Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Desire2Pod Cast 22 - Online Student Mentors

I am normally the interviewer for the Desire2Pod series, but this time Valerie Beyer of Desire2Learn interviews me about the Online Student Mentor program at Lake Superior College.

The Online Student Mentor program (PDF description) was selected to receive one of the three Desire2Excel awards at FUSION 2008 held last July in Memphis.

We are now in our sixth year of this program. Some of the best outcomes have been related to the number of students who decided to choose a career in education after their involvement in the student mentor program. The slides below are about three years old now, but can give you a good idea about some of the features of the program.

LSC Online Student Mentors
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: lsconline)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Meeting the Governor's Goal

I've been looking at the math involved in trying to meet the Governor's goal for Minnesota Online. By 2015 he would like to see 25% of our enrollments delivered online.

First, let's look at the most recent completed year - FY08.

  • Classroom (01) = 114,364 FYE = 81.8%
  • Internet (03) = 12,806 FYE = 9.2%
  • Web Enhanced (09) = 3,718 FYE = 2.7%
  • Web Supplied (10) = 7,631 FYE = 5.5%
  • Other (01, 02, 04, 06, 08) = 1,361 FYE = 1%
  • Total (all media codes) = 139,880 FYE = 100%
For those of you not familiar with our coding system, let me try to explain. In MnSCU we use media codes to identify different delivery methods.
  • Media code 01 is the traditional classroom face-to-face learning arrangement.
  • Media code 03 is for online learning, although it is possible to have up to two required time and place events - such as campus/proctored exams, labs, and the like (see another post of how different states define distance education).
  • Media code 09 is called "web-enhanced" learning which is what many people call hybrid. There is reduced seat-time in the traditional classroom and some required work to be completed online.
  • Media code 10 is pretty goofy. It is called Web Supplied and it is for any course that uses the VLE (Desire2Learn in our case) as a supplement to the classroom. There is no reduced seat-time for these classes. Many schools do not properly code these classes. In other words, some of the courses classified as 01 should be classified as 10.
  • All the other media codes are for other, mostly dying, types of delivery such as ITV, CD ROM, and Satellite delivery.
We have to make some assumptions about what the governor means when he says 25% online. I assume that he means 25% of the enrollment/FYE in MnSCU media code 03.

I do not assume that he means we should include media code 09 (hybrid) and media code 10 in reaching the 25% goal. If we do include those other media codes as being "somewhat online," then we are already at 17.4 percentage points on the way to 25 percentage points. Even closer if we were to properly code classes as a "10" if they use the VLE in any way.

One clue to the Governor's intention was revealed when he himself used the 9.2% figure during his press conferences around the state in late November. Therefore, I've been crunching some numbers to see what enrollments might look like if we are to grow our online courses to the point where they make up 25% of the total enrollment.

Looking at the enrollments for the past five years has been instructive. During that period (2004-2008), overall FYE (full-year equivalent students) has grown by just over 10,000 for an average growth of about 2,000 FYE per year. Can we expect that to continue for the next 5-7 years as well? I have no idea, but we have to make assumptions about all of this so I'm willing to assume that it can continue at that rate.

Additionally, looking at the percentage breakdowns of the various media codes, we see that there has been a reduction in FYE in traditional classes from 95% in 2004 to 81.8% in 2008. During that time the percentage for online courses (media 03) went from 3% to 9.2% while the percentage for the other web-related courses (09 & 10) went from 1% to 8.2%. All the other media codes combined basically stayed constant at about 1%. I'll try to embed a spreadsheet below with the numbers.

So, based on these figures, I'll try to make some educated (Masters in Accounting, if it matters) guesses on how the enrollments would look if we were to reach that goal of 25% online.

  • 1) We will continue to experience an overall growth rate of 2,000 FYE per year through 2015.
  • 2) We will continue to see a rate of growth of 15% per year in enrollments in the other web-ish classes (09 & 10). The annualized rate over the past 4 years has been more like 20%, so 15% is a conservative estimate.
  • 3) We will have a steady growth in the online offerings and enrollments over this time period, not big jumps and small lags. This results in an annual growth rate of 15.35% to bring us to the 25% goal for online courses in 2015.
To see the results using these assumptions, click on the second and third tabs of the embedded spreadsheet. What you'll see is that as our overall enrollments grow by 2,000 FYE per year, the on-ground (traditional or 01 media code) enrollments drop from 109,470 FYE in 2010 to 80,909 FYE in 2015. During this same time, the growth in online enrollments and web-ish (09 & 10) enrollments climb to nearly 47% of our total enrollments.

Of course, I could be wrong. (you can bank on that)

So, this begs a whole host of questions. What are we going to do with all these buildings when our utilization rates fall by 30%? Will this make it harder to get bonding money approved for buildings since we are greatly reducing our usage of them? How can we possibly triple our online enrollments while still maintaining quality? What kind of results do we expect if we begin forcing faculty to teach online who otherwise have no interest in doing so? I have about 50 more questions rolling around in there, but I'm sure you catch the drift.

Here's my surprising conclusion. I actually think it is possible to reach this goal. I'm not saying that we should necessarily strive to reach the goal, but I think it could be done. However, I don't think that it could possibly be done under the current format of Minnesota Online, under the current allocation formula for funding the colleges and universities in MnSCU, under the current configuration of our VLE and the governance structure surrounding it, and under the current lack of collaboration that occurs among the various colleges and universities. Other than that, it should work.

If the spreadsheet embed doesn't show for you, use this link.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Different Definitions of Distance Learning

Last week I attended meetings with the Southern Regional Education Board. I spoke about Web 2.0 usage in higher education and there were several other presentations related to teaching with technology and online learning.

One interesting session was led by John Opper of the Florida Distance Learning Consortium. I'm working on another post about some of the things that are happening in Florida, but this post will focus on some of the info that is available at the website related to a legislature-mandated task force regarding distance learning in the Sunshine State.

They are looking at special fees for distance courses, which begs the question about how to determine whether a course is a distance course that should have the fees applied. We deal with very similar issues here in Minnesota where a per credit fee is charged for distance courses (but not hybrid or web-enhanced courses) and also where most schools charge a higher tuition rate for online/distance courses.

What they found in Florida was that different schools were defining distance ed differently. For example, one school might charge the extra fees for any course where 50% of the work was done online, but the next school would only charge extra if 75% of the work was done online, and so on and so forth. Before the task force could make recommendations about the fees to be charged, they needed to decide which courses would have any extra fees attached.

As part of their research, they looked at what some other states have decided with regard to a definition of distance learning. As you might suspect, the answers are all over the board. I find it somewhat surprising that most of these definitions allow for a fair amount of required campus seat-time and they still can be called distance courses. My experience in this matter tells me that students signing up for online (distance) courses expect there to be NO seat time whatsoever. Here's what the Florida group found from eight different groups, and I've added the MnSCU definition at the bottom. Please share if you know how this is being defined in other states. (My comments are in italics)

State: Georgia
Definition of distance learning: More than 50% of instruction is delivered through one or more forms of technology in which the instructor of record and student are separated by time and geographical location.
(But up to 49% campus seat-time would apparently still count as a distance class. I like the description "separated by time and geographical location," but not the time percentage.)

State: Illinois
Definition of distance learning: Instruction is offered mostly online. (Super vague.)

State: Kentucky
Definition of distance learning: A course when technology is the primary mode of instruction and more than 50 percent of the course content is delivered electronically.
(50% is a very low threshold.)

State: Maryland
Definition of distance learning: Education or training delivered off campus via educational technologies, including video, audio, and computer-based instruction, where the students and the instructor are separated by physical distance and/or time. At least 50 percent of the instruction/interaction had to occur utilizing a distance education technology in order to be included in this collection.
(Not a totally thorough laundry list of delivery technologies, and 50% required seat time is not distance ed.)

State: Ohio
Definition of distance learning: Course where 70 percent or more of instruction is offered away from the institution. Can be offered through the Internet, by satellite, or via correspondence.
(30% seat time could still mean that a student could be required to come to campus once a week - definitely not a distance course.)

State: Texas
Definition of distance learning: A course where technology is the primary mode of instruction and more than 50 percent of the course content is delivered electronically.
(Low threshold, again.)

State: Washington University System
Definition of distance learning: An academic degree credit course that is delivered predominantly through prerecorded media, surface-mailed correspondence, the Internet, interactive television technologies, and/or broadcasting.
(Does predominantly mean what I think it means? Anything over 50 per cent?)

State: Washington Community & Technical Colleges
Definition of distance learning: Courses are categorized as completely online, i.e., there is no mandated class time and they have a technological component.
(This sounds more like what students are expecting. However, Even in the same state they can't agree on what distance ed is and what it isn't.)

State: Minnesota (State Colleges and Universities)
Definition of distance learning: No more than two time and place requirements for the semester, such as campus visits, labs, proctored exams, etc.
(This has worked fairly well at least at my school where there are very few required proctoring situations, and almost no required campus visits at all. Not all schools in the system have almost no time and space requirements as we do at LSC.)

This pretty much confirms that e-Learning in higher ed is an ill-defined product. No wonder so many people don't understand what we're talking about. We're all talking about different things.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Online Learners - What's Important?

This will be cross-posted at my Online Student Satisfaction blog. I have been analyzing some of the data (again) from the 2008 PSOL survey. This is the fourth year that we have used this Noel-Levitz survey at Lake Superior College. The embedded slides explain a bit more about the survey, including the four sets of data that are compared for online student ratings of both importance and satisfaction.

2008 PSOL Data Charts
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: psol online)

There are 26 items that are included in all PSOL submissions. You can add other items but only the first 26 can be compared across other populations since these are the only items answered by all students. In order of descending importance, here are the top eleven items for LSC students on the 2008 PSOL (survey item number is indicated at beginning of each line).

1. (20) The quality of online instruction is excellent.
2. (25) Faculty are responsive to student needs.
3. (11) Student assignments are clearly defined in the syllabus.
4. (18) Registration for online courses is convenient.
5. (07) Program requirements are clear and reasonable.
6. (06) Tuition paid is a worthwhile investment.
7. (12) There are sufficient offerings within my program of study.
8. (23) Billing and payment procedures are convenient for me.
9. (04) Faculty provide timely feedback about student progress.
10. (03) Instructional materials are appropriate for program content.
11. (10) This institution responds quickly when I request information.

There are clearly other items that are very important to online learners but are not included in the 26 PSOL items. Please leave a comment if you have some ideas about what they might be. Thanks.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Blackboard Hearts the USPTO

I really don't know what to make of the latest posting on the D2L Patent Blog. The title is Blackboard sues U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. There's a link to a PDF of the suit filed by Blackboard. D2L says the following:

"A new development: Blackboard has taken its attempts to stop the reexam to another level. It has now sued the Patent and Trademark Office, asking the Court for a ruling that the PTO's refusal to suspend or terminate the reexam was improper. Blackboard filed its case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, where the PTO is located. The Complaint makes for an interesting read, and has at least one surprising omission: Blackboard somehow forgot to mention that on March 25, in a non-final action, the PTO rejected each of the 44 claims of the patent."

I'm about ready to board a plane for Atlanta, so the PDF should make for good reading on the plane.