Building What’s Never Been Built

Pat James, Executive Director of the CCC Online Education InitiativeIt’s hard to believe it’s already November. I am wondering where the last two months have gone! It seems like just yesterday we were figuring out the colleges that would make up the pilot groups for the Online Education Initiative (OEI), and that we had time to get things together before spring. Just like when you are teaching, the semester passes before you know it. Allow me to catch you up on what we’ve been doing.

We’ve developed a strong philosophy surrounding this project that is based on a foundation of doing what helps our students. We also want to firmly recognize and honor the decade-plus of work done in creating online courses and programs in the California Community Colleges by its teachers, counselors, staff and administrators. We are committed to working with you in formative activities that help us all do better work in the online environment for our students.

As you consider your choices in becoming a participant in this initiative, remember that our hope is to provide resources, information, encouragement and, when appropriate, direction born out of collaboration and experience. We will not mandate that you join us, but hope that you will want to because what we create is excellence in learning and teaching.

Questions Bring Solutions

CCC Online Education Initiative: Questions Bring SolutionsThe components of the OEI are many and implementation of them is a complex task requiring a good deal of careful consideration for every item. Each time we encounter a question, it usually generates several more. Someday, I hope we have more answers than questions but for now we just have to deal with them as they arise.

Many of the questions we get spring out of fear of centralized systems and I want to assure you that we are aware of the need to answer your most difficult questions about things like confidentiality of the course review process, gain or loss of potential FTE revenue, intellectual property rights, participation in decision making and more. However, those answers become solutions and they must be carefully established, so be patient as we create them.

For me, the consolidation of resources around online education is not something to fear; rather, it is something that allows us to do better together. Economies of scale and sharing of effective practices can help us create better opportunities for our students. We know a great deal about this distance education animal, and we can work together to create something amazing.

Making The Pieces Fit

Every time I try to explain what working on this project is like, I can see a picture of a machine that has never been constructed before. I know there have been other consortia around the country, but we are 112 independent schools with as many diverse organizational structures and opinions. Holy cow!

So, my imaginary picture starts with the building of a machine. We know what we want the thing to do, thank goodness. So, we start building and need to add a piece. When we talk to each other, we find that we all have the next piece. However, the pieces we have are all slightly different. Some pieces have been working really well, but to get them to work for everyone, the pieces we already have in place may need to be adjusted.

Wait! We just built that and now we have to modify? Yep. Trial and rethink… trial and rethink… until it works. I get really excited when we get a piece to fit and the project moves ahead. But it all takes time and, more than time, it takes patience and the willingness to listen to each other.

It became really clear about two years ago at a Telecommunications and Technology Advisory Committee (TTAC) retreat that to get all the pieces we need and to make them work well it would be important to use the same underlying systems, such as a common course management system (CCMS) and common student services procedures. So, that’s what we are creating. I am really encouraged by recent accomplishments like getting the request for proposals out for the CCMS and tutoring solution. I am incredibly impressed by the enthusiasm the course reviewers have for the standards and the review work, and by the willingness of the college community to participate. I am more confident than ever that we can do this.

Out & About

Pat James, Executive Director, CCC Online Education InitiativeThe big questions still come from people who just want to know what the project is about, so our management team members have been out visiting colleges in the pilot groups. I’ve been visiting colleges, too, usually at technology events or other meetings and conferences. If you would like one of us to visit your college to talk to faculty, administration, students or staff, please email me and let me know. We will do whatever we can to talk about the project with you and your colleagues.

Tomorrow, I will be at the CCC Chief Instructional Officers (CCCCIO) conference in San Diego. A college cannot offer additional online classes to provide increased access for students unless they have the resources and teaching staff able to do so. Solving that problem is one of the main goals of the OEI and we will need the help and understanding of the instructional management leaders in the state to accomplish it. I am looking forward to talking with them!

Below are some updates to help answer some of your questions about the current activities of the OEI.

Course Review, Instructional Design Support

We know that a well designed online course is critical to student success. We also know that resources are not always available to help teachers identify course design strategies, much less to implement them. So, one of the main components of the OEI is providing the resources to faculty that are needed to ensure quality course design across the pilots.

As of this writing, 66 of the 72 courses we hoped for have been submitted for design review from the pilot group (a few more are still in the submission process). The large number of submissions doesn’t surprise me. Teachers generally want to know how to create great online courses!

The review process that began about a week ago is intended to provide formative review of the courses that will make up the initial pilots. The reviews will focus on making sure that OEI courses are consistent with the course design standards that were adopted during the summer, and to provide faculty with the design support they may need.

The courses that were submitted are in the initial phases of being reviewed by CCC faculty reviewers from more than 25 colleges in the system. The courses that will be reviewed first were selected according to what has been identified as being in high demand by students. Courses will then be reviewed and prioritized by how closely they meet the standards for first offerings in the pilots. Courses needing instructional design support for accessibility and other items will receive support after the reviews are completed.

Reviews, Intellectual Property Rights

Results of the reviews will be offered to the faculty member only, and are in no way intended or expected to be an evaluation of that member’s performance. Oh, and about those intellectual property rights: The OEI does not intend to own anyone’s course. IP rights are determined through college processes. If we help with instructional design support, that just goes toward making the course work better for our students no matter where it’s taught—which is our goal. Later in the project I anticipate that we will have teams of faculty from across the state designing model classes that can be housed in a clearinghouse for general use by anyone, but that still won’t affect IP rights. Any products developed by the OEI will be Creative Commons licensed.

Student Readiness Resources

The design of the OEI readiness module prototypes will be completed for piloting in spring and will be used in combination with pre-assessment tools that identify what skills students need to ensure their success as online learners. We are planning to have them deployed within the pilot courses as well as available for review and adoption by non-pilot colleges via the web.

Online Tutoring Support

One of the hardest things for a college learning center to set up is 24/7 online tutoring. The request for proposals is now out for an online tutoring platform that allows for local tutoring and 24/7 online vendor support and we hope to solidify that choice by the middle of November. Colleges within the system will be able to buy into low-cost tutoring solutions soon! Pilot colleges will access the resources at no cost.

CCMS, Exchanging Student Enrollments

After a great deal of consideration and collaboration, the request for proposals for a CCMS went out on Monday! The process of selecting a CCMS is itself very complex, and requires a great deal of collaborative work. We hope to have a decision early in February. Stay tuned!

In addition to establishing the CCMS, we have to create reciprocity agreements for those colleges who wish to participate in an exchange of student online enrollments across colleges. We are also working on the technology solutions needed to extend student applications, registration processes and seamless transfer of grades, to name just a few items that have to be worked out. This work will continue through the end of the Spring 2015 semester and beyond.


Many new ideas have been generated through our discussions and work within the project. For example, we know we must have a proctoring network combined with digital test proctoring to make any kind of exchange be successful—which we are working on. The network idea has extended to a discussion of “speech events” and shared lab components that can make online speech/communication and lab sciences a statewide hybrid type of activity. We also are planning a series of “creative summits” that bring online teaching faculty together to share effective practices and experiences. It’s clear that we can really benefit from creative, collaborative energy.

These are just a few highlights of what’s going on in the project today. Check the OEI website and TechEDge News for more updates. Please feel free to ask your questions by using the comments feature of this post.

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