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Making Online Ed More Accessible

California Community Colleges Online Education InitiativeIt’s May and many of us are preparing for the end of the spring term. Within the California Community Colleges (CCC) Online Education Initiative (OEI), we are moving into a whole new phase of activity.

We are evaluating the use of the tutoring and student readiness resources that were deployed in January, preparing for the launch of the Canvas common course management system (CCMS) through the full-launch pilot schools, working on extending resources for the fall, developing new resources and creating Canvas implementation statewide, among other things!

Preparing For Canvas Implementation

A big chunk of our time right now is being spent preparing colleges across our system to implement a new CCMS. Several of our colleges are close to implementing, and many other colleges are involved in the conversations around considering the change of their course management systems to Canvas.

Those of us on the OEI management team have been visiting colleges and answering a multitude of calls and emails about how and when the roll-out will take place. As we finalize the contract pieces with Canvas vendor Instructure, we are also creating implementation timelines and developing conversion processes in order to make the transition to Canvas successful for our colleges. Even though there is a lot of interest and excitement about the new system, we also know the transition has to be fully resourced to be successful. To do that, we need to make careful and intentional preparations.

Conversion resources will come from both Instructure and OEI. The pilot colleges will be the first to have the opportunity to adopt and implement Canvas, and that process will start in the immediate weeks ahead. We hope to continue to increase implementation throughout the fall, spring and beyond, and are asking for your patience and support.

We are also asking for information. Distance Education Coordinators have been asked to provide some timeline information to the folks at the CCC Technology Center, who will help us plan the roll-out based on criteria that includes when current contracts sunset.

There will be a lot more information about the Canvas roll-out coming your way in the next few weeks. We have developed a resource site, located at ccconlineed.instructure.com/courses/90, where information about adopting Canvas can be found, including who to contact. Our steering committee has included some suggestions for how the conversation to adopt can happen at a college. This resource site will be updated with new information as implementation progresses, so keep checking back.

Creating Course Exchange Processes

While the Canvas implementation is no small task, it’s not the only thing we are working on. At the end of April, we held a “Reciprocity Summit,” which allowed teams of admissions and records, financial aid and enrollment management people from the eight full-launch pilot colleges to meet. Their task was to design the agreements and business processes that are needed to accomplish the course exchange component of the initiative.

We had over 50 people in attendance and they did an amazing job of considering and redesigning many of the processes we all use to enroll and register students on our campuses. Those designs are now being refined and will be reviewed by the teams who participated.

The next step will be to create technological solutions to make it reasonable for students to easily enroll in courses across our colleges. Our goal is to give students access to courses they cannot get locally, and thereby increase their ability to complete their educational goals. This access may include adding sections of “bottleneck” courses, sharing sections of hard-to-fill capstone courses and even extending degree patterns across colleges through a large consortium.

Focus On Quality

The OEI is not just about a CCMS or a course exchange. It is generally about making online learning opportunities better and more accessible to our students. While Canvas and the online course exchange program are two very visible and important components of what we hope will be a successful distance education system, they are not the only pieces that we need.

The focus of the OEI is on helping students complete their goals in a timely way. That task involves keeping students engaged in the learning process as they take our courses. It involves dedicated teachers who are willing to improve their online teaching ability and willing to invent new strategies that help students succeed in their online classes. It also involves resources for students, teachers and colleges.

So, even as we are “crazy busy” with two major projects within the initiative, the work on the quality pieces doesn’t stop.

Professional development and course design activities are in full swing with peer review trainings happing throughout spring, and into summer and fall. @ONE plans to release its new online teaching course this summer, and is hiring and training course designers who will connect with and support faculty across the system. Resources for underprepared students and discipline-specific course design strategies for all students are also being created.

TTIP South, @ONE and the OEI are also supporting the Online Teaching Conference in June. As I write this, there are fewer than 100 spaces left at the conference, so register now! For information visit onlineteachingconference.org.

We have also been cultivating partnerships through national initiatives such as the dLrn research project out of University of Texas at Arlington, and working with initiatives at Stanford University regarding learning analytics as well as teaching statistics online.

The resources we are creating are intended for all of California’s community colleges, regardless of the course management systems they use. Colleges may or may not choose to adopt the CCMS or the course exchange component. What will make our online offerings more effective is having all colleges participate in the adoption of the course design rubric and in the professional development and other resource opportunities we can create.

The big win here is that this is our opportunity to work as a system dedicated to student completion and success.

Personally Speaking

It’s hard to believe that my one-year anniversary working with this initiative was in March. This is the most difficult work I have ever tackled. I, along with the other management team members, am rarely at home. We have logged many miles visiting colleges and attending events and meetings, and it sometimes takes a toll! We get tired, and sometimes even get sick (lots of colds in April/May), but our enthusiasm remains strong.

Most days I feel as though my main job is to reassure people that we are working for them and for students. Some of my time is spent defending online education as a viable learning methodology. It amazes me that there are still critics who think the whole story is told by comparing retention rates from regular courses to those of online courses. We know what we need to do and should be given credit for doing those things! Check out my response to a recent article.

Lastly, I want to take a minute to thank the members of the Academic Senate for CCC and the CCC community at-large for their support of us as we do this work. Your positive sprit and words of encouragement certainly keep me going! I am looking forward to seeing many of you at the Online Teaching Conference next month.

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