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College of the Desert, Palm Desert, Calif., is not a pilot site for the Online Education Initiative, but has opted to use OEI resources to improve its distance education program.The California Community Colleges (CCC) Online Education Initiative (OEI) has been working with 24 pilot colleges for well over a year to implement the variety of Distance Education (DE) resources that the initiative has produced.

However, what’s been happening at the colleges that are not included in the formal pilot phases? OEI Executive Director Pat James set out to find out what one non-pilot college was doing with the OEI resources. She interviewed Donna Greene, an Instructional Designer from College of the Desert (COD) in Palm Desert, Calif.

COD recently underwent accreditation review and found that its DE program needed some attention. Rather than recreate the wheel, COD’s faculty, staff and administration took a look at what the OEI was building. They discovered that “look” could save them a great deal of development time and, at the same time, focus the college on student success in its DE program. Following is the content of that interview.

COD Chooses OEI Tools

Pat: When did you first think the work of the OEI could be useful to you and how was the decision made to not only adopt Canvas but to really implement the course design rubric and other resources into a cohesive program for COD?

Donna: In Fall of 2014, as part of our recently adopted DE procedures (written by faculty), online course review and faculty training had been mandated, but were vaguely defined. Our DE coordinator was commissioned to create a DE subcommittee to implement faculty training and online course design review.

cod logoWe began thinking about creating our own training and course review checklists and realized that the statewide professional development project, @ONE, already had excellent training that we could purchase and implement. We also saw that OEI had already created an online course design review process that included all the elements we needed, and the DE Subcommittee—a group made up of faculty, both full and part-time, from across varied disciplines—voted to adopt and implement the OEI Course Design Rubric.

Now, we really are creating a cohesive and comprehensive DE program. From Spring 2015 to Spring 2016, we have implemented OEI-recommended online course design reviews and faculty professional development opportunities, and revised our DE procedure to adopt these resources. Our Ed Tech and DE committees have offered professional development to our faculty on the OEI Online Course Design rubric. They learned the process for reviewing through free OEI workshops. A group of our faculty members then became certified to offer the @ONE courses required for our local certification. As a result, local training has taken place throughout the past year.

Without the resources from OEI and @ONE, we could not have made this happen. We have currently reviewed half of our online courses and plan to have completed all current course offerings by Fall 2016. Additionally, we have 10 percent of current DE faculty fully certified to teach online and an additional 90 percent in the pipeline. And many faculty members who have not yet taught online are working on certification because they see such possibility for their students in being able to offer online courses in their disciplines. Administration has been excellent about allowing faculty to take the lead in this transition.

We are also using the student readiness modules and have embedded them in our DE website. Additionally, we are working with counseling to require students to complete the modules before taking any courses at COD—face to face or online—as part of the general matriculation process. We have also taken advantage of having counseling is explore Cranium Café as a viable platform to connect counselors with students online. This is very promising since we currently don't have any online counseling services. The resources provided by the OEI have given the College of the Desert the opportunity to have a complete program for our online students.

Broad Support For Canvas

Pat: You adopted Canvas last fall. Tell me a little about the process you used to do that.

Donna: We first thought about adopting Canvas when it was rolled out by the OEI and even had the Canvas folks give us a demo last April. We followed the progress of the OEI with great interest and when it was announced at the Online Teaching Conference that colleges not in the pilot program could also adopt Canvas at no cost for three years, our DE coordinator and Ed Tech chair decided to initiate the conversations and call for a senate vote to adopt Canvas.

canvasWe consulted with our IT department to see if the change would be difficult. We were assured that it was a simple change for them to make and they could do it with ease. We then sent out information via the committee representatives and via email to all faculty for discussion and consideration. We shared the results of the OEI study and how Canvas was selected—the OEI’s process and the fact that student voices were involved really gave weight to the argument that Canvas would be best for our students. We sent links to the free teacher version of Canvas to have faculty try it out. We presented choices in the voting to keep Blackboard or switch to Canvas under several different timelines. Faculty recommended switching in a six-month time frame.

Ed Tech worked with the administration, which was very supportive in providing the necessary additional staffing to make this transition in such a short time frame. And our IT department was amazing in their commitment to helping us accomplish this.

Better-Designed Courses

Pat: Which OEI resources are you using? How do you think this will affect your DE program in the years to come?

Donna: The most important resource we are using from OEI is the Course Design Rubric. Before this, our college required no form of review for online course shells and faculty never had to have an online course reviewed as part of their regular evaluation process either; now we use it to review all courses that are currently being offered in our online program. We are working to provide training to all faculty prior to their submitting online courses for review. This is resulting in better-designed online courses that reflect best practices outlined in the OEI rubric.

We are also using the Canvas training course that was written by the OEI. We have incorporated the “Introduction to Canvas” with the “Introduction to Online Teaching and Learning” for faculty new to teaching online and it is part of our certification process. In addition, because a lot of faculty taking the courses and many of those on the DE subcommittee are not yet teaching online, they have reported that these resources are actually helping them be better in teaching their face-to-face classes as well in the way they present information and organize their materials. This is certainly an added benefit we never expected.

Impact To Online Program

Pat: Are there any final words you would like to share?

Donna: We could never have progressed so far, so rapidly without OEI resources and assistance. From using the Course Design Rubric, to support in implementing Canvas, we have been able to greatly improve the quality of our online program.

In addition, the financial savings to the college enabled us to request and get an instructional designer to work with faculty for 16 hours a week, in addition to an instructional support specialist, who is currently working full time to assist with the transition and will become a part time position in the future.

We have gone from a DE program that was seriously out of compliance to a robust and nearly exemplary program in under a year. We also have to applaud our colleagues for taking such a bold step. They saw this as a way to really help our students be more successful in their online courses and, perhaps in the near future, have access to courses beyond what we can offer them right now. They really took to heart the mission of the OEI to improve student success.

Pat James is Executive Director of the
California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative