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

1 comment:

Mike Condon said...

Will It Blend? that is the question ...

Barry - I've followed the whole series of commentary, read through the MnOnline initial proposal, and the simpler the better.

In the part 4 post - the two caveats, and really, the most important aspect of digitizing education, get at the role of managing time and time expectations - whether for students or for faculty. I did a project as a grad student lo those many years ago - tracking the time I spent using DEC's VAXNotes with students as a means of writing and responding to writing one semester, and the rough equivalent of time spent another semester reading and responding to student writing. Not surprisingly, the addition of technology initially consumed MORE of both students' and teacher's time, but over time, also yielded quantitatively more student (and teacher) writing, and generally speaking, time-on-task should yield qualitative performance improvements as well. Since writing assessment tends toward the subjective, the upshot I think is this:

good course design (and assessment practices) prioritizes learning objectives that enable and encourage students to spend their time on task on activities that promote significant engagement with and immersion in the core disciplinary values and practices that the course and program of study are intended to inculcate.

In other arenas of research, it's been shown that the clearer the teacher's expectations are articulated and explained, the better students are able to perform.

In principle then, the attention to time management vis-a-vis clearly articulated course learning objectives is to some degree a "front-loaded" work effort on the part of the faculty (although accounting for AND EXECUTING the required faculty engagement time during the course delivery cannot and should not be underestimated), and therefore, being able to articulate those time elements should also enable faculty to more accurately locate their courses' place in the context of relatively simply articulated, "seat-time-based" media codes.

The articulation of technological means or methods of delivery of any given course ought probably to be a (requisite???) part of a course description. Students and faculty alike will want and need to attend to this articulation. But have we (I?) then just kicked the course delivery technique/ method can down the road? Yep - I think so.

I don't think technical / technological descriptions/mandates belong in media code descriptions. Such descriptions/declarations are important - the question is probably - how best to get those descriptions/requirements into the hands of faculty, and ultimately students.