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CCC Online Education InitiativeThe purpose of this blog is twofold. The main goal of my writing these is to keep everyone updated on the progress of the California Community Colleges (CCC) Online Education Initiative (OEI). The secondary purpose is to foster an understanding of what it’s like to do this work. This month, I’ll be blending these two goals as I give you the current scoop on what’s up with OEI.

It seems like the biggest news would be that Governor Jerry Brown has been paying attention to our work and recognized the OEI with a proposed one-time augmentation of $20 million in the revised California budget plan that came out May 14. Then a few days ago, it was rejected by the State Assembly. The final budget may have some adjustment or removal of the funds. So, until we see the approval, we will just be happy that we have been recognized.

While the May revise “shout out” is an incredible surprise, the really big news is that nearly 73 percent of colleges in our system have submitted applications or have begun implementing Canvas as their course management system. In all, 82 colleges have completed the application to adopt Canvas and close to 60 are involved in implementation (the list can be found on our site). If you are wondering if teachers like the change, ask them! We have and they do.

Access To Education A Priority

Both events are indicative of a state that understands the needs of its population and the current economic situation most of Californians find themselves in. Many of our students are juggling family, work and sleep! Furthering their education seems like a reach when you can’t go to a class that is not scheduled to accommodate the imperatives of your life. Online learning allows access to education for those students, enabling them to realize their dreams and improve their ability to earn and grow.

Those of us providing these opportunities for students to learn know that doing it effectively and efficiently is really important, so we are working to create the best learning environment we can. In doing so, we are becoming a system of connected colleges. That connection will be enhanced by our being able to work in a statewide community space within Canvas.

That community space was something we envisioned in the beginning of the selection process but was only available in Canvas either within a single college instance or with the entire worldwide Canvas community. Last week the folks at Canvas added a California Community Colleges community space to the system. It is one of many functions we have requested and it shows the willingness of Canvas parent Instructure to participate in a full partnership with us.

I have to honestly say that since we made the choice to use Canvas as the common course management system (CCMS) back in February 2015, there has not been one day that I doubted or regretted the decision. Have there been things we want to add and change? Certainly, but the willingness of Instructure to listen and act has been clear. I also have to mention that we have a great team of our own working on our side of the partnership and I want to thank them all.

We also worked with our friends at MindWires Consulting to find out what other state college systems across the country have done about course management system usage. If you are interested, take a look at the news item about what we found out.

OEI Resources Converge In Canvas

We are maximizing our use of a CCMS by being able to deploy all of our resources in an integration within the Canvas system. While a college doesn’t have to adopt Canvas to use our resources, it sure makes it easier and effective for student use.

Online Learning Support graphicGetting prepared for the launch of the student exchange in the fall has taken us to visit the eight colleges that will be conducting the initial pilot. We have held half-day implementation team meetings with educators from various departments across the colleges and have learned a great deal from them. I think the most impressive thing to come out of these meetings has been the energy and willingness of all of our colleagues to engage in intense creative problem-solving for the benefit of students.

Collaborate To Solve Common Problems

The implementation team meetings shed some not-so-surprising light on some of our antiquated and ineffective business processes that need some digital attention! I really believe that the biggest impact of this initiative will come from our sharing our effective practices and in just taking the time to see what each of us is doing to solve common problems. Looking up and around really allows us to respond to a variety of perspectives, collect strategies and develop practices that support our students.

The OEI team and our college partners are engaged in progressive and positive dialog about the possibilities that this major collaboration can open up. We are the California community college system: Individually we are creative and energetic; together we are strong and incredibly innovative. The individuality across the colleges meets the needs of our local student populations and is important to maximize the benefits of diversity within our state. Sharing our strategies and helping each other by not having to continually reinvent solutions to common problems helps us all, and is just downright interesting.

The work we are doing is unprecedented and it never ceases to amaze me how much good work we all do. The nature of competition that our funding process has kept us in is changing to one of true collaboration. We have visited a good 70 percent of our colleges over the last year and that practice alone will provide insight to our development as a system for years to come.

Not An Easy Task

Student Exchange Milestones:
  • Reciprocity Agreement development: April 2015-November 2015
  • MOU for a pilot consortium legal review: November 2015
  • Consortium established October 2015 (24 initial colleges)
  • MOU signing (deadline Jan. 31, 2016)
  • Identifying the scope of work for a Minimum Viable Product
  • Technical development progress check (sprint) every three weeks (Sprint 14 underway)
  • Implementation Team meetings (eight colleges), May 2016
  • System integrations happening now
  • Exchange enrollments to begin Summer 2016 for eight pilot colleges

While the idea of students registering seamlessly across our colleges sounds like it might be easy to do, it is absolutely the most complex activity I have ever been involved with and has implications for streamlining services beyond just the exchange. When you peel back the layers of independent business processes we have going on, you see opportunities for growth all over the place! An example came from our work on trying to address financial aid disbursement.

Students can only receive federal financial aid from one college at a time, even if they register at a couple of colleges to create one complete schedule for themselves. So a student might be taking three classes at one college now, and filling in with something they need by enrolling in another college. If that’s the case, they only get financial aid for the three classes and not the fourth.

Within the establishment of an official consortium, agreements can be made that allow for the student to combine their enrollments and receive full financial aid across the schools. Imagine the benefit on the long-term student debt problem that this one consortium function can have for students. Because of these types of processes, the exchange system is not simple to build and is taking a great deal of time and effort. But we are getting there!

I hope to do an in-depth news story on the student exchange functionality in the next month or two in CCC Technology for Student Success News. Stay tuned!

Appreciation

I want to take a moment to thank the participants of the implementation team meetings for the eight pilot colleges. The college team members are working hard and deserve our highest appreciation. In particular, we so appreciate our technology staff members at these colleges who have taken on additional responsibilities over these past months.

Our OEI team also deserves a huge thank you for traveling from Lake Tahoe to the coast and from Chico to the Inland Empire and back again in about three weeks! We started visits to the 16 remaining pilot colleges, too, and will continue throughout the remainder of the year. This OEI team is made up of some pretty dedicated folks.

Remember to visit our website often at CCCOnlineEd.org and check out the resources that have been added. Many of them can be used for both face-to-face and online courses.

—Pat


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