July 12, 2022 • By The UCI Paul Merage School of Business
The Merage School is the first business school in the country to receive an Exemplary Review Endorsement from the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), the renowned nonprofit that promotes digital teaching and learning experiences.
The OLC’s endorsement provides universities with a “quality seal” to demonstrate to stakeholders that they have a clear commitment to offering quality online programming.
The endorsement is granted based on the OLC’s Quality Scorecard for the Administration of Online Programs. Schools that receive the endorsement had to score at least 190 out of 200 total points in order to be considered. The Merage School’s undergraduate online offerings were evaluated using 70 distinct quality standards while examining 740 pieces of evidence, which led to the School being awarded with an Exemplary endorsement for excellence in the administration of online programs. The endorsement lasts three years.
“This is a proud moment for the School’s Digital Learning team,” said Dean Ian Williamson. “As digital platforms and mobile technologies have evolved, the team has spent months with faculty members to develop digital courses to optimize student learning.”
The Digital Learning department has three distinct hubs, including a learning experience design hub, a multimedia production hub and a learning and support services hub. Each of these hubs has worked together to develop more online offerings for the Merage School’s fully employed MBA program, the executive MBA program and undergraduate business programs.
Natalie Blair, Director of the Digital Learning team, confirms that this is a huge step in the right direction because it exemplifies that the Merage School can support online learners. This is all the more important considering the rise of online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In endeavors of building out future online degrees, we knew that it would be worthwhile to have an expert third-party audit us to learn where we could improve and what we were already doing well,” Blair said.
While many schools had to pivot to online learning with the onset of the pandemic, Blair said that the Merage School was ahead of the game because it was already developing the hybrid fully employed MBA program.
“When we had to pivot in the pandemic, we were able to do so very quickly to support the entire School with emergency remote instruction, as well as just supporting them in integrating technology into their teaching practices,” Blair said.
During the pandemic, the School launched a fully online business administration degree option for transfer students, the first of its kind in the UC system. Also, the department grew quickly from a team of two to 22, and it’s still expanding to support the online initiative.
Blair said that students now expect teaching methods to integrate technology, so her department will continue to grow and create novel methods to enhance the programs in the Merage School. She said the team is currently working on a fully cohort-based business administration degree for undergraduates and considering the creation of a master’s degree in management, which would be a one-year program.
“That all really accelerated based on the pandemic and the learner preferences and needs,” Blair said of the potential programs.
Although it may have been bolstered by the pandemic, Blair believes that online learning is here to stay. However, the pandemic caused a massive shift to online remote learning, which is different than programs that are intentionally developed to be online.
“Online learning sometimes gets a bad rap, where you're learning alone, or you feel isolated,” Blair said. “That is not at all what the Merage School is doing. We're really trying to create active learning experiences that have real world application, creating a community online so that students don't feel like they're isolated or learning alone. They have a community of peers and there’s student-to-student interaction.”
The Merage School’s online programs offer flexibility to full-time working professionals, which can be important for people who are juggling educational endeavors with various other responsibilities. Blair said that’s why it’s important to provide instructional podcasts and online videos that can be viewed on the go.
In its endorsement, the OLC specifically highlighted the synchronous learning experience that the Merage School provides, allowing students to have the flexibility to choose when and where they want to learn, process content and participate.
Among the many accomplishments of the Digital Learning team, Blair said that receiving the OLC endorsement is her proudest moment.
“To be able to receive exemplary marks right now is a huge accomplishment,” she said. “That's really seeing the fruits of our labor and knowing that we really are delivering meaningful and transformative learning experiences.”