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Technological Advances Allow Refocusing of UW Distance Ed Resources

August 29, 2017

Advances in technology that allow University of Wyoming courses to be delivered directly online to students in their own homes -- and the growing presence of personal devices among students -- have greatly reduced use of UW’s web-conferencing facilities across the state.

Although the number of UW distance students continues to grow, the university this fall will begin closing some of its web-conferencing classroom sites around the state -- and, in some cases, repurpose those spaces for distance advising and novel uses such as “maker” spaces. It’s part of an effort to refocus the university’s resources on expanding distance education offerings, given increased access to modern technologies, to meet the needs of today’s students.

“The site-based, web-conferencing system served the university and its distance students well for years, but online course delivery using technologies that allow access to our courses from anywhere has become the preferred method for both students and instructors,” says Jeff Edgens, dean of UW-Casper and UW’s regional centers. “What that means is that we have a number of sites around the state that simply aren’t being used by students, and it doesn’t make any sense, operationally or financially, to maintain them.”

UW, this fall, will close its web-conferencing sites in Afton, Newcastle and Wheatland. In spring 2018, the sites in Green River and Rawlins will close.

Several communities have multiple UW web-conferencing locations, and they will be consolidated. Casper’s 11 sites will be trimmed to nine; Cheyenne from three to two; Evanston from two to one; Gillette from three to two; Jackson from two to one; Powell from two to one; Riverton from three to one; Rock Springs from two to one; and Sheridan from three to two.

Other sites in Douglas, Fort Washakie, Lander and Worland will, for now, be maintained but monitored.

Meanwhile, UW continues to operate its regional centers in Cheyenne, Cody, Gillette, Jackson, Powell, Riverton, Rock Springs, Sheridan and Torrington -- each served by an academic coordinator to provide information on the array of UW academic programs available through distance and on-campus courses. And UW’s branch campus in Casper will continue to offer programs through distance and in-person courses.

Although use at certain sites has decreased, UW will still maintain many web-conferencing classrooms across the state.

“We recognize the continued need for classroom spaces across the state where students can gather. Where student use remains strong, we will continue to maintain those sites and focus resources to make the learning experience as seamless as possible for students and faculty,” says Mark Lyford, of UW’s Office of Distance Education Support.

UW’s new strategic plan for the next five years calls for the university to grow the number of students at a distance enrolled in hybrid and fully online degree programs. As well, UW will work to establish dual-enrollment, program articulation and other transfer processes with the state’s community colleges.

“The changes we are making in the university’s structure and operations all are aimed at helping us meet the objectives in our strategic plan -- in this case, specifically to serve more students at a distance,” Provost Kate Miller says. “Fortunately, technological advances are making that more possible than ever, and we intend to stay on the leading edge of that technology.”

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