Distance Ed

The Issue

District administration is embarking on an effort to centralize online class offerings at the Alamo Colleges. Currently, each individually accredited college administers its own online course offerings within each department. Each college also trains full-time and adjunct instructors in best practices and methodologies for effective online teaching. Services such as counseling and library research skills classes are also managed at each college through existing staff, faculty, and resources which also serve on campus student needs. There have also been discussions about how to “monetize” our distance education offerings, i.e., charging students more in fees for the convenience of taking an online class. Also of concern is limiting full-time faculty in how many online course sections they can teach and how they manage their office hours for these online students.

Our Position

Of major concern is the issue of “monetizing” our online courses, particularly in light of the retention rates for these students. Why charge students more for an online class that they are more likely to drop out of? Dr. Eric Reno, the previous President of Northeast Lakeview College, stated that the Alamo Colleges could emulate the Colorado model for online education where schools charge students double tuition for online students because online classes offer “quality education” and access to services such as virtual help desk, library services, and orientation. These services are already being offered to online students through existing college resources. Is there a plan to duplicate these efforts? If the District charges more for online classes will those existing departments receive more funding in order to continue or improve those services?

The move to centralize online class offerings also comes with push for creating “canned” courses to be used over and over again by adjuncts. This model can be a breeding ground for student cheating through the use of the same tests, quizzes, and assignments as well as making our online classes come off as nothing but glorified correspondence courses.

We also support each department in having the flexibility to decide how many course sections full-time faculty are allowed to teach. In some cases, if full-time faculty are blocked from teaching a class? Then that class doesn’t get taught. This is counter to our mission of addressing student needs. Faculty also require flexibility to offer online office hours whenever students need assistance – nights and weekends. While we understand that full-time faculty need to be visible and available on campus to serve on committees, etc., we also understand how much work is required of online faculty in creating and sustaining those online relationships with students. Those relationships translate into retention.

Lost in all the discussion about online education is the issue of quality. How do we know if our online offerings are successful? Are our students learning experiences online similar or equal to their experiences in the physical classroom? Are we instituting Quality Matters?

Sources

  1. Public Information Act request for Demographic studies related to the planned restructuring of Distance Education. “The Distance Learning Taskforce did not conduct any demographic studies related to Distance Learning. Only current enrollments were reviewed by the Taskforce.” Powerpoint presentation: Online Learning Process Team Systemization
  2. Public Information Act request for Documentation and emails pertaining to charging students more tuition for Distance Education that what is currently charged.  “Information by the Distance Learning Taskforce depicts what the impact of charging higher tuition would be as well as a scenario for full-time to part-time faculty ratios: Copy of DL_Costs and Revenues with 50 and 50 Load Scenario. There are no emails exchanged by the Taskforce.”
  3. Public Information Act request for Documentation reporting retention rates for all Distance Education students: Copy of Copy of Internet vs Non-Internet_(10-27-2011)
  4. Documentation reporting demographics of students currently enrolled in Distance Education courses: Fall 2010 Alamo Colleges Unduplicated Headcount-2
  5. Alamo Colleges Online planning causing confusion

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