Monday, January 04, 2010

MnSCU Online Course Definitions - Part Four

You might need to read the previous three posts to get a feel for all of my concerns about the proposed changed to MnSCU course definitions. For now let's just say that I think they're on the verge of turning a molehill into a mountain. (That's my photo from Pilot Mountain, NC - definitely not a molehill.) So, you should be asking, what is my proposed solution?

Very simple. Here they are.
  • On-ground courses: any course that is scheduled in a traditional classroom setting for the traditional amount of seat-time, which for us equals about 16 hours per credit. It should not matter whatsoever whether the faculty member chooses to use the Internet (in reasonable ways, see caveat #1 below), whether they use active learning exercises, whether they use PowerPoint, or whatever. Faculty members teach their classes how they choose to, within the normal guidelines of the institution.
  • Blended courses: any course that meets in the traditional classroom for a portion of the normal amount of seat time and has required online activities that make up the remainder of the learning activities for the students. The portion of learning that is assigned to classroom seat-time can be as small as 25% of the normal amount of seat time (4 hours per credit) or as much as 75% of the normal amount (12 hours per credit). These courses are not designed or intended for distance students.
  • Online courses: any course that is conducted completely online or can otherwise be completed at a distance. A maximum of two proctored assessments may be required. Students should understand that some online learning activities may require them to interact in real-time with other students and/or with the instructor. No traditional seat-time is required or allowed. (See caveat #2 below.)
Caveat #1 - It is incumbent upon the college administration to ensure that a faculty member does not dramatically expand the time expectations for students by "off-loading" significant amounts of class activities onto the Internet without reducing the seat-time requirements of the students. This is a real and growing problem that can greatly upset students. This is actually a pretty tricky problem to deal with since it begs the question of what are acceptable "homework activities" for a professor to require in an on-ground class. I'm not going to deal with this question fully at this point, let's just say that it is easy to see alternate points of view on this one.

Caveat #2 - I believe that it is important to stress to faculty who teach online courses that students enroll in online courses primarily for the time flexibility that they expect to receive with that registration. Every synchronous requirement, every proctored assessment, every too-small window of opportunity (assignment or exam due dates, for example) can lead to a very inflexible online course. Faculty who are not interested in providing a flexible learning environment for the students should consider a blended or traditional class schedule instead of online.

That's it. Easy peasy. Biggest changes from the current definitions are as follows:
  • Online: No required on-campus meetings are allowed. Offer a blended class instead.
  • Online: Doesn't matter what technologies or techniques a faculty member chooses to use (for example: synchronous or asynchronous). These change frequently anyway. Don't try to dictate so much.
  • Blended: 25% - 75% of the normal amount of seat-time. Everything else online.
All the rest of this is far too confusing and restricting. Don't go there.

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