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California Community Colleges Online Education InitiativeCalifornia Community Colleges (CCC) faculty members are beginning to nudge their online students toward readiness resources developed by the CCC Online Education Initiative (OEI) to better set expectations about the e-learning environment.

As part of the OEI, faculty at pilot colleges were encouraged to offer online students the Quest for Online Success Workshop, which includes a set of online-learner readiness tutorials designed to help students decide if online learning is right for them and provide tips and strategies for succeeding in these courses.

Online instructors at Hartnell College, one of 24 pilot colleges, told TechEDge the Quest for Online Success program has the potential to become a powerful tool in student success.

“I’m looking forward to when this gets rolled out to everyone—not just the pilot group—because it will bring a level of consistency to student expectations that doesn’t exist right now, and I think it will have impact for everyone,” said Tina Esparza-Luna, an economics instructor at Hartnell, who currently offers the tutorials for two course sections.

Colleague Lindsey Bertomen concurred. Bertomen, who teaches Administration of Justice online at Hartnell and Lake Tahoe Community College, cited a student who had always struggled in online courses because he didn’t have the opportunity to interact with other students in class. The tutorials showed him a way to stay focused and he ultimately passed the online course.

“Of my students who completed the tutorials this term, 25 percent said they wish we offered the readiness tutorials for every online class,” Bertomen said. “Students have told me they are more than just an exercise—they actually get something out of them.”

Easy Access To Resources

The OEI Quest for Online Success program is a fully online, self-paced workshop available to students in about 100 OEI courses at 24 OEI pilot colleges. Students enrolled in OEI courses are encouraged to separately enroll in the Quest program. Each pilot college has the program built into their local instance of the Canvas learning management system.

Students begin the workshop with a diagnostic assessment, currently SmarterMeasure, complete the multimedia tutorials which are accompanied by check-on-learning quizzes and use supplemental resources. Students also provide feedback which is being collected by the Research and Planning Group for the California Community Colleges for reporting and future improvements to the program, explained Anita Crawley, Student Support Services Director for the OEI.

The workshop includes one set of modules for students new to online learning and another set for experienced online learners. Students have access to all materials.

“It is hoped that faculty will link to the Quest workshop from within their online courses so students will have easy access to the resources on an as-needed basis throughout the semester,” Crawley said. “The Time Management and Organizing for Online Success are two tutorials that have been found to be particularly important to make readily available to students throughout the term.”

Interest Grows Statewide And Beyond

In parallel with the pilot, the interactive online tutorials were made available publicly for any institution to use, free of charge. According to Crawley, not only are CCCs using the multimedia tutorials, but a half-dozen colleges across the country have contacted the OEI about adopting the tutorials.

Since their public release, the tutorials have recorded more than 10,000 visits from more than 7,000 users. Of those, 34 percent entered through the student-facing page vs. 24 percent through the professional-facing page. The computer readiness self-test was accessed in 10 percent of visits, while the Introduction to Online Learning tutorial saw 9 percent of visits.

Not surprisingly, 96 percent of visitors were in the U.S., with 89 percent from California and at least a few from every state, Crawley noted.

Crawley said the OEI is hoping to utilize the Professional Learning Network being developed by the CCC Chancellor’s Office to create a clearinghouse for collecting and sharing the ways various colleges are using these tools to prepare students to be successful in their online courses.

“As we do presentations across the state and at national conferences, we encourage people to send usage and effectiveness data back to us,” she said.

Quest Tools In Use

Bertomen has offered the Quest for Online Success program for his 6-week online AJ 110 course since Spring 2015, with 150 to 300 students per term. Before the online readiness resources were available, he offered a face-to-face orientation for every online class he taught.

“Out of a class of 45, I would get one or sometimes no one that showed up to orientation,” Bertomen said. “I have found that online is online.”

Now, for every class, he gives a two-week preparation time prior to the start of the class, including an email that details steps to take, how much time to allow for class and study, and an introduction and link to the Quest for Online Success program.

“This is an important part of the program we use for getting students ready for online learning,” he said.

He stressed that interaction with online students is important to keep them engaged throughout the course, and that instructors need to be excited about the readiness tutorials to get students excited about them.

For example, Bertomen offers his students extra credit as an incentive to go through the Quest for Online Success program. This term, 80 percent confirmed they had done so by sending him a Snapchat or Instagram of their completion certificate.

Informed Choices Lead To Better Outcomes

In Esparza-Luna’s macro- and micro-economics online courses, 175 to 180 students have been exposed to the Quest for Online Success program in the past year, she said. Over that time, she has observed that there are always a certain number of students who are dedicated and will pass an online course without much extra support.

It’s the students on the cusp of passing or failing that will most benefit from the Quest resources, she noted. Giving these students more realistic expectations about what to expect in an online class could lead more students to drop classes early enough that it won’t affect their grades. But for many, the effect can be a change in behavior that helps them succeed.

“I had a student mention that it changed their mindset and so they approached the class differently than they would have—it shifted their mindset and shifted their approach to the class,” Esparza-Luna said.

“I don’t think any of us believes that online is for everyone, but it’s another option, another pathway students can take,” she added. “We need to provide students with tools to be successful. This is one piece of the puzzle to help them get there.”

Crista Souza is the TechEDge News Editor