A recent public policy report concluded that, if done right, the focus of the California Community Colleges (CCC) Online Education Initiative (OEI) could change the face of online learning in the state. There is evidence now that this is indeed happening.
The community colleges are alive with conversations about distance learning and the opportunities the modality provides for students. Throughout the past six months, discussions were held at well over half of the CCC’s 113 colleges about how they would individually participate in a common endeavor to create quality online environments for students.
Groundswell Of Collaboration
As of this writing 41 colleges have made the decision to upgrade their course management systems (CMS) by adopting the system choice of Canvas as their CMS since signing the contract with Instructure in July. Six of our colleges already were using Canvas when the decision to go statewide was made. That brings the current number of California community colleges using Canvas to 47. While Canvas provides a fresh environment that allows us to renew our online offerings, it also is the common platform from which to launch renewed ideas and strategies for teaching and learning.
The enthusiasm and intention that results from each college reviewing their online courses and programs with an eye toward making them more effective has resulted in a groundswell of creativity and collaboration among online teaching faculty and staff who are tasked with supporting students, courses and programs. One distance education coordinator at a town hall meeting said, “I’ve never seen anything like this before in our system,” referring to the attention and conversations that were occurring around something we could do together for the students of California.
Eagerness To Participate
Changing course management systems is no small task for a college. Prior to making a decision to do so, in-depth conversations must take place with all those in a college community who may be affected by such a change. Additionally, everyone has to agree to learn something different and spend significant time doing so. What we have seen in the initiative over these months of decision-making and transition is an eagerness to participate in a variety of professional development activities around both learning how to use Canvas and about how to innovate in online teaching.
@ONE, which is the CCC Chancellor’s Office technology professional development project, has been around offering training in all things technology for more than 15 years. The initial emphasis of the project was on getting everyone involved in using technology in education and in the digital changes that the web brought to the classroom and the college infrastructure itself. Some years ago, when the four California Virtual College (CVC) regions were combined into one entity, the professional development for online faculty was shifted from CVC to @ONE. Over the years and through economic downturn, the emphasis on online teaching became the focal point of the project and a “certification” sequence of courses was developed and maintained.
The mission of the OEI to provide greater access to quality online courses has increased the importance of @ONE as the hub for professional development for online teaching. To date, more than 300 CCC faculty and support staff members have been involved in activities related to applying the OEI Course Design Rubric to quality course re-design and development at more than 70 of the colleges in the system. Colleges continue to request the “Applying the OEI Course Design Rubric” workshop be hosted on their campus and the workshop will be offered across the state throughout the coming months. The schedule will be available soon at www.onefortraining.org/node/731.
Focus On Quality Remains Strong
The number of participants in the @ONE workshops implies that a focus on quality course design is alive and well across the system and the interest in the rubric is strong. The Academic Senate for the California Community Colleges, at its plenary session in November 2015, passed a resolution encouraging colleges to adopt an online course design rubric, as well.
In addition to the Alignment workshops, @ONE has been offering a “Canvas Train the Trainer” workshop aimed at allowing online program support staff across the state to teach the use of Canvas on their own campuses. The colleges that have committed to adopting Canvas as their CMS are being provided the Train the Trainer (TTT) workshop at no cost for participants, funded by the OEI. More than 70 people attended the first three TTT events and more workshops are being scheduled at colleges statewide.
In addition to the TTT and Applying workshops, @ONE is offering both self-paced and facilitated online courses in how to effectively use Canvas to teach online. The first three sections of the four-week online courses were filled to capacity and more sections are added regularly. On Jan. 11, another four full sections started with three sections planned to start in February, three sections planned for April (with some seats available) and more planned going forward.
A redesigned course about how to become an effective online teacher is also in the works by @ONE and should be available very soon. (If you are interested, please see the registration information at the end of this article.)
Revolution In Access To Online Education
This community college system is experiencing a revolution in its ability to provide access for students to high-quality online classes across the state. The OEI is developing and implementing a variety of resources that have been long needed by colleges. Creating a systemwide course management infrastructure is central to bringing these OEI resources—as well as the wealth of resources afforded by the web itself—directly into every classroom in the system.
A course management system isn’t just another software tool. It provides a critical infrastructure for resource provision for all educational activities in our colleges. Both online teachers and traditional on-ground teachers use course management systems to provide their students online access to educational resources, and the students both expect and appreciate the use of digital means to connect them to their college experience. The OEI goals are focused on both increasing access to courses students need to complete their educational goals AND ensuring those courses are of the highest quality. For more information, please visit the website at www.CCCOnlineEd.edu.
Registration For Canvas Online Course
In the interest of supporting colleges that are transitioning to Canvas, the OEI is providing free seats in @ONE’s four-week facilitated “Introduction to Teaching with Canvas” online course. These seats are available to faculty at colleges that have indicated their commitment to move to Canvas by completing the CCC Canvas Registration form. Colleges wishing to obtain training for their faculty prior to committing to Canvas, or desirous of providing a section of the course for their faculty, may contract with @ONE for provision of these services. Please see www.onefortraining.org/bureau for more details.
Pat James is Executive Director of the
California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative