Believe In Access, Redesign The Systems, Shift The Culture

California Community Colleges Online Education InitiativeThe crazy conference season is upon us and the California Community Colleges (CCC) Online Education Initiative (OEI) management team is everywhere! Look for us and introduce yourselves. We will be answering questions and collecting your ideas.

This post is about how we think about success in online education within our system, and also provides updates on the Course Exchange and other items.

Success & Retention Comparisons

In May 2014 I applied for the Director’s job for the OEI. By June, I had an interview and created a presentation about the possibilities for the initiative, as directed in the instructions for the interview.

At that time, I took a look at the data for the success of online education in our system and noticed that the “needle” hadn’t moved incredibly fast when it came to the retention and success of students online compared to those students who took traditional classes. We had improved over the years, thank goodness, but it didn’t seem as though what we had learned about effective online practice was translating into higher retention and success rates. The image below is one that I used in my presentation.

PhotoStudent success and retention data taken from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office Distance Education Report

To be fair to me, and to ease the minds of the mathematicians who are starting to curse me right now, I am no statistician. The size of the graph notwithstanding, what I did notice was that these lines are somewhat flat. They are going up only a little each year. If you take the comparison to traditional education out of the picture, we see that online is improving, but we know so much now and it does not seem to be increasing relative to what we have learned.

That is what got to me. I think we are not looking at the right metric. Why not compare fully resourced online courses to courses that have not had the benefit of those resources?

Here were the lessons I thought we had learned by then:

  • It’s not easy for anyone!
    • Students need orientation.
    • Faculty need professional development.
  • It’s not cheap!
    • Infrastructure is important and costly.
    • Support is essential for faculty and students.
  • Engagement is critical!
    • Teacher-initiated interaction
    • Student-to-student interaction
    • Intentional design and organization are key!
  • No one of us has all the pieces in place.

I believed then, as I do now, that we need to focus on what we needed to help improve the ability of our online students to be successful. I presented a list of opportunities we had with the OEI, and my parting words to the committee back then were, “Believe in access, redesign the systems, and shift the culture.”

PhotoList of opportunities from interview presentation, June 2014

Looking back, I can see that we took the path that exists in these outlined opportunities and have added the things that will make them work and will further enhance student online success.

We are far from completing the work and I doubt that we ever will. The methodology involved in teaching online is continually evolving and getting more effective by the day.

When I created that line graph from the existing information, the light bulb went on. We can no longer compare online education to traditional education and expect levels of success to improve in either arena. Rather, it’s time to implement resources that we know will improve the effectiveness of our online teaching efforts.

I was asked once, not too long ago, to improve the success and retention rates at my college. I said, “Sure, give me some money.” I was told to do what I could without money first—told to do what I had been doing for a dozen years. On the one hand, we are asked to improve success, while on the other we are asked to do online education to save money? When in education do we ever say, “Achieve success for less money”? Only in reference to online education does this happen. Now is the time to do “with” and innovate not from a notion of scarcity, but from a resourced position.

It’s also time to compare online to online, not to traditional methodology, and then identify and implement what resources are really working to move the needle of success. If we can stop denigrating online education as a substandard methodology, we can honor the access issue that is so important to so many students whose abilities to attend college physically are so often impacted by life. Also, if we can stop the method competition, our more traditional colleagues may then respectfully consider the innovative strategies developed for online learning for adaptation and adoption. It will benefit our students if we stop spotlighting the differences and instead identify and share the benefits.

So, believe in access, redesign the systems, and shift the culture. Change the model from comparing online to face-to-face to comparing fully resourced online environments to non-resourced environments. Then put the resources where they are needed.

OEI Course Exchange Update
There are three general ways to participate in OEI activities:

    1. Use the resources developed and provided by the OEI, such as a tutoring platform, low cost vendor-based tutoring, readiness tools, professional development, and use of the Course Design Rubric. (There’s more to come!)
    2. Use the resources stated above and adopt the Canvas common course management system.
    3. Use the resources, adopt Canvas, and participate in the OEI Course Exchange.

The exchange component of the initiative is likely the most controversial. The language of the legislation authorizing the funding identifies that, “to the extent possible,” fully online core articulated courses are to be offered systemwide. This language asks us to create a system where courses can be offered to students across colleges via online education. We are in the pilot phase of this idea and eight colleges have agreed to help build the mechanism and agreements that would make registration across online courses possible within currently established legal limitations.

Students currently are going outside their own colleges to find online courses to meet their completion needs without our help and support (what we refer to as “swirling”). They duplicate matriculation processes, causing them lost time and us lost provision resources; they may or may not be taking the courses they need to complete at their home institution; they are receiving only partial financial aid; and they are not identified in any way as needing additional support.

To solve the swirling problems and to increase student access to core “bottleneck” courses that they need to complete, a system is being designed that will allow students to register from their home college for classes that may have available seats at other colleges.

We understand that this is an idea that concerns many people so let’s present some of the facts around it:

    • The OEI Course Exchange is focused on student need. Timely completion by students of their educational goals is the desired outcome.
    • The OEI Course Exchange is currently in a pilot phase with eight colleges scheduled to implement in Fall 2016.
    • At the present time, students take an average of four to seven years to complete goals that should be doable within two years, often because they cannot enroll in a timely way in courses they need.
    • Colleges, as independent institutions, will be able to opt in to the exchange. They may choose to have courses in the exchange, or just to have their students in the system. The pilot schools are doing both.
    • In the pilot, students will be limited to taking up to two courses within the exchange to promote the emphasis on completion needs.
    • In order to implement the cross-registration process, colleges have to be part of a consortium that has reciprocal agreements that are within legal parameters.
    • Students from colleges not part of the consortium will not be able to cross-register due to the necessity of being part of the agreement processes that adhere to regulation, which will implement the registration.
    • Consortium colleges will have the ability to create procedures and develop criteria for the implementation of the exchange processes.
    • Courses within the OEI Course Exchange must be offered in the Canvas common course management system (CCMS) to allow for all processes to be successfully implemented, including the deployment of OEI-provided resources (including student resources, technology resources and faculty resources).
    • Exchange courses must be aligned to the adopted Course Design Rubric as established by the OEI Steering Committee, and therefore will be part of the OEI review process.
    • To avoid student confusion when taking courses across the exchange, participation by a college in the exchange is contingent on the CCMS being the only CMS used by colleges in the consortium. (Special-case use of any additional CMS will be considered on a one-to-one basis.)

Other Initiative Updates

    • The consortium of 24 pilot colleges will have its first meeting on Oct. 21 in Sacramento. Representatives from all 24 colleges will be in attendance. Topics of the consortium’s charter and goals will be discussed.
    • Members of the OEI Management Team have visited over a dozen colleges in the past month to provide them with information about Canvas adoption and general participation in OEI activities. It’s conference season, so look for OEI representatives everywhere! We want to be available to answer your questions and hear your ideas.
    • The Canvas and online teaching classes are being tested and will start to be offered this month. Visit to find out more.
    • Another professional development summit is in the planning stages and regional trainings on Course Design Rubric alignment will be held in the months to come. Please visit for a schedule.
    • Canvas adoption is moving along! There are 16 colleges now in process, and every day more identifying timelines for adoption.

There’s so much going on and so much to be gained if we work together within our CCC system. Have a great fall!

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