Provost to invest $3 million in cyber-based upgrades

Technological advancements are revamping higher education, and Portland State is next. The Provost’s Challenge, now underway, is set to accelerate the development of proposed technology-based changes to college programs and resources at PSU.

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Technological advancements are revamping higher education, and Portland State is next.

The Provost’s Challenge, now underway, is set to accelerate the development of proposed technology-based changes to college programs and resources at PSU.

Provost Sona Andrews, the vice president of Academic Affairs, has been at PSU for nearly seven months. She spearheaded the challenge, and is calling its first phase, a collaborative project among faculty and staff, reTHINK PSU.

Students are invited to weigh in on more than 100 proposals online and have until Feb. 22 to do so. A $3 million budget will fund the proposals chosen by April 2013.

“We have a lot of faculty and staff who want to be able to use technology, or put their courses online, and just don’t have the resources and the support to do it,” Andrews said.

Online classes are in high demand at PSU. Roughly 77 percent of the students registered for classes at any given time enroll in online or hybrid classes.

Here are two proposals. For many more, check out

Proposal 54: Online Academic Advising and Career Development Modules

As part of the inspiration challenge, this project aims to make it easier for students to find a connection between their majors and possible careers. Integration into online student orientation will make it a known resource to new students. It may be used in introductory courses for certain majors.

Proposal 111: PDX Open: Reducing Student Textbook Costs

Another inspiration challenge proposal focused on open textbooks. This is pretty self-explanatory—students will have access to online textbooks. Books would be accessible via multiple platforms (tablets, computers, et cetera), and can be printed via Print on Demand at the Portland State Bookstore if needed.

Money for the challenge is coming from online learning fees paid by students. During the 2011–12 academic year, PSU collected about $4.2 million in online fees and used $1.7 million to support tech-based courses.

The Provost’s Challenge is partly funded by $2.5 million not spent during the 2011–12 academic year, according to Andrews. Only a portion of collected fees are intended to fund future development. The remaining amount, $500,000, is coming from 2012–13 online fees.

Support for developing and continuing online and hybrid courses and technology-based student resources comes from student-paid online learning fees. Two different fees constitute online fees: fully online classes and hybrid classes. Hybrid classes cost $30 per credit hour, and online classes cost $60 per credit hour, according to Susan Klees, the fiscal officer at Academic Affairs.

During the 2011–12 academic year, 22,055 students enrolled in online classes, and 10,711 students enrolled in hybrid classes, according to Kathi Ketcheson, director at PSU’s Institutional Research and Planning office. That’s 32,766 students, which is more than half of the total number of students enrolled for at least one term in the summer, fall, winter or spring of 2011–12 (which was 42,109) according to the headcount statistics provided online by OIRP.

If some of these proposals are implemented, students will spend more time with faculty because class elements like lectures will be uploaded and out of the way. Basic science labs are hoping to go online as well.

“If content is online, then you have more interaction with students,” Andrews said. “They will spend more time with each other.”

The aim is to fund a selection of the proposals and execute them quickly, within 18 months or less. Some of the programs are expected to take six to eight months to be finalized. Faculty members were encouraged to offer their best ideas for the challenge.

“What faculty and staff will be able to do is [that] they will be able to move much more quickly at developing these new courses, these new ways of teaching, these new degree programs or putting existing programs online,” Andrews said. “We’re really trying to reduce the time it takes to earn a degree,” she added.

Proposals are split into three parts: the acceleration challenge (online classes and degrees), reframing challenge (massive open online courses and transfer credits), and the inspiration challenge (online textbooks and advising). Each category will receive a portion of the $3 million award.

All of the proposals are online, so anyone in the world can see them, but only PSU students and faculty can comment. Proposers are merging some of the concepts already presented and revising them before the Feb. 22 deadline.

“We would absolutely love [for], and I encourage students, tremendously, to look at the proposals and to provide comments,” Andrews said. “We will look at all of those comments, as will the people who are developing these proposals—they’re changing their proposals as people are commenting.”

Victor Mena, academic affairs director for student government, witnessed 25 live presentations at the Winter Symposium. He said the Associated Students of Portland State University have decided to assign two ASPSU students to go over the proposals. The goal is to access them and then raise student interest.

“We’re going to look at proposals and see which ones need to be merged,” Mena said.

ASPSU is especially interested in the prospect of online advising, as introduced by inspiration challenge proposal number 54, “Online Academic Advising Course.” If selected, it will be part of online student orientation. Students would access career modules designed to explore fields of interest and be able to find internships. It will perhaps merge with its training equivalent, proposal number 88, “Faculty Advising Initiative.”

“We’re talking [within ASPSU about] how advising is going,” Mena said. “Basically, these proposals change the way advising is done, [putting it] online.”

Mena said if PSU wants to invest in its technological savviness, they need to match it with investment in better equipment for students.

“Students can check out laptops at the library, but they’re, like, six years old,” Mena said. “The library isn’t [open] 24 hours, except during finals. Access to technology [for] all students is probably going to be one of the barriers.”

To comment on the proposals, follow reTHINK PSU at