CU Online

Implementing a Virtual Campus

by Terri Taylor Straut,
formerly of University of Colorado, USA
now at the new Western Governors University, USA

This paper was presented at the FLISH97 conference in Sheffield, UK in 1997.

CU Online is a virtual campus of the University of Colorado (CU). In 1996, CU President John Buechner made a commitment to create a Total Learning Environment for students—an environment where human and physical resources as well as technology are directed toward students and the learning experience. CU Online is an important component of the Total Learning Environment initiative.

CU Online was implemented in 1996/97 as a pilot project in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on the CU—Denver campus. The University of Colorado is a system of four campuses: CU—Boulder, CU—Denver, CU—Colorado Springs, and the Health Sciences Center (located in Denver). CU Online has experienced unprecedented success. We projected 200 enrolments in 10 courses in the pilot year; we experienced 950 enrolments in 53 undergraduate course sections offered in the 96/97 academic year. In addition, we had about 300 international students participate in a political science workshop that focused on the issues discussed during the Denver Summit of the Eight.

An online campus was conceived, designed and implemented to allow students not only to take courses completely online, but to register for classes, pay tuition, order books, seek academic advising, and search for resources—all using the World Wide Web. CU Online has received national recognition as the "Best Baccalaureate Educational Web Site" by the Northwest Center for Emerging Technologies which is funded by the National Science Foundation. In its inaugural year, CU Online has become recognised as one of the top virtual campuses in the world.

Courses Offered

CU Online offered one course as a beta class in Fall 96; 23 course sections were offered in Spring 97; and 29 courses are currently being offered in the Summer 97 term. A total of fifty undergraduate courses are scheduled for the Fall 97 semester through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on the CU-Denver campus. Complete course listings are attached as Appendix A.

In addition to the explosion in course offerings through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on the CU-Denver campus, other colleges and campuses of the CU system are showing great interest in becoming involved in CU Online. We expect courses in many other disciplines by the Spring semester, 1998.

Students Served

During the pilot year, the students served by CU Online were very similar to the general undergraduate population of the CU Denver campus, which is an urban, non-residential campus. CU Online students are typically in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties and employed full time while working to complete their bachelor’s degree. Approximately 85-90% of CU Online students live in Colorado. Many non-residents are studying from as far away as Russia, China and Iceland.

We anticipate that the demographics of CU Online students will change when course offerings from other colleges are available online as the pilot expands in the 1997/98 academic year.

Key Success Factors

A number of elements of the implementation of CU Online contributed to the success of the pilot program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on the Denver campus. These key success factors include:

  1. The implementation of CU Online through the Office of Extended Studies as a cash-funded entity allowed CU Online management the flexibility to develop policies, procedures and incentive programs independent of the state-funded program.

  2. Incentive programs were offered to individual faculty for the development of courses, as well as to departments within the college for their support of course development in their content area.

  3. Faculty governance processes were maintained to insure that the approval of online courses by the department was accomplished through the same processes as on campus courses are approved.

  4. Grant support provided funds to purchase Pentium computers and Internet service provider accounts for faculty who develop and teach online courses.

  5. Strong support programs including faculty technical support, instructional design support, administrative support and student technical support were instituted through CU Online.

  6. An outsource vendor was contracted with to provide technical and instructional design support which facilitated the progress of the development of the online campus.

Faculty/Staff Training

In order to develop and deliver high quality courses using the technology of the Internet, we had to provide significant training to CU faculty and staff. CU faculty who are considering teaching online, are invited to participate in a series of three training sessions:

1. Demonstration of CU Online

The CU Online system is demonstrated to faculty and staff. They become familiar with the features and functions of the system. In addition, questions about remuneration for course development, copyright issues, etc. are discussed by CU Online representatives.

2. Faculty Round Table Discussion

Instructional strategies used to teach online are discussed in detail during this session. Faculty members have an opportunity to ask detailed questions about the process used to convert their on-campus classes to online.

3. Hands-on Computer Training

Faculty members are given an opportunity to practice using the tools available on the Internet to teach online. They also get hands-on experience using the CU Online system.

The goal of these training sessions is to prepare faculty to develop high quality courses for delivery over the Internet.

This series of training sessions has been offered on the CU-Denver campus five during the 96/97 academic year. In addition, CU Online has been demonstrated, upon request, to about ten other colleges in the CU system. We anticipate that in 97/98, efforts will be concentrated on providing faculty training on CU Online on all CU campuses that participate in the development of CU Online courses.

Instructional Design for Course Development

Upon completion of the faculty training sessions provided by CU Online on campus, faculty are invited to meet individually with an experienced instructional designer to discuss the specific objectives and design elements of their course. Instructional design support is available to faculty at all steps of the course development and teaching process.

Systems and Procedures

CU Online is a complete virtual campus. This means that significant efforts were made to develop systems for registration online, payment online, advising online, and the provision of other services that students expect from a campus using the World Wide Web for delivery. CU Online is recognized for these efforts to provide a complete online experience for our students. Significantly more work will need to be done to automate these systems and make them work more seamlessly with the existing Student Information System (SIS) and Bursar Systems on all four campuses.


CU Online has experienced great success in its inaugural year. During the 97/98 academic year, we will expand the program to the other campuses of the University of Colorado. CU Online is currently positioned to be a leader in online education.

For further information contact:

Terri Taylor Straut
Director, Customer and Provider Relations, Western Governors University, Colorado Office 8880 E. 10th Place, Aurora, CO 80110, USA.

Tel: +1 303 365 7506
Fax: +1 303 739 2904


Issue 16&17 "Learning in a Global Information Society" 25 March 1998