Deanna Raineri, the associate provost for educational innovation, doesn't throw her "wowie-zowies" around lightly.
But she's had to resort to the vernacular on more than one occasion since last year's rollout of the U. of I.'s pilot winter session.
The four-week program, which compresses a full general education course into an accessible online-based offering that students can access from anywhere during the holiday break, attracted 737 students last year and received rave reviews from students and faculty alike.
That was the first "wowie-zowie."
The second occurred this year, as it became evident that the program's second year was going to be even more successful.
This year's cohort reached 1,600 students after the number of courses offered was increased from eight to 17 due to last year's interest. The colleges offering winter session courses are Liberal Arts and Sciences, Business, Media and Applied Health Sciences.
The outpouring of student interest this year left program managers scrambling to balance class loads and ensure students could sign up for the courses they wanted.
"When we first started talking about the idea of offering a winter session, we didn't know if students would be interested or if it would work," Raineri said. "That worry has turned out to be unfounded."
Last year's post-session survey also alleviated other worries.
One was the student attrition rate, which was lower than peers in normal 16-week courses.
The other was performance, a worry that instructors say was quickly dismissed once they started interacting with the students. Not only were the grades of this cohort good, but instructors said the students' work ethic and achievement level were higher than students in their other classes.
Raineri said the four-week courses are intensive and are not necessarily right for every student. Participants are informed early on that they must commit to keeping up with the accelerated courses.
"These were really goal-oriented students," said Jose J. Vazquez-Cognet, a professor of economics, who taught a popular course in last year's pilot introduction. "There was less hand-holding than when I teach in the summer. I didn't cut any corners (on course material)."
Joseph Petry, a professor who first adapted his statistics II course to last year's winter session, said the students performed better than their summer course-taking counterparts by 5 to 10 percent.
"The students who can manage this kind of schedule are really high-functioning and a lot of fun to work with," he said.
Raineri said those sentiments were almost universal among faculty members who participated. More than 80 percent of students surveyed rated the overall quality of the courses good or excellent.
"We learned last year that short-format online courses work just fine," Raineri said, noting that the adapted courses have had the added resource of the instructional design team from the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning. Courses that already had an online component were picked first to make the transition easier.
"Our instructional design team has worked diligently on intentionally designing courses that will optimize the completion of course learning objectives while taking into account the four-week course length," she said.
Raineri said the idea behind the winter course session is to provide an extra learning option for students, especially those seeking dual or advanced degrees. She said the option is a way to cross off general education classes in a more timely manner.
There also has been the added benefit of the winter session providing a good return on the university's investment.
Last year the session produced about $1.1 million in campus revenue. This year it's expected to more than double and keep rising as class options are added and students become more aware of the session.
Raineri said the low overhead gives it the potential to be a dependable revenue stream in the future.
"Money is not the most important thing here," Raineri said, "but this has been a very positive financial investment for campus and it's easy to see the potential for a high return on our investment."