Making The Impossible Possible

Pat James, Executive Director of the California Community Colleges Online Education InitiativeSo it’s a hot and muggy summer in California. Much of the community colleges community is taking a well-deserved break from the pace of providing education to more than 2 million students. Those of us working within the Online Education Initiative (OEI) are trying to carve out a couple of days here and there to rest. However, it’s really hard to find that time!

Somehow, we have found ourselves in mid-July with the beginning of the fall term staring us squarely in the face. Where did June go?

With all of that said, we are working as hard as we possibly can to both accomplish short-term goals and also develop additional long-term planning. We held a very successful Online Teaching Conference in San Diego for more than 700 attendees right before the storms came, and are already thinking about OTC16! Some of the systems we have been building are now starting to become clearer and the pathways are developing well. I feel as though we can finally come up for air and breathe a little! However, “rest” is something we are not doing.

Transition To CCMS Begins

The area of Professional Development is one of those areas where summer is the peak development time. Michelle Pilati, Anna Stirling, Micah Orloff, Lene Whitley-Putz and the crew of the @ONE project, are getting their arms around the massive efforts to assist faculty in reviewing and revising their online classes, as the pilot classes begin to transition into the Canvas common course management system (CCMS) for Fall 2015.

Over the past two months, instructional designers have been consulting with faculty who are working on aligning their courses to the OEI Course Design Rubric. In the weeks ahead, regular meetings will be held to assist those who are preparing to teach in Canvas in the fall.

Small but mighty, the @ONE team of instructional designers, clerical staff and project managers are an amazingly dedicated bunch. Imagine trying to hire instructional designers on the fly within an institutional process? It’s not easy, but they are getting it done. In the next two weeks, instructional designers will be working one-on-one with faculty who are preparing for the full launch of the Course Exchange component of the OEI.

Readiness Modules Revised

On the student support front, the team working on the online student readiness solutions has used the feedback from last spring to completely revise the “Quest for Success” readiness modules. The revised modules will be available to deploy within Canvas to our pilot colleges, and also from the web for all colleges in our system. They are just now going through final accessibility review and are expected to be available by the first week in August.

Bonnie Peters, Anita Crawley, Jayme Johnson and the folks at Agile Research & Technology Inc. have been working hard to accomplish the major revisions needed. These modules, in final release, will be Creative Commons licensed. Information about how to access the modules for use in your courses will be posted here soon!

Tutoring For All Online Students

California Community Colleges Online Education InitiativeAll 24 pilot colleges will be able to incorporate the student readiness and tutoring solutions in their online classes in the fall. The tutoring solutions, however, will not be of much help to student success if students don’t use them. We know from experience that the students who avail themselves of tutoring support are generally the good students in the first place. So, we are focusing on how to encourage the use of tutoring resources for those students who need it the most.

The effort is two pronged. The first is to create a deployment space that is within colleges’ courses in an engaging way. The second is to come up with effective ways to achieve that engagement. To that end, Barbara Illowsky and Anita Crawley are going to colleges and working directly with faculty to develop effective practices for involving all online students in the use of tutoring services. We are trying to leave no stone unturned!

Canvas Rollout Continues

The rollout of Canvas continues to unfold as we get information from colleges wanting to participate, and as we develop implementation schedules with our Canvas partners. I can’t say enough about the people at Instructure with whom we are working. They have recognized the enormity of what we are trying to accomplish and are excited about the opportunities to grow with us in the months and years ahead. I believe that we have chosen wisely.

Other components of the initiative that continue to be developed are online proctoring solutions and a proctoring network, online counseling capabilities, resources for underprepared students, planning next year’s Online Teaching Conference and more. The OEI Steering Committee is considering the development of an effective practices guide for using publisher materials in online course and they are also updating their charter. Members of the committee continue to participate in work groups covering all of our OEI components.

Exchange Timeline Pushed Out

We are also still working on the Course Exchange component of the initiative. Many pieces of the mechanism to allow for the exchange to happen must align, including the full implementation of Open CCCApply (the systemwide college application process), business process finalization among the colleges involved in the pilot, integration with and testing of the processes within multiple enrollment systems, and more.

So it’s likely that it will take a bit longer to get all of the processes involved with registration automated by next spring, as we had hoped. Our first priority is to make the process work easily for students. The very close second priority is to not unduly burden the colleges that are working with us to create the new mechanism.

To uphold those two priorities, we may have to extend our date to go live with students in the exchange to the Fall 2016 term, which will allow for ample procedure testing prior to courses having students registering across colleges.

One of the things we said initially was that we would not experiment on our students. We have changed timelines before, because trying to put something out prematurely for the sake of sticking to a schedule does not constitute effective practice, and we will carry that philosophy forward as we build the Course Exchange. The ability to flexibly respond to the implementation complexities of OEI activities helps us make this initiative effective for students. Stay tuned as we assess the development of this important exchange mechanism and adjust timing as needed.


Personally, I am in month 13 of my tenure as the OEI Executive Director and I keep thinking things will quiet down! OK, so my expectations are off a bit. This morning I thought of all of the complex solutions that need to be determined and implemented in this initiative and wondered why I thought I could do this job!

If you were at the Online Teaching Conference in June, you heard me talk about what, in my background, makes me think that meeting the goals of this initiative is possible. My life as a technology-using educator has taught me that accomplishing difficult things is a result of a passion to help students succeed, the ability to be flexible, faith that anything is possible, and in being able to identify passionate, hardworking, smart people who can work together. I’ve been told many times that things were impossible to accomplish, but when someone believed in me and I had excellent team participation, things were created that changed the impossible to the possible. We, community college educators, are always facing the impossible with determination to do what is good for our students and this initiative embodies that philosophy.

OEI Timeline

The current OEI timeline includes the following:

  • Tutoring platform to connect local tutors to students online, available now
  • 24/7 tutoring via NetTutor, available to all 24 pilot colleges in Fall 2015
  • Online Student Readiness modules integrated into Canvas and available to all CCCs via the web in August 2015
  • Ongoing regular instructional designer consults will be available to pilot college faculty as they transition into Canvas
  • Ongoing online course quality review process
  • New Online Teaching and Learning course for faculty release in August 2015
  • Involving Full-Launch faculty members, IT and A&R staff in design and implementation of business processes for the Course Exchange, Fall 2015 through Spring 2016. We will go live in the Exchange for the full launch pilot colleges by Fall 2016.

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