Northwest is celebrating 20 years of Northwest Online in January 2019.
Northwest Online started in the spring semester of 1999, offering a limited selection of online courses. Northwest Online was created by the Learning and Teaching Center.
The original head of that department and Associate Professor of Computer Science Roger Von Holzen said his department had one main goal when it began.
“Our mandate was to provide faculty assistance and bringing the use of technology into the classroom,” Von Holzen said.
When Von Holzen started teaching in 1987, everything was on paper. This was a lot of work for not only professors but for students.
“The only way you found out your grade in the class is if you tracked it yourself or you went to the professor and asked them,” Von Holzen said.
Von Holzen’s department was tasked with finding ways technology could be used in the classroom. He said at the same time, however, the interest in online programs took off. Von Holzen and his department worked to create an online course system, called Northwest Online.
Director of Learning and Teaching Center Darla Runyon said Northwest Online started as a supplement to community colleges.
“We were working with Colorado Community College, and we were doing a two plus two agreement with them,” Runyon said.
The two plus two agreement is where a student gets an associate’s degree from a two-year college and then gets a bachelor’s degree from a four-year. Runyon said Northwest Online was designed to help students get a bachelor’s who did not have the same availability as regular students.
“Most of these people have busy schedules, they’re trying to live their life,” Runyon said. “(Northwest Online gives students) the unique ability to do it on your time.”
When Northwest Online first started it was limited in what was offered. Runyon said around 50 students were enrolled and only a small amount of programs were offered. Runyon said that was part of the process.
“You have to market that for people to know you have (an online program) available,” Runyon said.
Eventually, traffic started to build. The following semester, more people started enrolling in Northwest Online. Runyon said the faculty that teach on campus started to recognize the advantages of it.
“I think the faculty teaching realized ‘Hey we can use this for our campus-based classes too.’ So we started creating course sites for campus-based classes,” Runyon said.
The software used at the time was eCollege. Von Holzen said when the they started to bring eCollege into use for face to face classes, cost became an issue.
“eCollege was expensive at the time,” Von Holzen said. “We didn’t want to use them for campus classes because there was no way to get revenue to pay for it.”
For the first few years on-campus classes used a free software called CourseInfo. Von Holzen said eventually they were able to renegotiate with eCollege to get the campus classes for free. The on-campus software was called eCompanion.
eCompanion was not without its complaints, but Von Holzen said it was better than what was previously offered.
“Before (eCollege) came along, if you wanted to create a website for a course you had to do it all HTML,” Von Holzen said. “Was it limited in nature? Yes. Was it much better than what we had before? God yes.”
The limitations of eCollege were also not lost on Runyon. However, Runyon said as technology progressed, so did eCollege, but that eventually changed.
“As the years went by it got progressively better,” Runyon said. “But there was a point where that company fell off and quit making improvements and that’s about the time we started thinking ‘We’ve got to look for a different software.’”
Runyon also said the company that developed eCollege, Pearson, decided to retire the project. This lead Northwest to switch to Canvas a few years ago.
Today, Runyon is continuing to see Northwest Online used in different ways, including more effective use of in-class time for on-campus students.
“What we are seeing now, in the face-to-face classes, is faculty putting activities (online) that the student could do outside of class that really don’t need to be done in class and take up that precious class time that you have,” Runyon said. “So they put those things that students can do on their own out in that course site. Class time is spent then doing those things that you really want to see them face to face.”
Northwest Online has 700 students that are only enrolled in online classes. Every class on campus is now required to have a course page through Northwest Online.