Monday, December 28, 2009

MnSCU Online Course Definitions - Part Two

Part one examined the confusion about what is and what isn't a traditional classroom course. Part two will take a look at what is a hybrid or blended course. Part three (coming soon) will look at the new ideas about what is an online course.

Within MnSCU, media code 09 has been used for many years to represent those courses that fall into the following description:

  • 1. Course blends online and face-to-face delivery.
  • 2. Some of the content is delivered online.
  • 3. More than two class sessions face-to-face.
  • 4. Reduced classroom seat time.
  • 5. Also know as "web-enhanced."
One reason for differentiating between an online course and a blended course is the special $5 per credit Minnesota Online fee. If a course is coded as an online course it will include a $5 per credit surcharge that is used to partially fund the budget for Minnesota Online. This budget is used to pay for the IMS (D2L) licensing and support costs, a state-wide D2L help desk (which we don't use at my school), and several other services and personnel costs related to the 32-school consortium that makes up MnOnline.

The Minnesota Online website is designed to serve distance learners and others interested in learning through the online offerings from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. The website does not provide information about the blended course offerings. I believe that the main reason for this is to not confuse the issue about which courses and programs can be completed by a true distance student and those that require a significant amount of time on site.

MnSCU allows institutions to separately determine their tuition rates for online courses. This is known in the system as a "market-rate" tuition. The idea of market-rate tuition does not extend to blended courses. Blended courses will be charged the base tuition rate for each institution rather than the campus-determined market rate for online tuition, although campus exceptions are possible if a course falls into an expensive (to offer) program that has a higher tuition rate than the base.

One thing that MnSCU has never dealt with is the question of how much reduced seat time is appropriate for a blended course. Doing some simple math, here is what I come up with given that there are no other restrictions:

-- 1) a course must meet a minimum of three times to be considered a blended course. Consider the minimum to be 3 hours of meeting time out of the normal 48 hours for a 3-credit course. Therefore, a course could be 6% classroom (3/48) and 94% online and fit the MnSCU definition.

-- 2) To be blended, it has to have reduced seat-time, but apparently that could be as little as one fewer course meeting than normal. So, a course could meet 98% in the classroom and 2% (1/48) online and be considered a blended course.

-- 3) In other words, in lieu of other guidance (there isn't any), a blended course could be anywhere from 2% to 94% online with the rest of the instruction delivered on-ground in the classroom.

I really thought that since MnSCU is going through the exercise (again) of trying to define all of these delivery methods (media codes for the MnSCU-ers out there), that they would also try to build a little definition into the possible range for blended courses. For example, the University of Illinois Chicago defines blended as being between 25% - 74% online. It appears as though Central New Mexico CC stipulates a 50-50% breakdown between classroom and online for blended courses. The Florida Distance Learning task force recommends that a blended course be conducted at least 50% and not more than 79% online.

To sum up, blended courses in MnSCU:
  • don't get charged the $5 per credit fee.
  • don't appear in course search results at MnOnline website.
  • are charged the base tuition rate.
  • receive no guidance about how much or how little instruction must occur in the classroom.
Basically, there will be no more clarity here than there was before. Looks to me like a missed opportunity.
CC photo by

Monday, December 21, 2009

MnSCU Online Course Definitions - Part One

Apparently we've had a communication problem within Minnesota Online. We're a couple 13, 14 years (copyright the Common Man, Dan Cole) into this thing called online learning, and now we are being told that we need to be much more specific about what we mean when we say that we are offering online courses, and also hybrid and traditional face-to-face courses for that matter as well.

The big question right now appears to be: "Just what exactly is an online course?"

Along with that question, you also get to decide what is an on-ground class and what is a hybrid/blended course. Let the fun begin.

This will be the first post of 2 or 3 in which I will try to explain my position regarding the proposed changes to the ways that we define the delivery method of various types of courses. In MnSCU, we attach something known as a media code to every class that is entered into the student records/registration system. I have previously posted about some of the confusion that surrounds the media codes, but I need to take a different angle with this post. This first post will only look at what is a traditional classroom course - and what isn't. Online and blended courses are coming soon.

Currently, media code 00 is used for the traditional classroom or face-to-face learning arrangement. The following are some of the typical components of this delivery method:

  • 1. The course meets in a traditional classroom (or facsimile thereof) on our campus or in another college facility.
  • 2. The course typically meets on a regular schedule such as Mon-Wed-Fri mornings from 10 to 11; although it is possible to have a one-day course or any other date/time schedule that is conducive to a successful course.
  • 3. There is no reduced seat time as measured by the traditional method of 1 classroom hour (50 minutes, of course) per week for the typical semester of 15-16 weeks. For example, a 3-credit course would typically meet for 48 (50 minute) hours during the semester, or the equivalent.
That all seems rather basic and shouldn't be controversial. However, the proposal would call for one more requirement:
  • 4. "All instruction is delivered face-to-face in a classroom setting."
In other words, media code 00 (traditional F2F or "on-ground" instruction) CANNOT use the IMS or even use the Internet in any basic sense. AND APPARENTLY THAT'S OKAY!!

If a faculty member wants to use any kind of Internet resource then we will need to use a separate code for that. Media Code 10 (classroom-based with web facilitation) includes the following features:
  • 1. The course meets in a traditional classroom (or facsimile thereof) on our campus or in another college facility.
  • 2. The course typically meets on a regular schedule throughout the term and DOES NOT have reduced seat time.
  • 3. "May use the Internet"
  • 4. "May use the IMS (currently D2L)"
Apparently, an instructor's decision to include Internet resources into a course requires a completely different coding in the course registration system. When I asked about this, I was told that they WEREN'T going to specify that the Internet CANNOT be used in a face-to-face (code 01) course, but that is how the end result appears to me.

This bothers me on several levels - but I'll only mention three at this time:
  • 1. This appears to restrict an instructor's ability to add new content on the fly if the mood so strikes her. "Gee class, I just found a great new resource on the Internet, but we can't use it in this class because this is a 'NO INTERNET' class."
  • 2. Coding every class this way will be a nightmare. Just trying to get the information about each class about whether it uses the Internet or not will be quite a chore, not to mention the need to explain why you're asking for this information in the first place without sounding like an idiot.
  • 3. It also bothers me that on some level we are making the use of the Internet to be some sort of a special thing - at least that's the way it looks to me. If we are doing that, why don't we also do some of the following? A) indicate which classes are mostly lecture and which are not, B) indicate which classes require students to engage in active learning and which don't, C) indicate which faculty members take most of their test questions from the textbook and which take most from their lectures or other resources, D) which classes use PowerPoint all the time and which don't, E) and what about clickers - shouldn't those be specified too? Etc, etc., etc.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Top 5 Questions about "The Settlement"

News broke on Tuesday afternoon (12/15) that Desire2Learn and Blackbored (Blackborg, Blackbeard, BlackAngel, Dr. Evil, etc. - a.k.a. Blackboard) have reached an agreement to end their 3+ year patent dispute. Very little info has been released about the deal that was reached, and it appears as if there won't be a great deal of additional info coming any time soon.

The whole "we're ready to move on" thing doesn't strike me quite right. These are the top 5 questions (or so) that I have (for today, anyway).

  • Doesn't this move by D2L signal the possibility that there is some validity in Blackboard's lousy "Alcorn" patent? By walking away from this fight aren't we currently left with a patent that is no longer being vigorously challenged? I assume that the USPTO re-examination will proceed with or without this settlement, but they move as slow as molasses and you never know what their final ruling might be. At the current time, doesn't Blackborg still have this Alcorn patent that they can wield against other small competitors? But, the main question in this first group of related questions is "Doesn't cross licensing the patent portfolios indicate that there is something there to license?" Granted, Bb has more patents (rats) than just the Alcorn patent, but still we don't know what they are licensing and what that means for the future of product development for either vendor. It strikes me as a little too cozy, "Gee, we really like your stuff, can we use it?"
  • What happened to the whole "we're in it to win it" attitude on behalf of D2L? Sure, I know that business decisions have to be made that sometimes represent a change in course, but this one strikes me as especially hollow. John Baker has personally told me on more than one occasion that D2L was carrying the fight forward for all of the other companies out there, not just for themselves. This settlement without reaching a resolution about the patent validity still leaves a whole lot of unanswered questions about the LMS market and patents that can have a very negative effect on the educational community.
  • Why would D2L be taking down their patent blog (sometime today, or so it says)? This is a good record of all the filings and maneuvers (albeit from a D2L slant - still, much of it is factual) and this is widely viewed as a rather historic fight in realm of LMS geeks. Why is it necessary for this public record to go away? One of the main reasons for having a blog in the first place is to have an archive of events. postings, etc. There's a lot of useful information in that blog site, why turn out the lights? (Update: during the time that I was writing this post, most of the material was removed from the site. Another update: now everything but the final post is gone.)
  • As a client who is concerned about financial stability of the vendor and future price increases (and all that other stuff), is D2L getting their 3.1 million dollar judgment back from Blackbeard? This will clearly be one of those details that both sides choose not to talk about but I think it is an important piece of the puzzle. I understand that lawyers and litigation are expensive so they may have wanted to end the money drain right now, but if D2L is forfeiting the 3.1 million by abandoning the fight, then again it raises questions for me as to why.
  • Has this whole ordeal made D2L more like Blackboard? Has the ongoing litigation turned them into a corporate culture similar to the evil empire? For example, D2L has been very vocal and public about this whole mess while Blackboard has been mostly silent. Now at the end, both are silent - which looks like D2L is more like Bb than they used to be. If they are going to cross-license software (or whatever), aren't we looking at less differentiation between products rather than more? Just by lying down with the enemy, don't you give the enemy more credence and begin to look more like them rather than less like them? If D2L begins behaving more like Blackboard, then Blackboard has won and all of us in education have lost.
  • There is wide speculation that this settlement is the first step toward an acquisition of D2L by Bb. I highly doubt that, but at this point I find predicting what these two companies will do to be an exercise in futility.
  • The Alcorn patent is also known as the '138 patent and in most of the actions was reduced to claims 36-38.
  • Regardless of my question about whether D2L is becoming more like Bb, I have many friends who work at D2L and I wish them all the best. I'm just a bit worried about what their futures may hold, both as a company and as individuals.
  • I felt more confident about D2L's future before this settlement than after. Call me crazy.
I smell a rat!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Now Hiring - Fabulous Salaries

Don't let all the news about budget cuts and layoffs scare you away. Here at Lake Superior College we are hiring adjunct faculty for as much as $545,000 annually. Here's the catch. You won't earn all that because it is only a part-time job (so you might earn 1/2 of the $545K if you teach half-time) and it clearly states that there are no benefits included with this position. (Click to view enlarged photo)

A hat tip to @bergjj for the heads up on this one.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Online Course Student Evals

During a recent 2-day eLearning Quality Workshop in North Dakota we again had a brief discussion about student evaluations for online courses. Part of the discussion centered on the overall validity of student responses on course evals and part of it centered on the evaluation surveys themselves; particularly how long should they be and how can you get good response rates on a voluntary submission basis. (Flickr CC photo by kodomut)

A few years ago we (Lake Superior College) redesigned our end-of-course survey rather dramatically, from 32 questions to 10. We were hoping that the response rate would go up significantly if the students could see at a glance that the survey would only take a couple of minutes to complete. The response rate did go up, but only by a few percentage points and it still is less than 20% overall for all online courses combined.

Near the end of each term, we set up separate course shells within D2L for each online course and then enroll all the students but not the faculty members into those courses. Those extra "courses" appear in the students' course listings when they login to D2L near the end of the term and they can click in to take the survey. We post info there about the anonymity, that faculty won't get results until 2-4 weeks after the end of the term, and profusely thank them for their participation. We send out emails to all students informing them that the evals are open (they don't really read our email) and post messages on the front page of the D2L home page.

So, my questions for you fair readers are these:

  • a) do you have any advice for how to get the response rates substantially higher for student evals?
  • b) how do you convince students that their responses are anonymous and won't influence their final grades?
  • c) has anyone tried evaluating only after the course has closed and grades have been posted? If so, how?
  • d) do you have the "killer eval" that asks all the right questions and that you're willing to share?
Please reply in the comments section with anything you might want to say.

I'll close with the eval that we use at LSC as shown below.


Thoughtful student evaluation can help improve teaching effectiveness. This survey gives you the opportunity to express anonymously your views of this course and the way it has been taught. Your assistance is appreciated.

For all questions, please use the following scale:
1 - Strongly agree
2 - Agree
3 - Disagree
4 - Strongly disagree
5 - Choose not to answer or Don't Know

  • 1. The instructor has created a course layout that is easy to navigate (locate quizzes, lookup grades, find directions to assignments, etc.).
  • 2. There was agreement between the posted course objectives (as listed in the syllabus) and what was taught in the course.
  • 3. This course challenged me intellectually.
  • 4. The course materials used in this class helped me learn the subject matter.
  • 5. The instructor posted information about how best to communicate with him/her and was readily available to students.
  • 6. The instructor provided feedback in a timely manner.
  • 7. The feedback received on my coursework was helpful.
  • 8. Policies for determining grades in this course were clearly explained.
  • 9. I was satisfied with the amount of interaction with other students in this course.
  • 10. Overall, this instructor has created a valuable learning experience for students.
Finally: Please provide any additional comments about the course that you believe will be helpful to the instructor of this course.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Great Net Neutrality Video

This new video (Oct. 23, '09) about net neutrality is very well done. Progress appears to have been made to convince the U.S. Congress to NOT screw up our (short, but important) tradition of network neutrality. If you are not yet familiar with this issue, this video would be a good starting place.

Just a few other quotes about the importance of net neutrality:

  • "Net neutrality is fundamentally important to allowing universities fulfill
    their educational mission." (Educause)
  • "A simple principle that means internet providers, such as cable and phone companies, should not block or discriminate against legal content on the web." (
  • "the fundamental concern is that the provider of broadband service not be able to take advantage of that to act in an anticompetitive fashion against others that are trying to provide competitive applications using the same broadband facilities." (Google's Vint Cerf)

All is not perfectly rosy just yet. Here's a short article that makes clear that we may have concerns about whether there can be agreement on what "legitimate content in the continuing development of the Internet." might look like when it comes to dealing with the FCC. (

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Online Discussion about Obama's CC Initiative

Yesterday I served as moderator for two hours for an online discussion forum about President Obama’s American Graduation Initiative The "Jam" was organized by the Knowledge in the Public Interest, the Brookings Institution, the Education Commission of the States, and Jobs for the Future. Community college educators from all around the country joined in the conversation. My topic was one of six different discussions and was titled "Accessing Online Education: Funding to Create Free, Web-based Courses."

  • Plan is for $500 Million ($50M each year for 10 years)
  • H.R. Bill 3221 should be voted on this week. Senate bill in earlier stages. UPDATE: 3221 passed right before I posted this. Senate bill still coming.)
  • Here's the text from Obama’s speech in July about the proposal to
    • “…build a new virtual infrastructure to complement the education and training community colleges can offer. So we're going to support the creation of a new online, open-source clearinghouse of courses so that community colleges across the country can offer more classes without building more classrooms. And this will make a big difference especially for rural campuses that a lot of times have struggled -- attract -- have to struggle to attract students and faculty. And this will make it possible for a professor to complement his lecture with an online exercise, or for a student who can't be away from her family to still keep up with her coursework. We don't know where this kind of experiment will lead, but that's exactly why we ought to try it because I think there's a possibility that online education can provide especially for people who are already in the workforce and want to retrain the chance to upgrade their skills without having to quit their job." (see video in previous post)
So, what were people saying in the Jam? Here are a few excerpts:

1. How would this open-source clearinghouse of courses fit into the massive development of online courses that has already occurred at community colleges? In other words, would it fill in gaps in online course content that haven't been effectively filled at this point, or would it be duplicative of the many efforts already underway? Some suggestions were for a concentration on developmental (remedial) courses. Another suggestion was to focus on emerging academic programs that don't already exist (or at least not much of an existence).

2. Another major area of conversation centered around the words "free" and "open." The first term (free) doesn't actually appear in Obama's remarks, but it does appear in the White House Briefing Room (in the phrase "freely available courses"). J.S. from Honolulu asked the following: "Does 'open' mean:
  • Free to use as you will with absolutely no cost?
  • Free to use without citing or acknowledging sources?
  • Freedom from any and all constraints in transporting the content -- as is or in modified form -- to different sites?
  • Complete freedom to alter the content?
  • Freely and easily accessible with no site subscription fees or complex registration and log-in procedures?
  • Stable or "permanent" URLs?
  • Options for different levels of privacy in terms of tracking or "footprints"?
All good questions, but no answers at this time.

Lastly, I'll paste the text from the Briefing Room linked above:
"Create a New Online Skills Laboratory: Online educational software has the potential to help students learn more in less time than they would with traditional classroom instruction alone. Interactive software can tailor instruction to individual students like human tutors do, while simulations and multimedia software offer experiential learning. Online instruction can also be a powerful tool for extending learning opportunities to rural areas or working adults who need to fit their coursework around families and jobs. New open online courses will create new routes for students to gain knowledge, skills and credentials. They will be developed by teams of experts in content knowledge, pedagogy, and technology and made available for modification, adaptation and sharing. The Departments of Defense, Education, and Labor will work together to make the courses freely available through one or more community colleges and the Defense Department’s distributed learning network, explore ways to award academic credit based upon achievement rather than class hours, and rigorously evaluate the results." (my emphases added)

From that, John S. made the following recommendations for how it could be crafted:
  • - Provide funds for grant projects which develop new online degree programs in emerging fields. (I could name several for which I've heard reports of demand.) This would help focus the project on workforce development and degree completion, which is the stated goal of the overall initiative.
  • - The interactive individualized open courseware is fine, but projects should show how the courseware will lead to higher graduation rates as a criterion for funding. If they could actually do that, it would be tremendous.
  • - Outline a framework by which open, free course materials will be disseminated. (SCORM is not a dissemination mechanism; it is an interoperability mechanism.)
  • - Fund a project or two which explores how successful inter-institutional collaborations currently work and how they could be scaled to promote easier 'swirling'.
  • - Fund a project or two which explores offering "academic credit based upon achievement rather than class hours." But let's use the experience of existing institutions and see if a project can help expand the acceptance of those approaches. For example, how 'bout a project which supports the creation of a national online course catalog with inter-institutional articulation a la SOC/SOCAD? Or what could be done to expand the capacity of the existing institutions (Empire State, Thomas Edison et al.)?
  • - Allow for the use of broader evaluation methods which measure outcomes more richly. Why should we individualize inputs (as in individualizing courseware) but continue to standardize outputs? (And reliance on experimental or quasi-experimental methods, randomized controlled trials, bias toward standardized tests, does not constitute "rigorous evaluation.")
  • - Fund a project which changes how graduation rates are currently calculated. According to a recent AACSU report, the current methodology is highly flawed. (I was shocked to learn that I would not count as a successful graduate because I was a transfer student.) This is not just mere window dressing; it would help IHEs and the general public have a better sense of the actual success rate.
All in all, it was a productive and very long discussion thread about the initiative. I'll probably pull out a few more things for future postings.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Obama's Free Online Course Initiative

Looking for your thoughts about the $500 Million ($50M per year for 10 years) that President Obama announced for the "creation of a new online open-source clearing house of courses" during his appearance at Macomb Community College on July 14, 2009. The relevant part of his speech is snipped and shown below.

There seem to be very few details about this project at this time. It seems like a reasonable strategy for experienced distance educators to try to provide some guidance for how this initiative is developed.

Please share your thoughts about how this should be crafted.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

5 Reasons Microsoft Won't Buy Blackboard

Inside Higher Ed's BlogU recently posted the following article: 5 Reasons Microsoft Will Buy Blackboard. While reading the story I couldn't help but think how different the article might have been if I'd written it. A little something like this ...

The top 5 reasons why we WON'T see Microsoft buying Blackboard by the end of 2010:

  • 1. Because they suck! (they = Bb of course)
  • 2. Because Microsoft is trying harder not to suck so much.
  • 3. Because buying Blackboard would only prove that Microsoft is more evil rather than less.
  • 4. Because most of the people in the education space (including lots of Blackboard users) think that Blackborg is a terrible partner for education. Not exactly the best way for Microsoft to become more relevant in the education sector.
  • 5. Because they suck!

Please let me know if I've missed anything.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Setting Online Expectations - Academic Freedom

In previous posts, I highlighted part A and part B of the information from St. Petersburg College about their expectations of and for online students. Today I'll take a look at their part C - Academic Civility and Freedom of Expression.

This is what St. Pete has to say about this:

Expectations: Students may expect that:
  • They will be able to pursue their studies in a stimulating, open environment where the pursuit of truth, free expression of ideas, responsible criticism, and reasonable dissent are recognized as basic to the educational process.
  • Students have the right to exercise their academic freedom within the responsible confines of the course material.
  • A process exists for students to express and document concerns they may have about specific action, inaction or behavior by any member of the College faculty or staff.
Responsibilities: Students have the responsibility to:
  • Act in accordance with standards of reasonable behavior, respect and civility. This standard would prohibit behavior that is disruptive or interferes with the teaching/learning process, including:
    • the posting of inappropriate materials in chat rooms, emails, bulletin boards, or Web pages;
    • use of obscenities;
    • personal attacks on fellow students or faculty;
    • sexual harassment; or
    • comments that are demeaning or disrespectful to another's ideas and opinions.
That seems to be pretty well stated. I think the bigger (err, harder) question has to do with Academic Freedom on behalf of the faculty when it comes to e-Learning. Don't get me wrong, I think that academic freedom is extremely important and needs to be protected - however, I think that it is often misunderstood. In fact, what I really believe is that academic freedom is tossed on the table in many situations where it is not a question of academic freedom in the first place. Or, to state it another way, academic freedom does not equal freedom - you are not free to do whatever you want just because you work in academe.

With regard to e-Learning, I have been waiting for quite some time for a battle to ensue regarding the intersection of academic freedom and access to technology. Several years ago I heard a negotiator for the state (employer) side of the negotiated contract language (union contract) state unequivocally that the choice of using or not using the state-supported IMS (D2L in our case, but no matter) is NOT a question of academic freedom. In other words, faculty cannot (according to him, at least) just claim academic freedom as the reason why they are choosing NOT to use the state/school-supported IMS, and instead choose to use a different IMS. Because of the licensing, support costs, and several other tech-related factors, and because the IMS is simply the vessel through which they teach, the question of academic freedom does NOT apply in this situation. Part of his rationale was that there is nothing "academic" about the choice of whether you use the supported IMS or not.

I think this is a fascinating argument. I also don't pretend to know the answer. IANAL, but I sure like to pretend as if I am from time to time. I would love to hear your opinions about this question. Please submit a comment (I moderate them due to high levels of spam, but try to approve them quickly) and share your thoughts.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Setting Online Expectations - Academic Honesty

In a previous post I highlighted part A of the information from St. Petersburg College about their expectations of and for online students. Today I'll take a look at their part B. Part C is coming soon.

Expectations. Students may expect to:
  • Pursue academic studies in a positive and ethical context, where academic standards are upheld.
  • Have their academic work assessed fully and equitably in a learning community where competition is fair, integrity is required, and cheating is punished.
  • Understand and agree with recognizable standards on plagiarism.
  • Have access to a stated procedure for filing academic grievances and appeals. (See Board of Trustees rule 6Hx23-4.36.)

Responsibilities. Students are expected to:
  • Be honest and forthright in their academic endeavors.
  • Familiarize themselves with the College's academic honesty policy and standards as specified in the online Academic Honesty Policy, Board of Trustees rule 6Hx23-4.461.
  • Adhere to these standards of academic honesty and integrity as a condition of enrollment at SPC.
  • Understand that failure to comply with these standards may result in academic and/or disciplinary action, up to and including expulsion from the College.
  • Recognize their ethical obligation, as members of the College community, to report any violation of the SPC Academic Honesty Policy.
OK, I'm not just trying to be picky here, but look at that statement again: "Students may expect to understand and agree with recognizable standards on plagiarism." Does that make sense? Umm, no. That should be filed under the next category, more like "Students are expected to understand and agree with recognizable standards on plagiarism." (Although that also strikes me a little bit like "students are expected to agree with everything that I tell them." What if they don't agree with the "recognizable standards?")

Possibly in the first category there should be something like this:
  • "Students may expect to receive information and/or instruction from their faculty as to what constitutes cheating and plagiarism."
Everyone seems to want to punish students for academic dishonesty, but they seem to assume that students already know the same things that the faculty know about what is and what isn't cheating. That's a very poor assumption. Somewhere we need to spend the time teaching students about this or else the students will always be at a disadvantage. (P.S. I doubt that any Academic Honesty Policy really does a very good job of "teaching" student about these important issues.)

Anyone who has read my postings before is probably waiting for something like the following:
  • Students may expect to have their intellectual property (original writings or other creations) protected from low-life companies that seek to make a profit from them without compensation.
  • Students are expected to never give up their intellectual property to low-life companies that seek to make a profit from them without compensation.
  • The college administration and faculty are expected to honor the intellectual property of all students. Any attempt to force students to submit their intellectual property to low-life companies that seek to make a profit from students' work without compensation to the students is to be avoided, thwarted, or denied with extreme prejudice.
Overall, I think this section from SPC is very good. I just have to take my shots at the abomination that is Turnitin dot bomb every chance I get, and this was a chance to do so.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Setting Expectations - Jeannette Campos #2

Continuing from the previous guest post by Jeannette Campos, here are five more suggestions that she gives for shaping expectations about online learning.

6. Make No Assumptions: Establish a baseline of what your faculty do, and do not, know about instructional design. Faculty need to understand the relationship between instructional objectives, instructional strategies, instructional tools and evaluation methods. Be prepared to do a lot of intensive coaching around how to design and develop online, prior to how we deliver online. Take time for the basics. The learning will be so much more solid if it is supported by good ISD.

7. Professional Development: Schedule weekly learning lunches and support them with an online resource center for faculty. In my experience, this predictable and consistent support really made a difference. I also had great success facilitating a week long intensive seminar for all faculty developing online courses for the first time. Prior to that workshop, I standardized the folder structure, naming conventions and branding pieces (images, fonts and colors) to be used in all classrooms. Although the faculty were responsible for developing with these tools, the tools were really about setting and stabilizing expectations for the student: courses follow conventions, logical structure, predictable navigation and message design standards. Wow, learning is so much easier now that we aren’t confused and distracted!

8. Support: Break it down. Often times there isn't enough systematic support for online learning initiatives. To help you achieve a lot with a little, consider shaping expectations by breaking support questions down into four types: student support, BlackBoard functionality, faculty non-instructional support and faculty instructional support. Use your resources! Consider hiring a Federal Work Study student to handle the first three types of requests, and dedicate a capable and competent staff member for the instructional support issues. I think you'll find that both students and faculty alike are calmed knowing how to frame their request and seek help.

9. Engage: Involve them and make it fun. In my experience, online learning is really misunderstood and somewhat feared. Engaging the faculty, staff and leadership is very important. Shape the expectation that instructional technology is possible (for everyone!) and not so hard, so crazy, so radical, and so different from orthodox classroom instruction. It’s evolutionary, not revolutionary. Also, the more engaged the approach (student services, academic advising, library, etc), the greater the chance for student success.

10. Spell it out: Look to the abundant research out there to help you determine "what makes good online course design.” Consider using the research to determine what competencies you want the online learning on your campus to achieve. Then, use a research-based, competency approach to support your faculty development. Faculty like that they have a target that doesn't prescribe the methods they must use. They like it because it tells them “what right looks like” without removing their creative license to satisfy the standards. You can also use the competencies to certify courses. Faculty like this because the competencies provide a blueprint for the architecture of their online classroom. Last, it helps shape and manage the expectation of the students because they know, if they see the “certified logo” that this class passes muster.

There you have it. That's the end of Jeanette's thoughtful response to my question about shaping expectations for online teaching and learning. I really appreciate her taking the time to provide this feedback. Many of the things she mentions are similar to efforts we have made at Lake Superior College over the years, but a few of the things are either things we haven't gotten around to or things we decided not to do (such as "certify" a course for meeting design standards). Thanks very much Jeannette.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Expectations for Online Students - What does St. Pete Say?

One of the better resources that I have discovered about identifying and communicating a college's expectations about online learning comes from a place where I have lots of friends. St. Petersburg College in Florida is rightfully considered to be a leader in the field of online teaching and learning. They have a very large online enrollment, a skilled support staff and administration, an engaged online faculty group, and plenty of awards to prove it.

This is the first installment where I take a look at their list of expectations and opine about how a similar list might look when we are finished (if it's ever really "finished") with this project at Lake Superior College.

From St. Petersburg College:
Part I. Guidelines/Expectations for Students
A. Academic Participation

Expectations. Students may expect:
  • The opportunity to be active participants in a stimulating and challenging education that is international in scope, interactive in process and diverse in content and approach.
  • A course outline or syllabus that provides information regarding course content, teaching methods, course objectives, grading, attendance/participation policies, and student assessment guidelines.
  • Instructors who are responsive and available to discuss students' progress, course content, assignments, etc. at mutually convenient times from the first day of the term through the last day of the term. Individual instructors' schedules, availability, and procedural details will appear in the course syllabi. (See Instructional Performance Targets that follow.)
  • To have access to instructor feedback and grading on projects, exams, papers, quizzes, etc., so they are able to determine where they have made errors or need additional work.

Responsibilities. Students are expected to:
  • Have baseline computer and information skills. Since computer literacy is a general education requirement, students are encouraged to either take a face-to-face or online literacy course or take the literacy test prior to taking online courses.
  • Log into their courses during the first week (for the traditional semester) or within 48 hours (for non-traditional classes like modmesters, express, or "dynamically dated" classes) of the beginning of the session to confirm their participation. (Students who register after the session has begun will be responsible for any assignments or material already covered.)
  • Take an active role in each class, participating fully in class discussions, assignments and other activities throughout the entire session. If some event interferes with that participation, the student is responsible for notifying the instructor in advance.
  • Review the course syllabus and other preliminary course materials thoroughly as early as possible during the first week of class.
  • Be responsible for raising any questions or seeking clarification about these materials, if necessary, within the first week of the session.
  • Submit assignments and papers on time, and take tests by the posted dates. Acceptance of late work and any penalties for late submissions are up to the discretion of the instructor, based on the expectations outlined in the course syllabus.
  • Complete the "Student Survey of Instruction" for each class to evaluate the instructor and the course.
That's a pretty good list. A few questions come to mind.
1. Are any of the included items either unclear or confusing to a typical student?
2. Should any of the included items be removed from the list?
3. Is there is anything missing that should be included in the list?
4. How will these expectations be communicated to potential and current students?

Before trying to tackle some of those questions, permit me to make one (possibly obvious) observation. The first section about what students may expect seems to be as much about shaping the college's expectations about faculty and online teaching as it does about shaping students' expectations. Clearly the only way that students may expect learning that isinternational in scope is if the faculty member provides the opportunity for that happen. Similarly, the only way that students can expect certain things to appear in the syllabus is if the college expects the faculty to include those items. Etc., etc. Clearly this is not rocket science.

So what's missing? Let's start with a somewhat snarky (but sensible) answer:
  • If students are expected to have baseline computer and information skills, doesn't it follow that:
  • Students may expect that their instructor has baseline computer and information skills
  • and by the way, where exactly is that baseline? and is "baseline" good enough, or is that minimally acceptable, or what?
What else is missing? How about a less snarky answer?
  • What can students expect as far as having access to course information? In other words, when will their login enable them to get to "their stuff" in the course?
  • How about this? Students may expect to be able to access the course shell and review the course requirements for 5 working days (Mon-Fri) prior to the first day of class.
  • And how about this? Students may expect to be able to access the course shell, review their work and the assigned grades for a minimum of 5 working days (Mon-Fri) after the last scheduled day of the course.
Something else that is missing is an item that always seems to catch students by surprise when taking an online course (although maybe this belongs in the next section (next post) about academic honesty and integrity):
  • Students may expect that an online course instructor could require them to take one or more proctored examinations or other assignments. Students at a distance from the campus will need to make arrangements to have an approved proctor available.
  • Ideally, there would be information available to students prior to enrolling in each online course about these requirements. It may be very difficult for some students to comply with these requirements depending on their circumstances.
There are other possibilities for this section, but I think I'll stop there. Any comments regarding this section of the SPC list of expectations will be appreciated.

Coming soon: SPC's Part B: Academic Honesty and Integrity and Part C: Academic Civility and Freedom of Expression

Monday, August 31, 2009

Setting Expectations - Jeannette Campos #1

As mentioned in the previous post, we will be formalizing a list of expectations regarding online learning at Lake Superior College. I also mentioned a guest blogger who gave me lots of useful input about this project based upon her experiences in online learning.

Jeannette Campos is the guest blogger. Jeannette teaches instructional systems development in the graduate program at UMBC, at The National Labor College and to agencies within the Department of Defense. She hosts a blog, From the Fox Hole, and she owns and operates a business with her husband, Carlos, called Fox Trot 6 (FT6). FT6 is a service-disabled veteran owned small business specializing in the design of learning solutions for non-profit, higher education, commercial and government agencies. FT6 specializes in instructional systems design, training and development, instructional technology and workplace learning. Jeannette and I became connected through Twitter.

In this first guest post she draws on her experiences as an online student, online instructor and online learning strategist to share her observations about preparing and deploying an online learning initiative. This first post includes her observations in five different areas: Strategy, Attributes, System Requirements, Standardizing Syllabi, and Quantifying Behavior.

1. Strategy: Confirm that the leadership supports (AND understands) what learning online is. Ensure that learning online is aligned with the strategic goals of the college. For example, “We’ll put anything online just to increase our course count” is a commander’s intent that can fail miserably. Rather than increasing enrollment and decreasing cost, a college can actually cannibalize its own course catalog by offering the same courses through the day, evening and online divisions. This can result in depleted enrollments and course cancellations (the opposite of the intended effect). Leadership needs to have a sound vision and a strategic approach for online learning. (Often times they need your help). Go bravely!

2. Attributes: Start by providing a list of attributes that make for good online learners and instructors. I put together a two-column list that showed the qualities of online learners and online faculty. The qualities for each were essentially the same (no surprise), and even so, I think it helps to demystify online learning a little bit for the faculty. It also helps to set the stage for a partnership of learning between student and instructor. Last, this list of attributes will help your advising department to feel better prepared to encourage, support and recommend students for online learning options.

3. System Requirements: Create a list of minimum software and hardware requirements for both faculty and students who want to learn online. You can cross-reference the list with the computers available in your campus library to ensure that your students will have access to solutions if they cannot afford their own hardware and software. I also recommend checking out the internet service provider on your campus and trying to increase your bandwidth. During one semester that I observed, the campus internet could not support the increase in traffic that the online course components were generating and no one on campus could get online. This is a fast and easy way to kill your online learning initiative.

4. Standardized Syllabus: Consider creating a standardized syllabus as a dynamic file that includes hyperlinks and embedded audio and video. Verify that the syllabus addresses all of the common concerns that faculty have about learning online, such as; academic integrity, synchronous course policies, what to do if there is a power outage, netiquette, etc. Creating a dynamic file as a template really helps faculty feel prepared and it gives them confidence that their online courses will be postured for success. I have found that this has been a very helpful tool in shaping expectations for both faculty and students.

5. Quantify Behavior: One of my colleagues John Fritz, the Vice President of Instructional Technology, at UMBC is working on an extended research project related academic analytics. More specifically, John is trying to show the relationship between online activity and grade distribution reports, in order to demonstrate how “good students use BlackBoard”. It’s very powerful stuff, and preliminary data shows that, for students, the higher one’s level of engagement, the higher one’s likelihood of academic success. This type of evidence can be very compelling for a student who has never enrolled in an online course. Based on John’s research, my syllabus now always includes a statement telling my graduate students, “Students who successfully completed this course last semester “hit” the classroom XX times per week and spent XX hours offline.” This clearly sets the expectation and patterns behavior. I have seen this also help faculty learn how to model online behavior. Posting frequent announcements, remaining engaged, responding promptly to posts, etc., can help the faculty provide better instruction and builds the motivation for the student to get engaged, and remain engaged, in the course work.

The next post will conclude Jeannette's observations as she provides information related to: Assumptions, Professional Development, Support, Engagement, and Spelling Things Out.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Setting Expectations for Online Learning

One of the major projects during the upcoming academic year at Lake Superior College will be to develop several lists of expectations regarding online learning. This is our thirteenth year of offering online courses and programs and we have always preached certain things about how to teach online and how to learn online.

However, we have never had a written list of what those expectations are. So, anyone who wasn't in the room when we were talking about these things probably never actually heard our expectations. This is a problem particularly when we bring in a new online faculty member and they might not get all the information that the long-term faculty have heard time and time again.

For example, we have always had the expectation that our online courses will NOT be electronic versions of independent study (also called e-correspondence courses). We expect faculty members to plan for and design into their courses a great deal of interaction - including student-to-student and student-to-instructor. BUT, no where does it actually state that in writing that we can point to.

Therefore, we will have a work group comprised of people throughout the college, plus student representatives, who will work to put together the following lists:

  • 1. Expectations that we have for online students
  • 2. Expectations that we have for online faculty
  • 3. Expectations that we have for administrators of online learning
A couple of weeks ago I tossed out a quick tweet seeking ideas and resources from my Twitter network about this topic of expectations. I received a thoughtful response from one of my Twitter friends and I will be using her input to make a couple of posts regarding her experiences with shaping expectations in online learning. Coming soon.