Educause 2011, the huge higher education technology conference took place last week. There was a lot of buzz around online learning and the changing face of IT.
On a broad brush, students are increasingly taking one or more online classes during their higher education tenure and more schools are offering classes and programs of study. The schools are grappling with how to develop and fund these courses, and then how to support the students and faculty. Below are case studies from three sesions: Outsourcing Online Learning at USC, Engaging Learner Across Time and Space at U of Minnesota, and Effective Support for Online Learners at Bay State.
Technology departments have been facing declining budgets for four years, but technology demands have not receded. Additionally, IT is being asked to provide better and more usable data to drive academic and business decisions. These concerns are summarized in Problems Faced by CIOs, CTOs and Technology Departments and Data to Dashboards below.
Outsourcing Online Learning
Joan Falkenberg Getman, Susan E. Metros, Jade Winn, all from USC
Why did USC start online programs?
The goals for establishing new programs were and continue to be:
- Remain current and competitive
- Reach working professionals
- Reach new markets
- Extend global reach
- Build new revenue
USC made the following requirements for all new online programs:
- Only graduate programs; undergraduates should get the full brick and mortar USC experience
- No tuition differentiation; same costs as face to face programs
- Only where there were new revenue opportunities; not in areas that would cannibalize existing students
- There had to be both synchronous and asynchronous content and interactions with the students (and faculty)
- There had to be active learning activities and rich interaction (interaction with content and also with other students and faculty). USC wanted to make the online experience as good as a good face to face classroom experience.
USC used Embanet and 2Tor to help develop and offer the two programs. There are relatively few quality providers to partner with, and they can be very different. It’s important to find a provider that matches weel with the particular program at the institution. Different programs for the same institution may work better with different providers, depending on chemistry, outlook, reach, and financial considerations.
Who was responsible for what?
The partner financed all of the development, there was no upfront cost for USC. Partner paid USC faculty for subject matter expertise and curriculum design, coordination, and approval, and did the graphic and interactive design.
USC Professors develop the content, the partner works with the professors on online instructional design, and the partner does the graphics and develops any videos, animations, or interactive media. USC has final approval on the work product.
The Professor owns the content, but cannot use any media that was developed outside of USC if they teach outside of USC. USC can use the content at no extra charge for their brick and mortar students.
Partner is responsible for obtaining admissions candidates and marketing, including training admissions staff. USC reviews and approves applications and collects fees.
Partner provides the platform, including online social networks and communities that encourage academic and extracurricular student activities.
Partner provides 24x7 technical support for students, faculty, and staff from a service level agreement. Partner reports major issues and solutions back to school.
USC Professors teach the courses.
Engaging Learners Across Time and Space: Models for Distance Learning
Mary Davis, Ron Fitch, and Jude Higdon from University of Minnesota
A 2010 meta-analysis by the Dept of Education on previous studies found “students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.” (Personal note, isn’t it interesting that the NY Times interviews one school district and comes to the conclusion that technology doesn’t affect education results, while the Dept of Ed reviews more than 500 studies and concludes that it does? Guess the Dept of Ed missed the one district that matters.)
Defining goals is key step in online instruction design, because it dictates so many other aspects about the pedagogy and technology. The goal of the online program for the U of MN Dept of Pharmacy was to provide specialty classes for schools that offered degrees in pharmacology, but were too small to offer specialized courses.
When developing the curriculum and syllabus, you need to map content and activities to learning goals, accreditation standards, and industry standards (for example OSCE and NAPLEXS in Pharmacy).
Doing the video segments in a studio produced a much higher value video than videoing a lecture, and postproduction to insert key points and graphics into the video made for more engaging and didactic content.
U of Minnesota felt it was important to provide a way for students to audit courses, possibly at a lower cost.
Online tracking of student activities yields a gold mine of data which can be used to improve the course, monitor student engagement, and provide support to reduce dropouts.
Graduate students can provide a high quality, but also relatively inexpensive way, to develop curriculum.
Effective Support for Online Learners
David Demers, Peter Testori, Amber Vaill, Bay Path College
A required orientation course, before a student’s first online course, increases the likelihood of student success. Bay Path College’s course consists of 4 sessions, and covers the LMS, meeting technology requirements, time management strategies, submitting assignments, understanding online communities, netiquette, and how to get assistance. The course is conducted by one of the support coordinators.
Support coordinators for online students can also make a big impact on retention. At Bay Path, each student is assigned to a support coordinators, who
- Monitors the amount of time students are logged in
- Monitors whether students are submitting assignments on time
- Provides technical support
- Is the first point of contact for any question from an online student
- Calls the student when usage is down or assignments are late
- Assists faculty when faculty notice that a student may be having problems
A good amount of support time is helping students with time management, and time prioritization.
Problems Faced by CIOs, CTOs, and Technology Departments
This section is a summary from a variety of sessions, working groups, and interviews during the course of Educause 2011.
IT departments are being asked to measure effectiveness, and schools are afraid that accreditation will depend on measuring effectiveness, but it is truly not possible to determine. You might be able to tell what classes are being attended, what content is being accessed, but you can’t isolate successes or failures to any particular activities.
Many institutions have had compounded IT cuts for each of the last three years. At best, this will be a flat year.
The demand for services does not decrease. Students are demanding more online courses and resources, students and faculty are demanding new technologies, but there is little acknowledgement in institutions about the full cost of complying with those demands.
Even when a technology solution will have a clear payback, there are often no funds available for the startup or transition costs.
A Biology Professor needs to use a microscope, because it’s an integral part of the class; why is it okay for professors not to know that online learning tools that their students are using? When faculty members incorporate technology into their classes that they don’t know how to use, it escalates support costs.
On new projects involving technology, IT has to make sure that
- The full cost of the technology (including support and maintenance) be factored into the life of the project
- There is a built-in way to measure the success (or failure) of the project. One of the biggest headaches is pilot projects that are not scalable but meet a faculty member’s needs; ongoing support can be a huge issue.
- There is an understanding of next steps if the project succeeds or fails.
Some of the biggest success for IT in institutions is when they have given faculty (or administration) something that they didn’t even know they needed (such as an online scheduling system to meet with faculty advisors that made it a lot easier for both faculty and students to schedule).
The concerns of IT have become a lot more fragmented over time. Ten years ago, over 2/3 of Postsecondary CIO’s said that their most pressing issues were instructional and security related. Today, there is no one issue that is of primary concern to more than 15%.
While there is a lot of talk about clouds, the biggest use of clouds on campus is with email systems. Over the next couple of years, it is more likely that LMSs will start moving to the clouds, and after that ERP systems. Currently, over 70% of institutions are not considering clouds for ERP or CRM systems over the next two years.
Data to Dashboards: Creating and Using Analytics
Stephen Grieco, Susan Hauck, Celeste Schwartz, Montgomery County Community College, PA
The purpose of creating a dashboard is not to create nice looking reports and graphs, it is about taking information and changing the way decisions are made to increase efficiency and effectiveness. A dashboard provides a summary, visualization, or filter of data. Dashboards should allow decision makers or service providers to predict, drill down, plan, benchmark, make decisions, get feedback, and become more effective.
What is propelling the need to more effectively utilize data?
- Shrinking resources
- Accountability, being asked to prove that what you do has value
- Assessment driving data driven decision making
- Desire to use the data you have to improve processes or spur actions
- By monitoring the support calls by day of the week and time, the help desk was able to be staffed more efficiently and for better support.
- By looking at class sizes at different times, and demand for sections on different days, the school was able to increase instructor and class utilization while also making class schedules more convenient for students
- By analyzing the types of related classes that students were taking, the school was able to determine that there was a need for new degrees