Reflecting On Our Accomplishments So Far

California Community Colleges Online Education InitiativeIt’s been 18 months since work began on this massive project that’s focused on providing access to quality online learning opportunities for the students of California, and we have accomplished so much. We were selected and funded in December 2013. While it seems to me like only a few months ago, we are really on the edge of starting fiscal year three on July 1, 2015!

Recent events coupled with mandated reporting cycles have us in a period of reflection regarding the accomplishments made by the Online Education Initiative team of Foothill-De Anza Community College District and Butte College in collaboration with our many faculty and staff partners across the California Community Colleges. This edition of my blog post will cover accomplishments, amazing events and a bit about what we think the future holds.

Last week saw some major activity around three events. The first was the launch of a major refresh of the California Virtual Campus (CVC) catalog website. The second was the publishing of the Public Policy Institute of California research study report, Successful Online Courses in California’s Community Colleges. And the third was a visit to Governor Brown’s office!

Remembering CVC Beginnings

Many of you remember the shift from televised courses to online course delivery as the CVC was funded by then-Governor Wilson in 1999. There were originally five regional grants that provided joint efforts at jump-starting online education in our system. What a vision it was! The idea was to develop online courses in colleges across the state through systemwide resource development. It worked to get us started.

At that time we started professional development activities around the technology and pedagogy of online teaching, we tested resources that were made available for free to participating colleges (e.g., Turnitin plagiarism detection and Smart Thinking online tutoring service), and we shared our growing knowledge and experiences with this new form of distance education through a group of online teaching mentors and the offering of the first of many online teaching conferences, known then as the CVC Conference.

The CVC initially hosted several course management system (CMS) platforms, such as Blackboard and WebCT (with the help of the Foundation for the California Community Colleges) so colleges could offer their first online courses. The intention of the CMS hosting was initially to form a single system. Instead, colleges took on hosting or contracting with CMS vendors on their own as online courses developed. If I remember right, the reason we all took it on independently was because CVC funding needed the infusion of local college funds.


Pat James in the California Virtual Campus days

There are a couple of interesting documents you may want to read about the early days of the CVC. The first is an article in the Academic Senate for CCC Rostrum, written by Ric Matthews who was a member of the OEI Launch Team. It’s an interesting piece that both echoes the concerns of the time and the direction that we knew, even then, would have to be taken.

The second is a flyer that I remember us creating that describes the California Educational Technology Collaborative formed in 2005 as the CVC shifted from a five-region endeavor to one focused at the Chancellors’ Office. How amazing it is to look back on those early activities.

At the start of the CVC, and even in 2005, we were just beginning our online delivery journey and were not ready for what the OEI is now taking on. As 112 separate colleges, each with our own identity, we really needed some time to figure out this online education thing.

It is interesting to note that in last week’s PPIC report there was an apt description of what our efforts at developing online education became: “a piecemeal, idiosyncratic online education system…” At first I was insulted by that statement but then I realized it is an on-target description as the report does identify us correctly as we evolved (or devolved, depending on how you view it) into a non-systematic, organic approach to online learning.

The report then goes on to compliment the OEI’s current collaborative efforts to improve the quality of online education, expand access for students and share in the provision of necessary resources across the state. We know what we need to do and the time has finally come to realize some of that early CVC vision.

Important Milestone

The refresh of the CVC catalog is an important milestone in the evolution of online learning in our colleges. The new catalog will provide students with resources to find online programs and courses at our colleges. The catalog doesn’t yet address the OEI Course Exchange program that we have been working on, however, descriptions of that program and the courses and colleges within it will eventually reside at the CVC catalog.

At this juncture, we do not expect registration for the Course Exchange to take place within the catalog. It is more likely that registration for exchange courses will originate within the participating colleges own registration systems. Because of the complexity of students registering for courses seamlessly across separate colleges, a consortium is being formed to work out the details of both reciprocity agreements and technology processes needed to accomplish the goals of the Course Exchange.

Colleges will have to agree to work collectively to allow for students to register across districts. That collaboration will eventually reduce the current student practice of applying to many different colleges to get online courses that they want. The act of “swirling,” or taking courses from separate colleges as it exists now, causes students on their own to create multiple applications, lose potential financial aid, complete assessments and matriculation activities over and over again, and then make sure that units get combined appropriately into degree completions. For students, that is no small task.

So, while the refresh of the CVC catalog is a component of the OEI, it is not the sum total of the OEI efforts. That said, it is certainly wonderful to see the new look and to discover the vast online course offerings within our system. The descriptions of the Associate Degrees for Transfer that are also highlighted in the catalog are important for students to be aware of. Congratulations are due to Amy Carbonaro, Steve Klein, Tim Calhoon and others at the CCC Technology Center at Butte College for doing the important work of developing this new version of the catalog.

The CVC catalog refresh event sparked a series of press activities that are quite complimentary of the OEI efforts. Here is a sampling from SFGateCapitol Public Radio and Inside Higher Ed.

Perfect Storm

We are now at a perfect storm moment in the evolution of the OEI. The CVC refresh, the PPIC report, a visit to the Governor’s office (which I’ll discuss in a moment), and a need to update our own work plan, have all landed in the same couple of weeks!

This “storm” has caused us to reflect on our accomplishments so far. There was a mention in one of the CVC related articles by the press that noted that the CVC refresh was the first “tangible” item to come out of the OEI. I really was taken aback by that statement and complained heartedly—imagine me with hands on hips and glaring.

Of course, I was wrong to take that stance (I am nothing if not passionate!) and I do realize that the CVC refresh is one thing that the external world can see. For us, however, there are so many other things that we have achieved as a collaborative group, OEI with colleges. We have already changed the face of online education in the CCC by focusing on resourcing quality course design and resourcing student support activities.

As I prepared an information document for the Governor’s staff, I established a partial list of over 30 accomplishments, most of which I have written about here in past posts. See the illustration below.

Implementing Canvas Statewide

A major accomplishment is the selection of Canvas as a systemwide CMS. What is going on now is the implementation of the CMS within the pilot colleges and across the system at large. We thought there would be some interest in this change to a new CMS, however, we were surprised at just how much interest there is.

At the time of this writing, we are preparing a mechanism through which colleges can begin to implement Canvas college-wide as part of a first Implementation Cohort. Watch for an announcement the week of June 22 when the cost information and contract mechanism will be provided. The information will come to you via the TechEDge eNews Update and on the Canvas Resources site. We believe that the terms of adopting Canvas will be well received.

PPIC Report

There’s so much to respond to regarding the PPIC report that a separate article is needed! We hope to complete an official response to the report in the next few days. There were some really good points made in the report about the true look at online learning and its effectiveness. I’d like to highlight just two here.


Table courtesy of PPIC study

The first is that course design and the involvement of the individual instructor is critical to the success of students in online classes. (We knew that!) There is an interesting data set that shows how long individual courses have been offered related to how successful students have been in them. The data makes a case for regular course redesign and refresh. We agree!

The work we are doing through @ONE will help to provide faculty with the necessary resources to not only design new courses but to also refresh older ones that need an infusion of new design theory and improved availability of technology. We have also noticed that our work in bringing attention to effective course design over these past 18 months has encouraged colleges to step up and provide resources for faculty on a local basis. The new course design standards and review processes have been well received by so many amazing faculty members who want to make their courses better.

The second item I’d like to comment on comes from the last paragraph in the report:

New online learning technologies are shifting the debate from a zero-sum comparison of the merits of online versus face-to-face instruction to something more valuable: a discussion on how best to integrate new teaching methods into the educational process.

We consistently measure online success against success in traditional courses. I think this does a disservice to what is possible when innovative use of technology is employed to reach and provide rich educational opportunities for our students.

When we focus on a single metric (success of online vs. face-to-face) in tandem with comparisons of cost (i.e., “Is online education really a cost savings?”) we set limits on innovation. In a paper written in 2002, Is "as good as face-to-face" as Good as It Gets? author Jeannette McDonald wrote:

We are constantly being asked to compare distance education to traditional education. But by striving to make distance education "as good as" face-to-face education what are we overlooking or sacrificing? … [Are we] addressing the question of whether our evaluation methods and questions serve to free or limit the potential of online learning, perpetuating "doing things differently or doing different things?"

I remember widely distributing this article to colleagues in 2002, because I thought then, as I do now, that online education has its own potential, both apart from and in conjunction with what we do in the traditional classroom. Our students today are not like the students even 10 years ago. The capability of technology use in instruction today is not what it was in 2002, or even as it was in 2012! We limit ourselves by ignoring the possibilities and by trying to ensure the status quo as well as by comparing online to face-to-face. We can educate so many more students in so many different and more effective ways if we just get out of our own stubborn way.

Additionally, when we consider the notion that online education should be a money saver, we shift the focus away from what is best for students. We move from how-can-we-help-them-be-successful to how-can-we-save-money. I am a realist, I know that cost is important to consider. However, to sacrifice important issues of innovation and access based on the cost comparison doesn’t take into account the economic value to our state of having a highly educated population.


Bronze bear statue at the entrance to the California Governor's Office, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

State Capitol Visit

Speaking of an educated population, our visit to present OEI progress to the Governor’s staff was amazing. They were very receptive, asked great questions and really understood the impact of this initiative. We didn’t get a photo with Governor Brown—that one is still on my bucket list—but we did get a photo of the bear in front of his office. I was greatly encouraged by our visit and am so appreciative of the Governor and his staff for taking the time to meet with us, and for their positive and welcoming attitudes.

Online Teaching Conference

By the time you read this, we will be in the middle of the OTC! We have 600 people registered to attend in San Diego, with a good number of others following along via web broadcast. Again, thinking of how far we have come from the CVC Conferences of the past to the webcast revised version of today, I am so grateful for the many people who have kept alive the conference vision of being about online teaching and learning.

One such person is Blaine Morrow, who has been the catalyst for CCCConfer, 3CMedia, 3CMeNow and so much more. Blaine will be retiring this summer. I just want to thank him for all he has done for us as a system and for me as a director and manager within the system. His ability to keep the conference going, and also his work this year spearheading development of the CCC Clearinghouse, will secure his legacy in the system. Enjoy retirement, Blaine, and please accept a hearty thank you from all of us.

Full-Launch Pilot Set For Spring 2016

So what about that future I mentioned in the beginning of this very long post? It looks bright. We sent out a survey asking colleges when they would consider implementing Canvas, if at all. We received a great response and are pleased to know that the interest matches our projections.

We are on target for the Full-Launch pilot group of eight, deploying courses in Canvas that will implement a miniature version of the Course Exchange in Spring 2016. After that, we hope to develop the cross-registration system based on review of the spring pilot and start the full implementation through the consortium of exchange colleges as early as Fall 2016.

I know that’s a tall order, and we have seen in the past that dates have to shift if things aren’t ready. So, we will reconsider at the end of spring and decide the optimum time to implement a full version of the exchange, even though we are shooting for Fall 2016 at this moment in time. Remember that we are an agile initiative, and are really about doing things right even if that means adjusting timelines. Stay tuned!

Creating Educational Opportunities

There’s much work being done this summer with the revision of the student readiness tools (Quest for Success) and our tutoring solutions based on the results of the Spring 2015 pilots, ongoing review of courses and training of course reviewers, launching the new @ONE online teaching program, selecting proctoring solutions, considering online counseling needs, embedding resources for under prepared students, and addressing the needs of under represented students, just to name a few things.

Relative to “as good as face-to-face” and in regard to innovation and getting better at what we do, consider the following: In the meeting with the Governor’s staff, I mentioned that we must consider a student at any college a student of the CCC as a whole. I really believe that the OEI is a major factor in our ability to explore our own potential in collaboratively creating educational opportunities for the students of California.

P.S. Gratitude

As a post-script to this edition of my blog, I would like to give credit to some of the people who made distance educational opportunities possible in those early days, particularly Paul Meyers, Bill Doherty and Martha Mills, just to name just a few innovative folks! It is also important to thank Patrick Perry, LeBaron Woodyard, Catherine McKenzie and Bonnie Edwards for their amazing leadership that got us to this point in our development of distance education in the CCC.

Accomplishments June 2015

Online Education Initiative, Accomplishments as of June 2015

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