This is the fourth consecutive year that UCF’s online bachelor’s programs have ranked among the top 20 in the nation. Last year, UCF tied at No. 16.
“Our high rankings are a testament to the terrific work of our talented faculty and instructional designers who produce engaging, high-quality courses that support our students’ success while also providing them with a flexible learning environment.”
— President Alexander N. Cartwright
Also from U.S. News & World Report, UCF ranked No. 12 (tie) for Best Online Graduate Criminal Justice Programs, No. 20 for Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Veterans, and No. 27 (tie) for Best Online Master’s in Nursing Programs. This is based on the publication’s 2021 Best Online Programs rankings, which assess schools on student engagement, online learning technologies and support, faculty credentials and training, and the program’s reputation among other universities.
“Our high rankings are a testament to the terrific work of our talented faculty and instructional designers who produce engaging, high-quality courses that support our students’ success while also providing them with a flexible learning environment. Flexible access to high-quality courses continues to increase in importance,” says President Alexander N. Cartwright.
The first online courses launched at UCF in 1996, marking this year the 25th anniversary of online learning for the university. These courses have only grown in popularity since, with about 87 percent of students now taking at least one online or blended learning course each academic year.
One of the factors that contributes to UCF’s repeated success in online learning is the level of attention and detail put into creating the courses. Since 1996, UCF has invested in instructional designers who work with faculty members one-on-one to help design and develop their online courses. The working relationship paid off at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when faculty moved an additional 6,600 courses online in about a week.
This is part of a strategy, led by UCF’s Center for Distributed Learning, to foster a culture that empowers faculty with training, technology and the support of experts in online teaching, application development, video and multimedia content that are critical to creating a quality online experience for students.
“I think online courses are such an opportunity for real, robust learning if you do it correctly,” says Amy Gregory, associate professor of hospitality management.
That’s why ever since she took one of the many courses offered by the Center for Distributed Learning that help faculty teach and develop online classes, she hasn’t been shy in connecting with Sue Bauer, an instructional designer. The two have worked together for nearly 10 years to enhance Gregory’s classes.
“We’ve utilized virtually every tool that’s been available to us,” says Gregory, who teaches various lodging courses at Rosen College.
Some of those tools are software that’s been developed by the Center for Distributed Learning team at UCF over the last 25 years. They include interactive graphs, flashcards, video-embedding capabilities and more, and serve as an engaging way to have students interact with the course content.
In some cases, instructional designers and the team at the Center for Distributed Learning build tools customized to a faculty member’s need. That was the case for Desiree Díaz, an associate professor of nursing who teaches courses leading to the online healthcare simulation certificate, which was the first graduate program of its kind in Florida and among only a few programs nationwide. One of her courses, which teaches healthcare professionals to use simulation as a training tool in the field, assigned students to design a simulation training room. In its original form, Díaz would have her online students use paper and pencil to draw where they felt each component of the training room should go and scan the drawing to submit it online. Now, with the help of instructional designer Kathleen Bastedo and web applications developer Corey Peterson, among others, students use a custom software directly in Webcourses that allows them to design the room and submit it with no scanning necessary.
”Sometimes I have a crazy idea,” says Díaz, “but I’m never immediately shut down. Kathleen and the instructional designers are always great to work with and help bring my ideas to life.”