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.

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