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.

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