OEI Updates: Getting Out Of Our Own Way

Before I get into the post for this month, I want to sincerely thank the online instructors from the Online Education Initiative (OEI) pilot colleges who will be opening their courses in Canvas this month (some this week!). You have been so patient with us and have worked so hard to get to this point, and I so respect your innovative strength and willingness to step up for the students of the California Community Colleges (CCC).

I look forward to hearing about your experiences this term. You are an inspiration to our OEI team and we thank you so much.

—Pat James and the members of the OEI team

Getting Out Of Our Own Way

For the last few months I have been talking a lot about “dwelling in possibility” because when you are in my shoes, it’s got to be your mantra! It became a theme in my keynote at the Online Teaching Conference in June, and has been part of my guiding philosophy throughout this OEI journey.

There are two things that I base my work as an educator on:

  1. Impossible just takes a little longer to accomplish.
  2. If we focus on what’s best for students, we will make good decisions.

When considering the update blog post for this month, I realized that my belief that everything is possible is, at this moment, really being tested.

We are currently trying to develop the business practices and technology implementation for the Course Exchange component of the OEI. The “exchange” as we lovingly refer to it, is only one aspect of the initiative. However, it seems to take center stage every time the OEI is mentioned and it is the most complex of the many OEI goals. The idea is that CCC students will be able to seamlessly register across colleges in online courses that they need to complete their educational goals. It’s a simple but powerful idea that focuses on what’s good for students in California. In order to accomplish it, however, we have to learn to get out of our own way!

Setting The Stage

Fresno City College started in 1907 with one class of 20 students and three teachers.There are now 113 colleges in our system (with the addition of Clovis Community College this year). According to the history of the California Community Colleges, “junior” colleges were authorized to offer courses in 1907 for the purpose of providing education beyond high school that would ease the enrollment load for other four-year institutions in the state. High school districts then created junior colleges.

In 1967, Governor Ronald Reagan and the California Legislature moved the authorization and supervision of the system from the California Department of Education, which supervised the high schools and junior colleges, to become the responsibility of a systemwide chancellor’s office and board of governors. At that time the “junior” college designation was changed to “community” college.

It’s important to understand that the colleges were initially set up as extensions of local high schools at a time when digital capability was non-existent. Because of the way we started, local colleges were developed based on community need and created their individual personalities and cultures from those individual communities. The world was much less connected then, and as a result of these beginnings, the colleges have separate administrations with a multitude of different business policies, procedures and practices.

The legislation that developed around the burgeoning system of colleges back then is written to both regulate and protect each community effort. Today, much of the education code that has been developed for the system focuses on keeping student enrollments within a given district’s geographical boundaries and is tied to term start dates, individual choices about matriculation time frames, and varied course prerequisites, among other disparate situations.

The funding model is centered on the number of students a college is allowed to have (capacity) based on the trending economic fortunes of the state itself, which then dictates the total of available funds for the system. If you think of a pie that has to be divided among individuals with varying appetites, you would have an idea of how our colleges are funded according to the enrollment trends in a given community. The more need (students), the more of the pie you are allowed—however, the size of the pie (total state funding for the system) determines how it is divided up because everyone has to get something! This model has kept the colleges in competition with one another for enrollment, creating an environment that keeps archaic codes in place.

New Reality Demands A New Approach

Fast forward to the digital world we are now in. We no longer function in isolation, although our ways of doing business have not exactly become shared standard practices. Students’ ability to take online classes from anywhere has given them the opportunity to “swirl”, which means they are able to apply to multiple colleges and take classes from all over the state at the same time. There’s really no management of the swirling by the system and it’s not easy for students to cobble together schedules on their own. Tremendous duplication of effort on their part often results in them spending more precious tuition money, ending up with units they don’t need, and/or ending up with often failed goal completion because they were trying to figure out degree patterns with inadequate decision-making tools.

Source: www.paleopam.comThere’s way more to this story, but the upshot is that we can help California’s students complete their educational goals in a more timely, effective and efficient way, if we help them get the appropriate classes where and when they are available. This requires extensive cooperation within the system.

Enter the idea of the online course exchange—seamless access to online courses needed to complete educational goals. Sounds reasonable and simple. Reasonable? Yes. Simple? Absolutely not!

Getting Real

Let’s go back to my foundational principle: Do what’s best for students. Add to that the fact that when students complete their educational goals, California’s economy benefits. It only makes sense then that we should consider a student of any CCC as a student that belongs to all of us. Now, consider the history and even the laws and regulations that were created in a time of isolated and competitive communities.

My comment at this juncture can only be, “Arggggggggh!”, because making the seamless registration across colleges a reality is incredibly difficult. (Remember, our own Chancellor Brice Harris referred to the task as “Herculean.”) We are now literally laboring through the creation of a complex system. Accomplishing the goal must be based on collaboration, mutual respect and the shared goal of doing what’s best for our students.

Process Toward Systemic Change

The successful process of sorting out the issues with cross-college registration practices lies in the details and restrictions in Education Code, Title 5 Regulations, and local college policies (I am calling these “The Rules”) that were developed in a time of isolation and competition. Isolation and competition run counter to the best interests of our students and our state. It’s time to change The Rules to do what’s best for students and this seems to be the initiative that exists in the opportunity to do just that.

It’s hard, however, to change these things, harder still to get really busy people to let go of what they have worked so hard to understand and have been trying to work within, and then get them to think through innovative change.

The Rules: Education Code, Title 5 regulations and local college policiesWe started with meetings with staff and administrators of the CCC Chancellor’s Office last fall. It took some time, but we all really started to understand what needed to happen and how important it would be for students if we could accomplish the exchange goals. Conversations centered on how the exchange could be accomplished despite the existing quagmire of old California rules. It took the whole day, but by the end of it, everyone we talked with agreed that we could figure it out.

We then held a Reciprocity Summit, a two-day event that brought together Chancellor’s Office staff with admissions and records, enrollment management, distance education and financial aid people from the eight pilot colleges that opted to try to create this change. We asked them to consider what they needed to help students register across their colleges, and to not be constrained by the current rules. They did an amazing job of sorting out things that could be accomplished with consortium agreements, what needed to be done with technical tools, and what needed systemic legal change.

What’s Going On?

If you have read this far, I am sure you are wondering what the heck are we doing now! The answer is that we are sorting through the legal obstacles and creating the technical solutions. My sincere hope is that we are the masters of our own world. I know it’s somewhat Pollyannaish to think this way, but I dwell in possibility, remember? We now have to get out of our own way, and make sure the legislature, board members and our own colleagues see that this is worth doing for the students of California.

Why would the state government give us money to provide greater access for students to courses they need to complete degree and transfer goals and then not help us bring the regulations into this century so we can do it? I doubt they will stand in the way of this progressive change if what we are doing makes good sense and is also based on what our world and capabilities are now, instead of what they were back in 1967. It’s just going to take time because what seems impossible just takes a little longer to accomplish.

Source: xkcd.comIf you have ever used technology solutions in your daily work, you know that it’s often easier to create a workaround than to actually change the origin of the problem. It’s easy to get used to workarounds, and to even get really good at creating and relying on them. The challenge and the charge for all of us working on this initiative, working within the colleges and working with the technology is not to try to create something based on the boundaries that were needed in the past and to which we have grown so accustomed, but to believe that we can use new methodologies to create something that makes those old boundaries unnecessary.

Wish us luck and think "possible."

We are not giving up, by the way. We did have to extend the launch of the exchange component out to Fall 2016, and I am convinced we can get the work done by then. I really want to encourage everyone working on this component of the initiative to avoid the temptation to do a workaround that might result in something less than what’s possible. This is the only opportunity we may ever get to put aside our fears, self-focused concerns and boundaries of the past, and really do something amazing for the students of California. Let’s get out of the “institution” mindset and into one of an open community with a higher purpose.

In Case You Missed It

The online learner readiness tools are available for use for everyone via Creative Commons attribution license at http://apps.3cmediasolutions.org/oei/.

We have heard from more than 80 colleges regarding Canvas common course management system (CCMS) adoption. About 50 have selected an implementation cohort for purposes of migration! If your college is considering a CMS change, there are resources for helping with the decision at https://ccconlineed.instructure.com/courses/90.

Video tutorials to help solve the mysteries of making content accessible to the vision and hearing impaired are at https://ccconlineed.instructure.com/courses/98.

AND, if you missed the Online Teaching Conference this year, Phil Hill’s amazing keynote is at http://www.3cmediasolutions.org/node/18074.

Rico Bianchi, Interim Director, TTIP South; Anna Stirling, Interim Director, @ONEIn Other News

Anna Stirling has just been named the Interim Director of @ONE, replacing Micah Orloff, who is stepping back to an advisory role for the professional development project. Rico Bianchi is taking on the role of Interim Director of TTIP South (CCCConfer and 3CMedia Soultions) as Blaine Morrow retires.

We want to thank Blaine and Micah for all the work they have done for our system, and congratulate both Anna and Rico on their new roles.


Pat James is Executive Director of the
California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative




# CCC InstructorTony 2015-09-10 20:32
Hi Pat,
The registration across all campuses allowing OEI Exchange students to "swirl" around taking courses from various CCCs is most rightly being held up by the CCCs. They, rightly, have their own course standards and do not want to have to submit to a generic flavoring of courses, watered down by compromise, to fit into the OEI system. One Biology 100 course is not the same as another. We all have the best, don't we?!

The OEI must protect academic freedom and, most importantly, must protect the diversity of thought and teaching methods employed by qualified instructors. If you try to put college into a can and make CCCs become part of a one size fits all model, you will fail, and you should. This is not good for our educational system nor our society. There is no one way or one "text" to teach. But all that you're trying to do requires that you deny the inherent individual diversity found in the world's longest standing, best educational systems.

The task of registering across CCCs is Herculean because it shouldn't be accomplished. Think about it. It will only be accomplished if the OEI opens its own State run school and works against the other 113 CCCs. You have my respect, but keep thinking. Many good ideas about education are already in place and have been so for years and years.
Tread lightly, respectfully. You don't really want the single-naturedn ess of the educational system your wittingly or not proposing. Still, that's where you're headed.

IMO: At best, the OEI should be a support system existing in the background, offering tools and services unconditionally to the State's 113 CCC delivery systems. The OEI should not run in comptetion with them or dictate to them what is a proper online education. The OEI can suggest effective online pedagogy and even offer tutorials, but all must be done with utmost respect to the State's instructors. The OEI works for the CCCs, not the other way around.
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# 1 statewide CC systemrobert o. 2015-09-10 22:44
To solve this problem why not ask the legislature to consolidate all the 113 colleges into a single statewide system as other states have done. It would also equalize funding across districts so that all students are treated and funded equally rather than Basic Aid Districts getting more per student than non-Basic Aid.
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# Seems easy...Patricia 2015-09-11 16:15
Thanks Robert,
While this seems like a "no-brainer", there are huge obstacles, as you might imagine.

As explained by reviewing the history, we are all independent to a great degree. The OEI actually is providing insight and solutions to the systemic issues, one piece at a time. I hope that there will be ongoing changes that happen on a system level as we use more technology mitigated efforts to connect ourselves.

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# Executive Director of CCCOEIPatricia 2015-09-11 21:32
Hello Tony:

I agree with your last paragraph (except the last sentence) and with many of the other things you say in your response to my blog. However, there are a couple of misconceptions that seem to come out in your writing.

We are not trying to make us all alike and we do hold a huge level of respect for diversity in the classroom and the cultures across the colleges. As we develop and provide online teaching and learning resources, we are very careful to not impose ourselves into the development of curriculum or into the basic art of teaching. By the way, it may help you to know that the members of my team and I all come from the teaching ranks of our community colleges.

Your post focuses on what you think we are doing and not what we actually are doing.

In addition to helping people understand what online learning is about, we are working on how to use technology to streamline the registration and other processes that we've been doing without the benefit of current technical solutions. The work with the processes is being done so that the colleges who decide to participate in the exchange are able to do so without also incurring a lot of extra work. The resulting business process upgrades may also help colleges who do not decide to participate in the exchange. No college will be forced to participate.

Only colleges that elect to participate in the exchange will have their students able to take those courses. This does not mean that all students in the system will have access to all online courses in the system. Colleges that choose to participate in the OEI consortium will determine the needed operational agreements that make cross registration possible. Only those consortium member colleges will have courses and students in the exchange.

Regarding the courses themselves, the only courses that will be involved in the course exchange must be approved within the course identification numbering system (C-ID). This is a way for our courses, diverse in their methods, to be comparable enough in content and objectives to be approved for articulated transfer both within and outside of the CCC system. The C-ID system helps students by establishing articulation and facilitating the identification of courses that are comparable.

We are not trying to set up another college, and agree that is what we absolutely should not do, and have repeatedly stressed. We are trying to assist students to complete their goals, which often are stalled because courses are not always available. We in no way want to "dilute" the creativity or diversity of the teaching within our system by creating a "one size fits all" model. As a matter of fact, if you have ever heard me speak, I always mention that it is the individual teacher that changes and/or saves the lives of our students.

My reference to procedures and processes being less than current, is focused on making things easier for students and for us, by using technologies for communication and for making our systems work more effectively in practice (like simplifying registration).

Your comment, "The OEI works for the CCCs, not the other way around" is totally true. We in NO WAY think, nor need the CCCs to "work" for us. We all need the CCCs to work effectively for our students. The OEI is working in the "background" and in the "foreground" to provide resources for faculty, colleges, and students.

There are no nefarious intentions to make us "one size fits all".

Thanks for taking the time to comment.
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