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Anywhere Community College and Distance Education

Updated on November 14, 2014

Moving Anywhere Community College into Distance Education

Colleges increasingly have to compete for students, and Anywhere Community College has to compete with institutions that are continuously on the move to make their programs more attractive to students. These learners include a new breed of students, and they students who are looking to move into more lucrative career opportunities (Meyer, 2010). These students come from a wide array of careers, and some want to advance in their current careers while others wish to move into new ones. Consequently, ACC is faced with the decision to implement an online distance education program, and if Anywhere Community College is to remain competitive with other institutions, it must seriously consider this endeavor which will be a tremendous task for a college that has not embraced the use of technology for so long. This endeavor will require a total restructuring of ACC’s educational institution; however, it is one that the college must embrace with lightheartedness and diligence. Recognize and prepare for the fact that implementing an online distance education program will forever change the structure of ACC.

Transformative Techniques

The changing face of educational delivery is part of the reason ACC is faced with this endeavor, and in order to completely revamp this institution’s educational delivery, transformative leadership must be employed. For purposes of creating an atmosphere of transformation, ACC will employ Simonson’s (2009) Eight Steps to Transforming an Organization to inspire stakeholders to commit to this distance education program. First of all, Anywhere Community College must recognize the sense of immediacy of implementing an online distance educational program because distance education programs are increasing in colleges and universities across the country. According to Simonson, “Outcomes should be identified, such as more diverse, students, cost savings, more compelling instruction, and even more satisfying interaction with learners” (p. 323), and ACC must address all of these issues. Second, ACC be required to form a planning group that will be dedicated to developing the scheme for the internet-based program. According to Simonson, it is important to have the leaders of the institution on the planning team because their opinions are the ones that will matter to individuals within the association. Continuing to follow Simonson’s model, ACC must create a vision that will work to “rally the troops” and communicate that vision to the planning leaders; subsequently, the planning leaders will start displaying some of the aspects of that vision as soon as possible. Additionally, ACC must place power in the hands of those who show that they are implementing the vision and table and generate short-term accomplishments so the dream will appear obtainable sooner than later. Finally, ACC must hire those who are involved in distance education activities, and “…show how distance education events are connected to the organization’s mission, and to other educational and training activities” (Simonson, 2009, p. 323). Following these steps will work brilliantly for ACC. It must be said that this will not be an easy process, and the people employed with many of these task will need to place activities related to creating this program in perspective. According to Cashman (2008), “Leaders who work on achieving career-life balance are not only healthier, but more effective (p. 22), and ACC faculty and staff who are working on creating this online educational environment must simultaneously work on the program and seek balance in their lives.

“Administrative support structures, student services, technology support, and faculty training and support needs are all areas that need to be analyzed and perhaps changed in order to successfully implement ODL (Online Distance Learning). By accepting a vision statement and its implications, those at the forefront of ODL at the college acknowledge that physical, organizational, and programmatic changes will be occurring, with the inevitable shift of resources” (Levy, 2003).

ACC’s online education mission statement reads as follows:

The mission of ACC is to make available, accessible, high quality educational opportunities to the public at the undergraduate level using creativity and innovation. Of course this statement should be concrete before beginning this endeavor; however, if the institutional leaders deem it necessary to make changes, as a transformational organization, this would be permissible.

ACC recognizes that transformative leadership involves more than getting others to move in directions in which the college desires. It involves changing entire persons, and those changes will also take place within the college leadership. Transformative leadership is a kind of leadership that feeds “the mind, the body, and the soul,” in essence the whole person. Changing others’ minds to add new ways to implement anything is not easy, but through transformative leadership, ACC will implement changes smoothly (Cashman, 2008).

Current Technological Capabilities: Adoption that will Foster a Successful Program

In addition to employing a new leadership technique, ACC must focus on the lack of technological capabilities at the college. Currently, ACC does not have any of the capability necessary to run a particular online distance education program, so it is important to find an application service provider (ASP) to outsource support. This service will cope with the daily operations of the network bandwidth. This is an expensive aspect of the program; however, it is necessary because of the size of the network. It must also be noted that the ASP model is set up to remove CMS from the campus network and that limitations may apply if the ASP does not support the course management system (CMS).

The cost of new equipment for faculty members must be considered in the budget. The current equipment may not be fast enough or up to date enough for faculty to be expected to use for facilitation. The cost of new computers, scanners, video equipment, and printers, for example, must be budgeted. In addition, student educational training must be set up to be provided through the IT department.

Besides the aforementioned, ACC must select a CMS that fits the college’s programs. This is a task that must be seriously considered since changing a system could have a considerable financial impact on a college. Also, this CMS should be evaluated every 3 years for efficiency. Furthermore, the college must select a portal, and the choice is important. One of the matters of importance lies with multiple sign-in options so that numerous sign-in requirements can be eliminated from the program. This will also cut down on helpdesk traffic because students will not constantly be accessing the helpdesk for help with forgotten passwords.

Furthermore, select learning tools that are IMS and SCORM approved should be considered. Doing this will ensure that students who are in the military will not have problems accessing the program. ACC wants to expand access to a wide variety of students, and the college must be prepared to provide services to military students as well (Saltsman & Shelton, 2003).

Considering all of the components necessary to implement the program, ACC has to determine whether it has the financial readiness to implement an online program, and if not, address funding issues. Also, the cost effectiveness of any aspect of the program must be assessed. If ACC finds that the program is simply not cost effective and that funding sources are depleted, then moving forward may have to be delayed.

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Addressing Hiring Protocol in the IT Department

Another aspect of funding would have to include IT staffing. It is extremely important that ACC gather a staff of highly qualified IT professionals-preferably with at least 5 years experience with one company. This consideration must be made to help ensure that the staff hired are likely to stay in the positions for a considerable amount of time due to the fact that it would be costly for the college to have to refill positions, and it take a considerable amount of time to find someone; the workload placed on other IT members could negatively impact the program. Furthermore, ACC must hire IT administrators who understand that part of their responsibilities is to work closely with the Director of Online Services. Its administration must be a part of the implementation of all technological aspects of the program so that any arising issues may be addressed immediately (Saltsman, 2003).

Considering the impact that an online program would have on the IT department, questions such as how much staff will need to be added to the IT department must be addressed. Also, the cost of outsourcing must be weighed against these impact concerns. Furthermore, addressing online maintenance concerns is essential, periodic maintenance will have to be performed, and if students cannot get into the courseroom at certain times, it will affect their success in the courses. Continuous systems (systems always active) could be used; however, they do cost more, so financial feasibility must be assessed. Even more, ACC must estimate the impact of increased network traffic and address how to communicate how all instructional media mediums will be used to the IT department (Saltsman, 2003).

Facing the fact that there will definitely be a financial impact on the IT department is essential. ACC will definitely have to take on more employees in the IT department in order for this endeavor to be successful. It is essential to have the finances in place before fully implementing the online distance education program.

Issues Related to Creating Competent Online Distance Education Faculty

Research over the past ten years has shown that online faculty has a unique set of skills that help to make online programs successful. There are certain skills required for online teachers that may not necessarily be required for ftf (face-to-face) teachers, and those skills include a shift in the paradigm of perceptions of teaching time and space, management techniques, and ways in which to engage students. Furthermore, professional development does have an effect on online teacher success and student performance (Charnia et al, 2007).

One of the criticisms of distance online instruction is the lack of community that exists in some programs (MacDonald et al, 2003). ACC must make every effort to include components that contribute to the creation of an actual online community. This could include creating discussion boards for students to voice concerns to each other and creating online conferences that enable students to get to know each other as well as online instructors. MacDonald et al (2003), also states that studies indicate that programs that are designed to create such social entities are viable programs that tend to last.

MacDonald also found that in a study conducted by Jones and Asensio (2002), ten online faculty members found it difficult to make connections between educational designs and learning outcomes. As a result of the disconnection, instructors deemed it necessary to organize learning activities to close the breach. The instructors also noted that it was important to organize materials in a more advanced and thoughtful manner as opposed to ftf instructional situations. They also noted that they had to encompass the flexibility component into their courses (2003).

In order to address issues related to faculty development ACC will implement a faculty development program. One of the most important aspects of the program will consists of faculty development, and part of the faculty development must include a faculty online orientation process. The orientation process should take place at least six months before the initiation of the actual course. This will give faculty time to actually get experience using course software and thoroughly create their courses. The faculty will actually spend three weeks using the adopted CMS in the form of a simulation. This will give faculty opportunities to become thoroughly familiar with the CMS and the workings of the courseroom. In addition, faculty will practice appropriate online communication with students and the use of the online materials. It is important for faculty to note that communication online varies from communication in face-to-face environments, so this is an especially important component of professional development because creating a positive online social environment is extremely important to creating a continuously successful program. Even more, faculty will also practice responding to pre-prepared student discussion posts. Faculty will also have access to intermediate and advanced technology courses; just as skill levels vary among ACC students, they also vary among faculty members, and ACC must be prepared to address these varied levels. Finally, faculty will be assigned mentors during the orientation, and interaction with the mentors will continue throughout the first year of faculty tenure. The mentoring process will work to help new online instructors acclimate themselves to teaching in an online environment. This professional development process may seem extensive; however, it is a process that the transformational team must successfully sell to the faculty.

Selling this professional development plan is essential to successfully implementing the program. According to Saltsman, training for faculty is one of the most important aspects of an online program. Also, training programs should include mentoring programs and opportunities to interact with the online CMS system. Furthermore, faculty should be introduced to samples of online course materials and have access to intermediate and advanced technology classes. Also in designing the courses, the faculty should have access to instructional designers that will be available to help them with “chunking” the course objectives into manageable units for the students. All of this support will well prepare faculty to successfully teach online distance education courses that are embracing of student retention (2003).

Supporting Online Faculty

When considering online faculty support, ACC must provide on-site facilitators to distribute course materials to students when necessary. Having this service in place would also act as a temporary back-up for any technology failure. ACC realizes that such services could not be offered for every student due to the fact that many of them would not be in the ground campus area, so every effort must be made to ensure as little technology breaks as possible; however, ACC does acknowledge that such failures may occur (Simonson, 2009). Moreover, making instructional orientation available to faculty members help them to adapt quickly to online learning environments. Because many faculty members do not have a lot of experience teaching online, providing good examples of instructional materials is also essential to supporting faculty. Many teachers may have proven to be exemplary in traditional classrooms, but they need online samples to support them in such technology-based environments. This kind of support usually enables them to transfer some of their wonderful skills into online environments. Providing instructional support to online faculty actually increases their enthusiasm towards teaching online, so it is one of the most important aspects of motivating online educators. Still, ACC administrators should provide as many opportunities as possible for distance online faculty to attend professional development events and conferences that include their on campus peers. This gives these educators a chance to feel more united with the other faculty members and the institution (Saltsman, 2003).

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Federal Regulations Related to Online Education

ACC will address the issues of federal government legislation related to online courses. Anywhere Community College must adhere to these regulations to avoid losing financial aid funding. Furthermore, ACC must be ready to ensure that all online students receive daily instruction. Also, attention to state issues must be addressed as well because “…individual states maintain authority to set standards for their populations (Simonson, 2009, p. 341). Standards of physical presence must also be addressed; for example, if a student lives outside of California, ACC must adhere to the said student’s state regulations regarding specific programs. Informing students of their state of residence regulations is extremely important.

What is Distance Education

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Courseroom Configuration

In determining courseroom configuration, institutions must consider what software of which to describe. Institutions must keep in mind that being able to reuse software is extremely important. It could be a major waste of time and money if ACC selects the wrong program. Therefore, finding high quality software is a major issue for this institution. Specifically, Anywhere Community College must select software with well-designed graphics that are highly interactive. Keep in mind that this could cost the college anywhere from one hundred thousand to a million dollars; therefore, the ACC must focus on software that can be shared easily (Spalter et al, 2003).

According to MacDonald et al (2003), a superior course design includes clear expectations, good examples, deadlines, and unit notes that are apparent for students to understand easily. In order to create such course designs, teamwork must be a key component. ACC must acquire a team of skilled designers who will pay attention to detail when creating the courses, and with higher levels of learning, the component of flexibility is especially important. Furthermore, online distance education is a rapidly changing educational endeavor, so designers must be prepared to adapt to these changing conditions rapidly in order to continuously implement the program successfully. Creating a quality program would also mean keeping up with developing phenomena. ACC must employ designers who welcome change and the challenges that are related to it.

Instructional Design

One of the most important components to instructional design must be community building. An online distance education community takes time to develop because it is not aiken to a ftf instructional environment; therefore, practitioners must include strategies that contribute to building communities in their course designs (MacDonald, 2003).

In embracing this important endeavor, it is extremely important to consider the issues that currently inundate the online medium of instructional delivery. As a precursor to the implementation of this plan, it is important to consult the following matters regarding instructional design. The first thing to be considered is intellectual property rights. According to Simonson (2009), intellectual property rights are important to consider because faculty and students alike will be submitting curricula and original works respectively. ACC must consider what may happen if a faculty member creates a curriculum and decides to move on to another institution wanting to take the course materials along. Furthermore, Simonson also states that considering how students would feel about, for example, having their works publicly displayed is also important. As a deterrent to negative issues that may arise regarding this matter, Simonson (2009) also states that institutions should have polices in place beforehand. ACC handbooks and contracts will address how to handle intellectual property rights since work-for-hire laws do not apply to higher educational institutions. Simonson also notes that when it comes to faculty the issue could get even more convoluted with the matter of multiple ownership or ownership of particular parts of class designs or creative works; therefore, ACC will form a committee dedicated to drafting online educational policy regarding intellectual property before beginning the venture.

In addition to addressing intellectual property rights, Anywhere Community College must address the issue of faculty expectations and workload. For example, ACC is obliged to answer questions of whether online instructors will be required to meet the same criteria for tenure as ftf instructors. ACC must conduct the appropriate research to determine if online instructors require more time to facilitate than ftf instructors. Is it fair to require the same service, teaching, and research for such instructors? Answers to these questions will be addressed well before implementing these courses (Simonson, 2009).

Finally, ACC should be prepared to address the “Digital Divide” (Simonson, 2009, p. 343), which identifies the distance between those who can afford the technology needed to access online courses and those who cannot. Simonson states that Carvin (2000) identified that the divide addresses “literacy issues…and content issues (2009, p. 344). As a progressive educational institution, ACC will not want to contribute to this divide.

With the aforementioned issues identified, it is sufficient to state that Anywhere Community College has a good deal of discovery and work to address before moving forward. ACC wants to create a comprehensive program that is beneficial to all stakeholders, so as time consuming as it may seem, these issues must be addressed before moving forward.

Creating Online Student Success

ACC realizes that the three most important issues for online students are having access to student services with flexibility, being placed in appropriate courses, and having access to sensitive faculty members (Saltsman, 2003 & Simonson, 2009). ACC will strive to address these issues by converting all services available to on campus students to online forms. These services will range from having an online admissions office to being able to pay tuition online. As a matter of fact, ACC must implement an online financial aid office as well as student services and counseling offices. As far as appropriate placement, the college will implement pre-assessment tests that will be fully assessable online to ensure that students are appropriately placed and receive remediation where necessary. ACC will also provide in-service activities for faculty members that focus on creating positive relationships with students and how to express sensitivity in online environments (Saltsman, 2003).

These are tools that are immediately available to ACC that may contribute to student retention. Online student retention is important to the measurement of a successful program; if ACC cannot successfully graduate its online students, then the program will not be considered successful; therefore, ACC must have steps in place to help ensure that students get the maximum educational experiences out of the online programs, and simply providing the necessary technology is not enough to support student success (Levy, 2003).

Conclusion

As stated before, this is an endeavor that will require revamping ACC entire institution and outlook on how educational delivery occurs. Institutional leaders must be ready and willing to step-up and start implementing aspects of Anywhere Community College’s vision inclusion in the future of online educational delivery. The task before the college is tremendous and will require strong leadership and financial support; however, moving into the realm of online education could be an essential component to ACC’s survival in an every changing educational world.

References

Cashman, K. (2008). Leadership from the inside out: Becoming a leader for life. San Francisco, CA: Berret-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Chad, H., Charania, A., Cho, M.O., Compton, L.K.L., Davis, N., Harms, C., Ferdig, R., and Roblyer, P. (2007). Illustrating the “virtual” in virtual schooling: Challenges and strategies for creating real tools to prepare virtual teachers. The Internet and Higher Education, 10, 27-39. Center for Technology and Learning and Teaching, Iowa State University Ames, Iowa.

Levy, S. (2003). Six factors to consider when planning online distance learning programs in higher education. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 6.

MacDonald, C.J. and Thompson, T.L. (2003). Community building, emergent design and expecting the unexpected: Creating a quality elearning experience. The Internet and Higher Education, 8, 233-49.Meyer, C.F. (2010). Practicum observations 100 miles away: the success story of an online practicum. National Social Science Journal, 35, 93-96.

Saltsman, G. & Shelton, K. (2003). An administrator’s guide to online education. Greenwich, CT, Information Age Publishing Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M. & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.

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