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.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Test Proctoring - Part Two

Yesterday I posted the first installment about an email exchange on the MnSCU Deans list about test proctoring for online students. This is another reply received on that thread.
As of this fall '09, (a college) is not testing our own online students in the on campus Testing Center due to space and proctoring personnel limitations. Consequently we will not be testing online students from any other campus either.
To which I replied with the following:
It's me again. Something that (colleague) said triggered a thought that I should have put into the first email.

At LSC, we have NEVER had a policy of providing an exam proctoring service on-campus for students taking LSC online classes from us. Just like faculty who teach in the classroom, if an online faculty member wants to give a proctored exam, then that faculty member is expected to make arrangements for a space and time on campus when he/she will proctor (probably not even the right word when they are giving their own exam) the exam. We do not pay faculty to teach and then turn around and also pay staff members to give exams for those faculty members. Notable exceptions include certain accommodations for disabilities services and the occasional extenuating circumstance.

I think any institution would be making a big mistake in encouraging (or permitting) online faculty to assign examinations that must be proctored, but then expecting other people to do all the proctoring work. Of course I could be wrong. Let's just call that a strong opinion that is deeply held.

One more note about test proctoring for online courses at LSC. Test proctoring is required in something less than 10% of our online courses. We constantly encourage faculty members to choose assessment techniques that will not require substantial proctoring, but a few faculty members do choose to go down the proctoring road.

So far I have heard one dissenting opinion from a Dean who thinks that it is perfectly fine for staff to give exams for faculty members who teach online. They have a multi-campus environment which might make it difficult for one faculty members to proctor "on-campus"exams in multiple places. Still, I think it is a slippery slope to establish the precedent of giving exams for faculty - whether they teach online, on-ground, or both. YMMV.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Test Proctoring for Minnesota Online

The question shown below was sent to the MnSCU Deans list this morning at the start of the Fall 2009 semester.
We are receiving more and more request for proctoring, some of them from students at four-year institutions. What is your policy with respect to proctoring examinations for students taking online courses from other institutions?
My answer to the list appears below. I decided to post it to the blog so that I can simply point to it in the future when this question comes up again.
Never a dull moment when it comes to test proctoring for online students. This question comes up several times each year. Gary gets the prize for being the first one to ask during the fall term.

All MnSCU schools are part of Minnesota Online. As members, all are expected to provide test proctoring for local students taking online classes from other MnSCU students. In return, your distance students who live in other areas of the state should expect the same service from their local MnSCU institution.

As you'll see from the list linked above, not everyone chooses to play in the same sandbox. The MnOnline Council decided several years ago that all schools should provide this service as an integral part of being a "system." This is still the expectation as far as I know.

On a personal note: this is one of the many factors that led to a great deal of frustration on my part when involved with the MnOnline Council. Test proctoring is the poster-child example of how some schools are more cooperative than others when it comes to matters related to Minnesota Online. In my opinion, there still needs to be more of a mandate for schools to cooperate in situations such as these. However, as long as there is no penalty for non-compliance, some schools will continue to be less system-oriented than others.

In closing, I'll try to anticipate the next question about proctoring. NO, you cannot charge a MnSCU student a fee for test proctoring. All fees need to be on the board-approved list, and there is no such fee for test proctoring. It is appropriate to charge a fee for test proctoring (locally decided amount) for a student from a non-MnSCU school.

This has been the standard answer for the past several years, to the best of my understanding. If things have changed, or if I have misstated anything, please feel free to issue a correction.

Best wishes with the start of a new term, Barry
(Flickr CC photo by psd)

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Twubs = Twitter Hub

I've been working on developing a Twub (Twitter Hub) for use at EAT-IT 09 on Aug 12-13 at Inver Hills CC. One feature is the ability to embed the Twub info on any webpage, so here is an embed of the Twub. Just experimenting. The best experience will be to go to the actual Twub.