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California Community Colleges Online Education InitiativeHello there! I am in our offices at Foothill College as I write this, and I am so impressed by the supportive atmosphere at this institution, for both students and staff! It’s quite interesting for someone like me, who has been immersed in one college for so long, to experience another culture.

As I learn to be a member of the Foothill-De Anza community, I am reminded that culture is a very important thing to develop in any setting, and it’s no different in the online arena.

If you are a college employee, think about where you work. How accepting is your college “family” of online education? Do faculty members feel that online education is a viable means of providing access for students to classes that they need? Do they complain that online courses are sub-standard in some way or do they see the potential for accessing a vast world community through innovative techniques?

We have a long history of providing online courses for credit in the California Community Colleges, however, we still have naysayers. I think the reason online education is still suspect is because the quality of courses is not consistent, and success and retention rates are still somewhat lower than traditional counterparts. Ask any student who has taken more than one or two online courses and they will tell you that some are great and some are awful, and it’s pretty much a luck-of-the-draw sort of thing when you register for one.

Keeping Students In Seats

So, why are some classes so good and others so bad? It comes down to two main things: effective teaching practices and available resources. (Ask this of your face-to-face classes, too, and you will get the same answer.) Without these two elements, retention and success will suffer, and a student drop equals a seat lost. As we look to increase completion rates within our system, we not only should be looking at increasing online course offerings, we should be looking at keeping the students in the classes (seats) we have!

This is why the Online Education Initiative (OEI) is not only about creating a Course Exchange. It is about increasing the consistency of quality in all online programs across the colleges. To do that, we must address the resourcing issues for faculty and for students. In addition, we must focus on professional development that helps teachers learn to optimize the online opportunities for enjoining the world community in the learning process. The focus of the OEI effort is definitely on quality online education as a means to improved completion opportunities for our students.

Course Design, Teaching Standards Addressed

An important way to increase quality is to set highly effective course design standards. If you haven’t seen the course design standards that were adopted in August by the OEI Steering Committee, take a look at them. In October, we trained 30 course reviewers from 28 different colleges to use these standards to review courses at their home colleges and for the initiative. That activity alone will increase course quality, and should spread across the system.

Another way to improve quality is via professional development. In February, we plan to kick off a “Creative Summit” for faculty from 24 different colleges taking part in the OEI pilot efforts. This event will be held in San Diego, and will host more than 100 participants. We want to follow up this initial summit with regional activities that will form a backbone of professional development that extends across the state.

Additionally, the folks at the @ONE project are developing new, streamlined online teaching courses that should be available a little later this year. Meanwhile, they still have great classes running for those of you wanting to learn how to improve your online teaching (and teaching in general!). To see what’s available right now, go to onefortraining.org. Also, be sure to set aside June 17 through June 19 for the Online Teaching Conference. There will be more published about it soon.

2 Of 3 Pilots Underway

The big news, of course, is that the pilots have started! Both the Student Readiness and Tutoring Solutions groups are up and running. We have engaged in a partnership with Link-Systems International to provide a tutoring platform for the system colleges. It’s being piloted right now, and should be available to everyone by Fall.

We also have the first student readiness modules operating within the pilot courses this semester, and will have those available to others in the fall, too!

You are wondering, I know, if we have selected a common course management system (CCMS). The answer is not yet. We have been working hard through a complex and thorough selection process that will be completed by the end of February. Once we know which system we are adopting, we can complete many other aspects of the initiative like instituting a statewide teaching network, a repository for learning materials, and professional development around the new CCMS, to name a few!

Moving Forward

So, with the focus on quality we keep moving forward. In addition to developments mentioned above, here are some highlights of OEI activities in the pipeline:

  • Over 62 colleges are participating in some component of the initiative.
  • In the pilots taking place Spring through Fall 2015, student enrollment is expected to be approximately 2,500, and should more than double in Spring 2016.
  • A second cohort of online course reviewers is scheduled to begin training in March.
  • Over 70 individual online courses have been reviewed, with more in progress.

Most of the OEI team has been on the road this month, and will continue to visit colleges and attend meetings and conferences up and down the state, gathering input and ideas. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions or want to meet with us. We are developing a new website, as we know our current site is not the best. However, there is a lot of information there, particularly in the professional development area. Look for a new site coming soon!

Please feel free to offer ideas and ask questions!
Pat