The Three Processes
The significance that an online or hybrid format of course offerings has on the stature of the university or college cannot be emphasized enough. The foundations, grants and other funding sources are critical to the mission of the institution. Any online or hybrid program must reflect the goals of the university, and portray it at its best.
In the early stages, the direction of the program design is all-important. Breaking the process into three main processes can help with long-term growth. Those processes are subject and personnel evaluation, long-term planning, and experimentation.
Every institution has both information services and academic personnel. In an online/hybrid format, these personnel must harbor the same inspiration and work together. Academic personnel have studied and worked a lifetime focused on their academic fields. Some are computer-literate, but many are not comfortable with the “new technologies” this decade has brought beyond ownership of an iPhone that functions as…. a phone. Therefore, the first selections of subjects and personnel are better based on willingness to participate above all else, as some departments will be more interested in providing high tech courses than others. Pragmatism must win, here, or else higher costs and lower success rates may hamper a fledgling program.
Developing a long-term plan that is not cast in stone is the second process to be considered. Few campuses will have the personnel and expertise necessary to lay out an online/hybrid format that will work as desired… especially under severe budget cuts. Hiring an outside agency to design the online format may not bring success, because it is difficult for a person not working within the system to embrace the culture and ultimate goals of each unique teaching institution, or interact successfully with more technology-challenged scholars.
Therefore, developing a non-technical process and working with all faculty in this realm will help with attracting faculty to participate, or at the very least, not resist the implementation of online/hybrid classes. Once that non-technical process is developed, technical issues can be solved more easily, and tasks assigned to those who will handle the technical details. Every professor wants to see his or her classes shown around the world. No professor wants his or her class taught by a computer or robot.
In this process, the academic staff must understand that the goal of the online/hybrid format is to reach more students, as opposed to just “making their classes more high-tech or interesting.” They must be cognizant of the fact that the lighter load of lecture time means a bigger responsibility of student assessment. Now several years into the educational crisis, most teachers will appreciate this need. The way plan administrators frame this new technology to all academic personnel is incumbent to success.
Although time is fleeting, this very deliberately-planned foundation and multi-year plan must be put into place in the early stages, before most equipment infrastructure purchases are made.
The third process is experimentation. It has already been established that the required technical proficiencies may not be at the desired levels on a campus, yet it seems intuitive that the online/hybrid program is best developed internally. A long term plan can be developed even as a department experiments, offering a few online/hybrid courses for evaluation. Experimentation must have a strong element of feedback, as this is an evolving implementation. Resulting outcomes from the experimental classes offered can then be compared against the developing long-term plan, and changes made to improve the overall experience. It is important that these first efforts become a viable part of the foundation of the school’s distance learning program, rather than de facto personal web courses.
© 2012 Laurie Mena