Saturday, June 18, 2011

My Right-Brained Report on State Approvals for DE

So, my team and I spent 21 straight days in late May and June working on State Approvals for Distance Education (and we're not done, and of course, we have to revisit it constantly, depending on the state). I am so right-brained that I've awarded myself five diamond stars for keeping this organized, linear, and fully documented. This does not mean that it's been easy, or that there is any regulatory logic whatsoever to this whole mess. On June 15, I decided it was time to provide an update to my VPAA on our progress, and important next steps. I got a tiny bit creative and provided my update with an animated video created through xtranormal. Check it out.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

8 Vital Pieces of Everyday Data for DL Admininistrators

I always have these on hand since this information is pure gold. Some of these I review every day, and others I review weekly or monthly. But each is critical to ongoing online program evaluation and continuous improvement.

  1. Student Retention Rates (Course Completion)
  2. Student Grade Performance, particularly as it compares to face-to-face counterpart courses.
  3. Enrollment
  4. Demographic Trends (is the population getting older, younger, etc.?)
  5. Student Usage and Satisfaction with Support Services
  6. Faculty Usage and Satisfaction with Faculty Support Services
  7. Graduation and Year-to-Year Retention (do students who take some or all courses online graduate sooner?)
  8. Student Withdrawals (why do some students not persist? is any of this related to the course, the instructor, or support services? are any of the causative factors within our control?)

The Service Approach to Helping Faculty with Online Course Design

There are clearly several approaches to online course design, with varying opinions as to the resulting quality. Frequently, we see a simple approach that attempts to move elements of a traditional course to the online environment, with a typical course unit consisting of learning materials, related discussions, and some type of assessment (project, quiz or test). Instructional designers may take a different approach that often considers learning outcomes and assessments first, and then builds backwards upon these. So what happens when the instructional designer and the faculty do not agree on the approach? What if the instructional designer is certain that his or her approach is the surest way to enable the development of a high-quality course? I tend to err on the side of the faculty on this one. Ultimately, they must feel comfortable in teaching this course, must feel ownership in order to be fully engaged, and will learn best not from what they are "told," but by a process of trial-and-error. Our primary function in distance learning administration, above all others, is support. While our programs skyrocket as traditional programs remain flat, we must humble ourselves to remember to remain customer focused (students and faculty). We can guide faculty and inspire them and give them just-in-time training, but we can never tell them what they need. It would be like going to McDonald's and ordering a Big Mac, and the server telling you that you would be much better off with a salad instead. Now, I realize that this is completely contrary to what is considered many to be top-banana instructional design. In fact, Cathy Moore, who has one of the best instructional design blogs in the world, flat out warns against becoming an "order taker" or letting online courses become an "information dump." Sure, this is ideal. But higher education is a different world both in terms of traditions (yes, some date back from centuries ago) and in governance.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Second Thing That Has Come Out of Texas in the Last 10 Years That Makes No Sense

UT Telecampus was a bright shining star in the world of quality, award-winning distance learning administration. Darcy Hardy was the one who taught many of us how to get it started way back when. So now they say that they did their work so well that their mission is complete. The only downfall visible to the rest of us is that it wasn't self-sustaining. Perhaps the mission needed to be updated and redefined, but am I the only one who is thinking that this makes absolutely no sense from a quality, economic (in the big picture), streamless student services, visibility, or common-sense viewpoint? Well, apparently not. Here's just a few tidbits of reaction from the blogosphere.

  • " A service available at a larger campus might not be available at the smaller ones and they need the extra assistance. There is no discussion about the redundancy of effort in each campus having to reproduce each of these services on their own-with highly varying quality. What is the real cost of that redundancy? It will be buried in the campus ledgers." - Russ Poulin, WCET
  • "One has to wonder: "What's the rest of the story". Elimination of the Available University Fund (formerly the PUF fund, I suppose) moneys could have crippled the TeleCampus by 2012. No doubt, the AUF has been losing money like any other fund, especially as Texas oil fields have become depleted. However, a longer-term approach to reducing dependency on those funds could be approached in such a manner as to actually improve the performance of the TeleCampus and the System's smaller campuses." - Mary Lee, past TxDLA president
  • "Will the cost of marketing increase as each unit that markets their academic college scales up? Most likely, yes, unless you are the Business School and have your well-oiled marketing team in place, but if you are Liberal Arts, I doubt a true integrated marketing function exists. In the least, the stronger programs won't be there to underwrite the weaker programs. The richer will become richer and the weak weaker." - Jim Fong, Education Marketer
There's a lot more speculation and comments out there. It's quite interesting that this early consortium is shutting down, while others are just building up and experiencing major growths. I'd love to see what lessons there are, if any, to be learned.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Flashback to 2000: Remember When They Thought it Was a Fad?

It's hard to believe it's been 10 years since we breathed a sigh of relief when we escaped the would-be doom of Y2K. Around this same time, a significant number of technophobes also believed that online learning was just a passing fad. Not only has online learning flourished wildly in the last decade, but has grown up quite a bit as well. Here are some ways online learning has evolved in the last 10 years. Can you think of more?

  1. It's no longer seen as a trend.
  2. There are fewer small Course Management Systems, and a few very Big, Ginormous Ones.
  3. Other tech-based services (registration, testing systems, tutoring, live meeting spaces, data analytic tools, etc.) must integrate seamlessly with the Big, Ginormous Ones in order to be successful.
  4. Students don't have to be trained to use computers before they can take online courses.
  5. Only some faculty have to be trained to use computers before they can teach online courses. :-)
  6. It's not just for older, working folks and moms with little children anymore. Or for people living far, far away in the hills with only dirt roads and no traffic lights.
  7. It's still about convenience. But it's a lot about the money, particularly in the last year or so.
  8. It's fiercely competitive. It's no longer difficult to find affordability and quality and strong support services. However, the proprietary institutions still generally seem to have a big edge on marketing.
  9. It's a lot more social, particularly with increasing integration of Web 2.0 tools.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Preparing Dozens of Faculty to Teach Online in a Month or Less

This scenario is not all that uncommon. Just when you've got your faculty development program zipping along nicely, you find out that you've got a huge, unexpected increase in online courses or programs next semester. Program growth is generally good news, but you cringe at the thought of all the 18-hour days it will take to get these faculty prepared for any resemblance to quality online teaching. First of all, ditch the idea of a series of face-to-face training sessions that focus on the course management system. It will be nearly impossible to get all faculty in attendance, and you probably won't have time for make-up sessions. The recipe for this scenario consists of three parts: a short online training course focusing mainly on the pedagogy; a peer mentoring system; and a just-in-time technical support system. The online training course should include some basic course management system information, but most faculty will pick some of this up by their participation in the course. The online training course should focus more on how faculty can make their courses successful for students, and will give the faculty a first-hand look at the student experience. In the peer mentoring component, faculty should be assigned to veteran online faculty who agree to allow them to visit their own courses and assist them with course design and pedagogical questions that arise. This will also free up administrator time to focus on other many other support issues that will arise in the short weeks leading up to the beginning of the "growth" semester or quarter. Lastly, several temporary employees or trained student assistants should be available for an expanded call center to enable these new faculty to get just-in-time assistance by phone or email during the weeks preceding the term as well as the first few weeks of the term.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Five Ways to Boost Online Faculty Morale This Month

1. Positive Feedback. Send each faculty member a personalized email thanking them for their good work, and pointing out some of their strengths. Copy department chairs on exceptional ones. Remember to always be looking for them doing something right!
2. Enlist their Wisdom. Select a few top faculty and ask them what their top secret tip is for their online teaching success. Then take a digital camera and ask them to record a 20-30 second “spot” talking about this secret. Edit all these clips together into a 5 minute clip, and post to your faculty resource page.
3. Be an Extended Family. Be diligently aware of any personal issues going on in the lives of online faculty, particularly adjunct ones. Use tools such as FaceBook, group blogs, or email lists to virtually recognize birthdays, births of children/grandchildren, and coordinate offers for assistance if times are tough (illness, natural disasters, etc.).
4. Have a Contest. Contests are fun, educational, and build team spirit. Do these weekly or monthly on topics such as program or institution trivia and award small prizes (institutional t-shirts, recyclable grocery bags, small gift cards, etc.)
5. Offer a Mini-Conference. Faculty love to get presentations on their vitas, so develop a two-day mini-conference (online of course) where those who choose can present 30-minute webinars on relevant online teaching topics.