A Herculean Task


OEI Executive Director Pat James at WCET Annual Conference

It started with the OEI management team making a visit to the Board of Governors’ (BOG) Meeting, which was held at De Anza College in the OEI host district of Foothill-De Anza. We presented the OEI on Tuesday morning, and were well received. The BOG members had some great questions and we were able to substantively answer all of them.

The highlight, though, came at the end of our presentation, when CCC Chancellor Brice Harris characterized the task we have undertaken as “Herculean”. He also mentioned that the OEI will need continued funding to realize its potential. I want to thank him for those comments, and thank both him and the entire board for understanding what this initiative is and what means for the students of California.

From the BOG meeting in Cupertino, I went directly to the WCET Annual Meeting in Portland, Ore., and was fortunate to have facilitated a student panel as a general session offering. You can view that conversation here. We are hoping to create a similar panel for a general session at the Online Teaching Conference 2015 in June (more about that in a bit). The next stop was the Community College League of California (CCLC) in Rancho Mirage, where we had an opportunity to talk about the initiative with college trustees and presidents from across the system.

That was all in one week!

Earlier this month, John Makevich and Jory Hadsell, both officers in the initiative, connected with their counterparts in the other sectors while at the DET/CHE Conference in Long Beach, and we hope partnerships with CSU and UC online educators will be the result!

What’s Happening In Between Road Trips

So besides our spending a good deal of time on the road, what’s new with the initiative? Well, we are moving solidly through the initial phases of implementation for many of the pieces of the OEI.

Course Review/Re-design/Adjustments: As of this writing, we have reviewed more than 25 courses and have another 35 in the pipeline. We keep running into time crunch issues. We had hoped to get reviews done in early November, but the new process needed some adjusting and we aren’t as far along as we’d hoped. When you are doing something from scratch, you can estimate how long it will take, but until you are in the soup, you can’t predict that all of the flavors will blend. It’s really cool, though, when you realize that what you’ve created is much better than you even imagined!

The example of that happening is that the course submissions came in slowly, which was one of several factors that slowed the review process (which was in need of adjustment, anyway), and we decided to let the first pilots go forward in the spring with no revisions to their courses resulting from completed reviews. Instead we will work with the faculty throughout the spring semester to provide instructional design support.

The readiness and tutoring solutions will be available in all of the classes selected for review. At the end of the semester we will assess the effect of only the solution, not the redesign efforts. In addition, the faculty will have a reasonable amount of time to work with instructional design support to redesign or adjust their courses. Nice!

Readiness: The initial modules that will form the foundation for online student readiness tutorials are done! I saw them a few days ago and they are pretty cool. There are still some edits to do and the testing in spring, of course, but they will be open and available come Fall 2015 for everyone to use, both within the common course management system and from an open web site.

Tutoring support for students: Link Systems will be working with our pilot colleges to provide 24/7 tutoring for online students in the pilot AND a platform for learning centers to use to connect their local tutors to online students. When I was a dean supervising learning centers, connecting our tutors with online students was one of the most difficult things to accomplish. So this effort wasn’t just about 24/7 provision of tutors, it was also about a partnership that will allow our on campus learning centers to assist online students more effectively, and about consideration of tutoring networks. The contract with Link Systems will be available in the fall for colleges outside of the pilot to buy into at a reasonable cost, too!

Professional Development: Beyond the review and revision process, there are plans in the works to bring all the faculty members teaching in the pilot groups together in what we are calling “Creative Summits”. These no-cost professional development workshops will be highly interactive events where online teaching faculty can connect with the course reviewers, instructional designers and each other to share best practices and take online educational design to the next level. If you have not reviewed our course design standards yet, you can do so at the OEI website.

Additionally, the educators within @ONE are designing online teaching courses that will streamline the certification process and provide fully online courses for teachers across our system by next fall, if not before.

CCC Online Education InitiativeCommon Course Management System:I can’t say too much here about this, as we are in the process of determining which course management system we will be able to offer to colleges in the CCC. I can say that our selection process includes the participation of a group of more than 50 educators from across our system, is complex, interesting and thorough. I fully trust that we will end up with something better than we have ever had before and I am looking forward to the outcome! We plan to have a selection by the end of February.

The Exchange: We refer to the “exchange” as the piece of this initiative that allows students to take online classes across a group of colleges within a consortium ecosystem that:

  • has agreed on business processes that make registration seamless across colleges, and has digital mechanisms in place to carry out those processes,
  • has courses that have been designed to a set of exemplary standards,
  • has a faculty that is part of a network of teachers committed to excellence in learning and teaching strategies,
  • provides resources that assist students in being successful online learners, and
  • offers courses that students need to complete their educational goals.

Right now we are working on developing those business practices that focus on simplicity for students and effective data transfer for colleges. This is the task that Chancellor Harris called “Herculean”. This will be the most complex work we do, and will take time to do correctly. So please be patient with us as we work through the complexity. We only have one chance to do this right and that is our intention!

As a system, we must put the needs of our students first, but we cannot get around how apportionment is accomplished. The fear of losing students to other colleges through participation in an exchange program is a real fear. However, the potential of gaining full-time equivalencies and gaining completions is also a sure thing.

I truly believe that if anyone can do this it is the California Community Colleges. We have always put student learning and progress at the forefront of our work and this not a time to change that!

In my travels, I have been answering many questions about the exchange idea and one that comes up all of the time is, “Will we have to be a part of the exchange?” The answer is no. As a matter of fact, there are no mandates to be a part of this initiative at all. However, we hope that colleges will want to participate to assist their students in gaining successful completion in reasonable time frames.

Online Teaching Conference 2015: The development of OTC15 has been a little slower this year than in years past, but it is definitely in the pipeline. You should see requests for proposals coming out in January. The location is being worked out, but is likely going to be in the San Diego area. The dates are set as June 17 to June 19 and keynote speakers will be announced soon.

We have completed our first full year of this grant and, I think, have a lot to show for it. It would seem easy to spend $16.9 million in such a short period of time, but it’s not. We are being careful to plan thoughtfully and address the needs of our students.

Have a great holiday season and I’ll see you in the new year!

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