MADISON, Wis.—The University of Wisconsin System and its 13 universities have embarked on an ambitious effort to strengthen online teaching and advising while ensuring students have access to the technology they need thanks to the generosity of a confidential donor.

The Online Learning Initiative is funded through a $2-million gift prompted by the rapid transition to remote instruction in March.

“Last March, our faculty, staff, and students did a great job adapting to online teaching, advising, and learning, and UW System laid the groundwork to make a rapid pivot successful,” said UW System President Tommy Thompson. “The Online Learning Initiative will give us the tools to get better.”

UW System universities are planning to welcome students back to campus this fall. But many classes will have an online component, and some will be taught completely online. The Online Learning Initiative supports the work of UW System campuses as they strive to achieve student success in this environment.

The initiative has four parts:

Faculty Professional Development: Continual faculty development focuses on best practices in online instruction, retooling existing courses, creating new materials across multimedia platforms, delivery of synchronous and asynchronous learning, and effective support for student learning. The Teaching and Learning Centers at each UW System university are leading professional development for faculty on each campus, with $1.5 million in financial support from the Online Learning Initiative.

Professional Development for Student Support Staff: Professional development will focus on best practices in student coaching and data-based intensive advising in online learning.

Needs-Based Access to Technology: Because some students do not have the financial means to access information technology, they will gain access to laptops and tablets, as well as Wi-Fi networks and hotspots. The Senior Student Affairs Officers from each UW System university are leading professional development for student support staff, as well as need-based access to technology for students, with up to $500,000 in financial support from the Online Learning Initiative.

Best Practices in Online Learning: UW Extended Campus delivered four professional development courses for faculty and student support staff, focused on best practices in online learning. Three courses relate to online course planning, development, and instruction, and one course relates to student coaching. As a result, UW System campuses may freely use the resources delivered by these courses. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has engaged in initial discussion with the Online Learning Initiative to determine how school districts all across Wisconsin may freely use these resources. The Online Learning Initiative also will develop a certificate program based on the courses so that any UW System faculty and student support staff member can become certified in online instruction and student coaching.

“The goal of this initiative is for faculty and staff at each campus to develop best practices in teaching and student support so that quality online education scales across the entire UW System, while also ensuring access and equity so that all students succeed,” said Anny Morrobel-Sosa, vice president for academic and student affairs. “UW System is proud to work with our campus partners on this important endeavor. We are excited to see the results this fall.”


The University of Wisconsin System serves approximately 170,000 students. Awarding nearly 37,000 degrees annually, the UW System is Wisconsin’s talent pipeline, putting graduates in position to increase their earning power, contribute to their communities, and make Wisconsin a better place to live. Nearly 90 percent of in-state UW System graduates stay in Wisconsin five years after earning a degree. The UW System provides a 23:1 return on state investment. UW System universities also contribute to the richness of Wisconsin’s culture and economy with groundbreaking research, new companies and patents, and boundless creative intellectual energy.

Media Contact

Mark Pitsch UW System (608) 265-3419