courses allowed students to more efficiently complete their degrees while balancing summer learning, work, and internship opportunities. Additionally, the increased availability of TCU Core courses during the summer eased the pressure on student schedules, permitting students to take more advanced courses during the school year.

Why increase TCU’s offerings of summer undergraduate online courses?

The Summer Undergraduate Online Pilot Program aimed to increase the availability of TCU CORE courses during the summer. As TCU’s course catalog indicates, “The educational experience offered by TCU reflects its membership in the worldwide academy of learning. The intellectual traditions of the University, honed by the scholarship and creativity of successive generations of faculty, are founded upon a rational and reflective examination of humanity and its natural and social environments. The essential elements of these traditions are captured in the TCU Core Curriculum requirements.” Since TCU Core requirements are the heart of the TCU educational experience, offering students additional opportunities to take these courses from TCU instructors meant that TCU can strengthen the reach of its educational mission.

Online summer courses also allowed students to more efficiently complete their degrees while balancing summer learning, work, and internship opportunities. Additionally, the increased availability of TCU Core courses during the summer eased the pressure on student schedules, permitting students to take more advanced courses during the school year.

What was the purpose of the Summer Undergraduate Online Pilot Program?

The pilot program allowed the Koehler Center to work closely with a select group of well-trained instructors to ensure that the summer undergraduate online course offerings were of high quality and provided engaging learning experiences. By starting with a pilot program, TCU and the Koehler Center can verify that our policies and procedures meet student and instructor needs.

This two-year pilot program will conclude at the end of the 2019 summer term. The Koehler Center will use the 2019-2020 academic year to review the results of this program and seek input on whether the university would like to further invest in this program.

What is the current state of online education?

Online learning in US higher education continues to grow dramatically. The most recent estimates indicate that about 30% of all students enrolled in degree-granting higher education institutions in the US enroll in at least one online course; this translates to approximately six million students1. The majority of these students are undergraduate students taking online courses in combination with courses on campus.2

While overall enrollment in US degree-granting institutions is falling slightly, enrollment in online courses is increasing.3 Students are making clear choices about how they wish to grow their skills and what types of courses allow them to balance work and internship opportunities, family responsibilities, and other courses on campus.

Additionally, as more  workplaces turn to online trainings or online onboarding experiences, it is essential that students gain fluency with online learning and digital communication.

For a robust review of the state of online education in the US, please see Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States, Digital Learning Compass: Distance Education Enrollment 2017, and Distance Education and the Evolution of Online Learning in the United States.

What is the involvement of TCU’s peer institutions with respect to online education?

While public non-profit institutions have the largest number of students enrolled in online courses, private non-profit institutions have seen increased enrollment in online courses in each of the last three years.4 Continuing a steady trend from 2013, the growth rate of online enrollment at private non-profit institutions exceeded that of public institutions.5,6 Further growth in online enrollment at private non-profit institutions is expected.7 This changing landscape suggests that TCU will be able to deliver its high-quality, dynamic courses to increasing numbers of students, supporting overall growth in enrollment at the university and expanding the reach of TCU in community.

Several of TCU’s  peer institutions within the state of Texas presently offer undergraduate online courses during the summer. TCU students are attracted to these courses because they allow students to both complete academic requirements and hold internships or summer jobs. In response to these student needs and expectations, TCU’s summer undergraduate online courses will provide TCU students with additional opportunities to experience the valuable and engaging courses that are the hallmark of a TCU education.

What are considered best practices in online education?

Much has been written about best practices for online instructor training, course design, and course management. The following sources provide an excellent overview: 10 Principles of Effective Online Education: Best Practices in Distance Education and A Return to Best Practices for Teaching Online.

TCU’s Summer Undergraduate Online Pilot Program reflected these best practices. First, the participating instructors were eFaculty certified, meaning they completed extensive training regarding online teaching and course design. This training covered the organizational elements that make online courses successful and engaging as well as the pedagogical practices that create the foundation for student success in the online environment. Second, the instructors worked closely with an instructional designer from the Koehler Center. The instructional designer addressed any technical issues related to course design and helped instructors with plans for learning outcomes, assignments, and student engagement. Third, the instructors participated in a year-long learning cohort. This program allowed instructors to support each other in the course design process and to learn from the successes of each other on individual assignments, learning objectives, or course policies. Together, these factors indicated the high level of instructor preparation and institutional support associated with the Summer Undergraduate Online Pilot Program.

How did the purpose of the Summer Undergraduate Online Pilot Program relate to this larger landscape?

The Summer Undergraduate Online Pilot Program was a response to student needs; the institutional exploration of online undergraduate courses was supported by national trends in the growth of online education as well as by student interest in the courses of nearby peer institutions. TCU offered courses in the Summer Undergraduate Online Pilot Program using its existing information architecture in concert with current TCU instructors members who had already received extensive training in online teaching.

Online summer courses allow students to more efficiently complete their degrees while balancing summer learning, work, and internship opportunities. Additionally, the increased availability of TCU CORE courses during the summer eased the pressure on student schedules, permitting students to take more advanced courses during the school year.

Who were the key players in the Summer Undergraduate Online Pilot Program?

TCU’s institutional accreditor, SACS, and the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) to which TCU is a party both have specific, rigorous standards for quality courses. The courses in this pilot program met or exceeded those guidelines.

All courses in the summer undergraduate online pilot program were existing TCU courses that have been previously approved by the TCU Undergraduate Council.

The Koehler Center coordinated with instructors, their respective chairs and deans, and the registrar to insure a smooth course development process and a successful course launch.

What was the timeline for this project?

The full Summer Undergraduate Online Pilot Program 2-Year Calendar is available.

What resources were required and how were those distributed?

TCU offered the undergraduate online summer courses through the existing learning management system, TCU Online. Thus, these courses leveraged the present methods for course registration, course shell creation, enrollments, and grade reporting. The Koehler Center, IT, and the registrar collaboratively manage these functions. No additional technology resources were required to increase summer undergraduate online offerings.

This pilot program impacted instructor workload. Instructors and their chairs and deans needed to determine if the instructor could commit the time to attend the cohort events during the academic year, build the course, work closely with staff from the Koehler Center to refine the course, and teach the course in the summer. Because of the commitment of instructor resources required for this work, approval from the instructor’s chair or supervisor as well as from the instructor’s dean was required before the instructor could participate in the Summer Undergraduate Online Pilot Program for summer 2019.

If the summer undergraduate online project moves forward, the Koehler Center will need additional staff to support a long-term program of both continuously improving the existing summer undergraduate online courses and increasing summer undergraduate online course offerings by 10 to 15 courses per year.

How was progress measured and outcomes assessed?

Instructors who accepted an invitation to join the Summer Undergraduate Online Pilot Program and whose chair or supervisor granted permission participate in a required learning community for online course development. There are three checkpoint sessions for this cohort each semester (September, October, and November; February, March, and April).  In advance of each meeting, instructors submitted pieces of their course.

2018 Metrics

  • Instructor Retention – 11 instructors joined the 2018 pilot program; two instructors opted to extend the course development process and offer their courses in Summer 2019. No courses or instructors were removed from the pilot program for a failure to meet the March 2018 course development deadline.
  • Quality Courses – All pilot program courses received a pre-OSAT score of at least 70%.
  • Students Served – Eight courses were offered in summer 2018, enrolling a total of 110 students. The courses came from six different departments and together offered students 11 TCU Core credit opportunities in 9 different TCU Core areas.
  • High levels of faculty engagement – Pilot program courses have excellent faculty presence, as demonstrated by TCU Online data.

OSAT data for the 2018 Summer courses; this was provided to department chairs in late fall 2018. The OSAT is designed to ensure all courses have accountability and quality, and help establish an ongoing improvement and faculty development plan. Department chairs received the OSAT results from the live semester course, the class engagement data and additional reports from TCU Online, enrollment data, and results from SPOT surveys.

Each time a given summer undergraduate online course is taught, the Koehler Center would typically use the results from the live semester OSAT, class enrollment data, and TCU online reports to work with the instructor to develop a plan for the continuous improvement of the course.

Additionally, university administrators will use course enrollment and retention data, TCU Core attributes associated with the course, and other data to evaluate the Summer Undergraduate Online Pilot Program.

The Summer Undergraduate Online Pilot Program fulfills Koehler Center outcomes 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, and 2.2.

As part of the Koehler Center’s own assessment practices, participants in each cohort complete a final evaluation of the Koehler Center’s activities related to the Summer Undergraduate Online Pilot Program.

What was the communication plan for the Summer Undergraduate Online Pilot Program?

Looking backward, the pilot program was initially discussed with the Chancellor’s Cabinet and Provost Council in 2012. At that point, the administration decided to delay a pilot program due to the uncertainty surrounding the state authorization process. TCU’s participation in the national State Authorization and Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) resolved these concerns and a summer online pilot program was approved in December 2016. Committees that include the Provost, Registrar, Associate Deans, Chairs, faculty members, and executive administrators have all had conversations about the Summer Undergraduate Online Pilot Program.

As each summer term approached, our publicity efforts increased. Outreach to the larger TCU community via a flyer or information sessions happened each spring, giving students plenty of time to plan their summer schedules accordingly. Koehler Center staff also spoke with the TCU student newspaper as well as at information sessions for student advisors.

This website provides additional information to the TCU community and serves as a record of the success of the summer undergraduate online program.

If you have further questions, please contact distlearn@tcu.edu.

1 Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States
Digital Learning Compass: Distance Education Enrollment 2017
3 Distance Ed Enrollment Trends: New Data, New Trends, New Partnership
4 Distance Ed Enrollment Trends: New Data, New Trends, New Partnership
5 Digital Learning Compass: Distance Education Enrollment 2017
Digital Learning Compass: Distance Education Enrollment 2017