New assistant chancellor position at UNL will lead online education efforts

More than two years after the coronavirus moved classes exclusively onto Zoom, nearly 9 out of every 10 students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln continue to enroll in at least one online course.

The ease of accessing an online course and the utility of doing so has boosted the number of credit hours UNL students are taking each semester and helped push the four-year graduation rate to its highest level in a decade.

One of the biggest stages for TikTok is the classroom, and teachers are going viral.  “#TeachersOfTikTok” has over 30.5 billion views on the platform. The classroom content includes room tours, teaching tips, “story times” about experiences working in education and videos about the “days in the life” of a teacher.”The era of the ‘TikTok Teacher’ started over quarantine when we all had too much free time,” said Lauran Woolley, elementary school teacher and TikTok creator. “I actually began as a bet against one of my students. I found out he really liked TikTok, and he was making TikToks on his own. So I bet him that I could get more followers than he could by the end of year.”With 5.2 million followers on TikTok, Woolley or @mrs.woolleyin5th won that bet.  She makes videos about her classroom, like tips on flexible seating for students, “unboxing” videos of school supplies and “day in the life” vlogs about summer break. “It wasn’t like I had this master plan to become this major influencer or TikTok person,” Woolley said. “That was not the goal.”Woolley says her videos help her engage with her students more, especially since many of them are on TikTok.The platform also helps her learn from others working in education.”It’s cool seeing what other teachers have in their classrooms or go through over like their daily basis in different areas of the world, so it’s really cool to connect with other people too,” Woolley said.Others, like third grade teacher Sofia Bella, went viral on TikTok after sharing how she decorates her classroom and makes it a comfortable, safe space for students. She has 3.9 million followers on TikTok.   “Since they’re so connected way more connected than I was when I was in third grade I know they’re aware of issues happening in the world,” Bella said. “I want them to feel like whatever is happening outside, you’re okay in here.”Beyond finding humor and lightness in the classroom, Bella and Woolley hope that viewers can learn more about the work that goes into teaching.”There are a lot of people that see things that teachers post online and are like, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t realize that’s what you actually have to do,’ and for some people, it really does kind of build more appreciation for the career itself,” Woolley said.  “My goal was to inspire people,” Bella said. “I’m not only inspiring my kids, but I’m also inspiring kids all over the world to love school, and I’m inspiring people to become teachers, which is what we need. We need a lot of teachers who love what they do.”

UNL will aim to build on those successes by creating a new administrative position to work with faculty, staff and administrators to develop credit and non-credit programs, identify new market areas and grow enrollment.

The inaugural assistant vice chancellor for digital and online learning — a job description was posted last week — will also create opportunities for learners of all ages, said Katherine Ankerson, who started as UNL’s executive vice chancellor in January.

People are also reading…

  • Biz Buzz: Downtown Lincoln restaurant closing
  • Coffee chain drops new building onto site of first Lincoln location
  • Baxter sells 4 dealerships, including one in Lincoln
  • ‘It was very tragic’ — Week after deadly Lincoln crash, more questions than answers remain
  • Scouting Purdue, Hill the WR, Whipple’s health: A look at Tuesday’s Husker notables
  • Lincoln man had sexual relationship with 15-year-old, police allege
  • 15-year-old boy stabbed multiple times at Wayne Park in Waverly, authorities say
  • Bomgaars to open first Lincoln location following acquisition of part of Orscheln retail chain
  • Amie Just: 4 Husker football takes, including the need for change on the O-line
  • Nicholas Bisesi ‘lit up every single room that he entered’
  • 3-foot lizard bites 11-month-old girl in Lancaster County home
  • Why Cornhead hats have disappeared from store shelves
  • Farmland in northwest Iowa sells for record $26,250 per acre
  • Cassie Brenner was ‘always, always, always best-dressed’
  • Waverly teen sought fame in Wayne Park stabbing, Lancaster County sheriff says

That means creating online courses for high school students seeking to earn college credit, ensuring the online course catalog is robust enough to meet the needs of UNL’s students seeking to earn credit over the summer, and developing offerings for individuals in the workforce seeking to acquire new skills, Ankerson added.

“I want to see somebody who is entrepreneurial and collaborative, who has a strong background in developing online programs and understands the needs of diverse students,” she said.

Green touts improving graduation rates at UNL, seeks to reverse enrollment losses

‘Kissing Columns’ to become part of new UNL campus entrance

‘It’s a fan amenity’ — Alcohol sales about meeting evolving expectations of Husker fans

The move to hire “a champion of digital and online learning,” according to the job posting, comes after the University of Nebraska opted to shut down its systemwide online education program earlier this year.

After starting with a single online degree program in 2007, the University of Nebraska Online Worldwide — later shortened to NU Online — was offering 34 undergraduate and 121 graduate programs by 2020.

NU Online enrolled 5,500 Nebraskans and 8,000 others from every state in the U.S. during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But, as online programs took off at other colleges and universities across the country, and with a limited budget, Mary Niemiec, associate vice president for digital education, told the NU Board of Regents in December 2020 she anticipated growth would slow through 2025.

“The challenge has always been how to make us stand out,” Niemiec told board members at the time. “We don’t have the money to throw at the wall and see what sticks.”

As part of its effort to trim $43 million from its budget in response to the fiscal challenges created by the pandemic, administrators opted to close NU Online.

Doing so cut eight positions from Varner Hall; one of those individuals was rehired in another open position at NU, spokeswoman Melissa Lee said. Two additional staff members resigned.

NU then moved the online education initiative to the campuses, which have the advantage of built-in branding, and where decisions can be made in conjunction with college deans, members of the faculty, student service offices and other departments, Lee said.

“It was an opportunity to think about the best approach for online learning and what makes the most sense at the system level and at the campus level,” Lee said. “This is an area where it makes sense for the faculty and deans to own this.”

NU’s system office will still offer support and look for chances where each of its campuses in Lincoln, Omaha and Kearney can collaborate through Jaci Lindburg, who became associate vice president for digital education in July 2021 after Niemiec retired. Lindburg has a full-time staff member and a part-time staffer to support online education at the system office.

But campuses like UNL’s will have the opportunity to tailor the program to their strengths or shift quickly to meet new needs from employers or the demands of students.

Ankerson said UNL’s new administrator — a position she said the university views as “essential” — will work within her office with a keen eye on the future, anticipating changes that will happen in online education as well as the needs of private industry.

They will also collaborate closely with the Center for Transformational Teaching, which assists faculty in designing courses using a variety of pedagogies and technologies, as well as with non-academic offices to provide support for students, and to ensure quality across UNL’s online offerings.

“Online and digital learning doesn’t just occur here in Lincoln or in Omaha,” Ankerson said, “it provides opportunities across the state.”

UNL students rally to protect abortion rights, secure better conditions for graduate employees

To begin planning Memorial Stadium’s future, NU will hire third party

NU regents OK change to allow sale of alcohol at Husker basketball games, approve multimedia rights deal