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UW System receives $2 million to improve online education
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UW System receives $2 million to improve online education

UW-Madison Bascom Hall

The University of Wisconsin System received a $2 million anonymous donation to improve online education as campuses try to make classes more engaging than was offered in the spring.

Interim System president Tommy Thompson announced the donation during a Monday news conference. Most campuses received their portion of the money by mid-July.

“We want to give our students the best educational experience they can possibly get under some very trying times,” he said. “This is a very difficult time for colleges across America and we want the University of Wisconsin to stand out.”

UW campuses were forced to abruptly pivot to online classes last spring in a matter of days. The experience challenged instructors, information technology departments and students, some of whom do not have personal computers or reliable access to the internet.

Universities have “tremendously” improved their online course offerings since March, Thompson said, and this gift will enhance the level of instruction students receive.

Campuses vary in the range of online and face-to-face classes they plan to offer students this fall. At UW-Madison, 55% of classes will be delivered entirely online.

The mix of course delivery was made to offer students some form of in-person academic experience this fall. But with variation comes complications.

Steve Cramer, UW-Madison’s vice provost of teaching and learning, leads more than a dozen teams across the university that are focused on improving the quality of academic instruction. He told a faculty committee Monday that he looks back almost nostalgically at March when the challenge was improving classes as all of them moved online instead of the many formats available this fall that his teams are tasked with supporting.

“As hard as that was, as traumatic as that was, it’s easier than what we’re doing now,” he said.

The anonymous donation will help instructors rework existing courses and train them in how to teach online. Up to $500,000 is allocated to supplying students facing technology barriers with laptops, tablets or Wi-Fi hotspots.

The System also used some of the money to develop courses on best practices of online learning in which instructors can earn a certification. The state Department of Public Instruction is in discussion with System officials on how to potentially roll the resource out to school districts seeking help.

Thompson, who took over as interim president on July 1, said he spends every morning in a meeting that spans a couple of hours to review each campus’ needs.

A big sign where he works counts down the number of days until Sept. 2 when classes begin.

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