The University of Montana’s year-long process of selecting a private, for-profit company to run its online classes is coming to a close. The decision between two companies, Wiley Education Services and Pearson, will be made April 29, to help determine UM’s future in online education.
The new director of UM Online, Maricel Lawrence, said once an online program management company (OPM) is chosen, the next step is to invite the company to campus. According to the provost’s proposed OPM timeline, the company will visit UM over the summer, when most students are not in class. During this time, the University also plans to determine which programs could fit with an online program and negotiate a contract with the OPM.
“An OPM is really an extension of the University,” Lawrence said. “And they’re doing all the behind-the-scenes, but for them to be able to be successful, they need to make sure they understand how things work in the University.”
Professor Daisy Rooks represents the University Faculty Association, the union for UM’s main campus, on the OPM committee. Rooks said many faculty, like herself, are concerned about choosing an external company to develop UM’s online programs. Because many companies’ primary goal is to make money, it could adversely affect which UM programs receive more resources.
Ultimately, Lawrence said, each department will decide whether to continue into a program run by an OPM. Lawrence said by speaking with representatives from other institutions, she found sometimes the faculty from the programs are the ones to design and teach the courses. But as each program grows, some colleges hire adjunct professors to teach the designed programs.
UM Online will stay a separate entity, as well as Moodle course pages run by professors. Hiring an OPM would not affect all online platforms supported by the University. UM Online is going to continue offering the online courses it always has.
The use of an OPM has the support of UM Provost Jon Harbor, former director of digital education and associate vice provost at Purdue University. When Harbor was a finalist for the Provost position, he said UM could get an edge over MSU by becoming the leader in Montana online education, according to Kaimin reporting. In a recent Missoulian column, Harbor stated an OPM would provide opportunities for people who can’t travel to campus.