Distance Education http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance Wed, 01 Oct 2014 17:58:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 Distance Learning Faculty- Get paid to create video for your course! http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2014/10/distance-learning-faculty-get-paid-to-create-video-for-your-course-2/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2014/10/distance-learning-faculty-get-paid-to-create-video-for-your-course-2/#comments Wed, 01 Oct 2014 17:46:33 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=4075 Congratulations to the 2013/14 participants of Video Camp!

Check out their wonderful productions:


Do you want to create beautiful and engaging media like this for your online course? Read on!

Applications due to Monica Marlo monica.martinezgallagher@pcc.edu by 5pm on Monday, October 6th, 2013

Distance Learning Faculty:

Do you have an instructional video project you’ve been wanting to create for your distance education course, but you’re not sure where to begin and/or would like design and production assistance?

Apply for Video Camp!

Present your ideas to us by 5PM on Monday October 6th  and come join us this summer for Video Camp! We will be selecting a pool of applicants from the project ideas you submit to help you bring your ideas to life from design, scriptwriting and storyboarding on through production and post-editing.

How to apply:

You present the idea in two pages or less and if your idea is selected we will offer funding to pay you for your subject area expertise, and provide services and staff to support you through each step of the experience. Your idea should be for a video or videos that add up to ten minutes or less in length and support an objective in your curriculum. Want to submit an idea as a faculty team? Preference will be given to video projects that include multi-faculty or multi-discipline teams. Have more than one idea? Feel welcome to submit as many ideas as you have.

When writing your project proposal, please include the following:

  • What are the subject area and instructional concepts covered?
  • Who are the faculty involved?
  • What course(s) will the videos be part of?
  • Is this video imagined as being filmed on location, or in a studio? (It’s ok if you’re not sure, we can help you decide.)

Want help?

Want some help thinking of a great project? Check out these done by  PCC’s Video Production Unit for a great selection of videos produced by our in-house team. Also look here for examples of presentations created at Columbia Gorge Community College (CGCC) Video Camp (with the assistance of PCC video producer Michael Annus). These feature the work of CGCC philosophy instructor Dr. Bill Noonan who has been building his set of videos over the course of several years.

If you would like assistance getting started or thinking of an idea prior to writing your proposal, please contact Michael Annus (mannus@pcc.edu) on our video production team, or multimedia developer Monica Marlo (monica.martinezgallagher@pcc.edu) in Distance Learning. We like to be in contact with you as early as possible in the process to help support your successful production’s development.

How will you be notified?

If your project is selected to participate, we will contact you by Friday, October 10th to let you know, discuss your project’s scope and budget, and work with you on the next steps of creating your project.

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PCC offering free MOOC for online educators http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2014/09/pcc-offering-free-mooc-for-online-educators/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2014/09/pcc-offering-free-mooc-for-online-educators/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 00:05:29 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=4060
WAMOE logo

WAMOE – Web Accessibility MOOC for Online Educators

Web Accessibility MOOC for Online Educators (#WAMOE)

  • Registration opens today!
  • Free 5 week course from October 20 to November 22.

WAMOE!  We are excited to announce that PCC’s Distance Education department is partnering with D2L to offer a free Web Accessibility MOOC for Online Educators (Twitter hashtag: #WAMOE).

This MOOC provides educators with practical, hands-on professional development on how to incorporate web accessibility into online learning.

It’s free and it’s fun!  Learn tips and tricks to make content accessible for students with disabilities!

  • Develop a personal knowledge base in web accessibility for online education;
  • Create accessible photo images, diagrams and charts for online courses;
  • Build accessible audio and video components for online courses;
  • Create or reviewing accessible HTML content pages for online courses;
  • Construct accessible course content in other non-HTML formats.


This MOOC is offered through D2L Open Courses and registration is open from September 29th to November 14th, 2014.  Active course facilitation lasts for five weeks. The course begins October 20, 2014 and ends November 22nd, 2014.

Completion certificate

Participants have the option of receiving an electronic not-for-credit completion certificate from D2L at the end of the MOOC offering. As this MOOC is intended to be an activity-based learning opportunity, participants will have successfully demonstrated knowledge about the major topics prior to being awarded a certificate.


Our own Accessibility Advocate, Karen Sorensen, is the Subject Matter Expert for this MOOC and joins Barry Dahl, D2L’s Senior Community Manager, as a co-facilitator.  To learn more see this post on the Brightspace Blog or register at D2L Open Courses.
For more information on accessibility in PCC’s online courses, see our online resources for web accessibility.

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Learning contracts for online learners http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2014/09/learning-contracts-for-online-learners/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2014/09/learning-contracts-for-online-learners/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 17:00:36 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=3923 In the past couple of months, we’ve looked at ways to apply adult learning theory in the online classroom:

This month I’d like to look at learning contracts and how they can be used in the online classroom.

In my many years in higher ed, I’ve often heard instructors say, “The syllabus is a contract between the instructor and the student.” But is it really? What if the syllabus is nothing more than a tightly prescribed list of assignments and due dates? Think of contracts you have signed in your lifetime. When you bought a house, how much input did you have before you signed the contract? Were you handed a contract and told, “Sign here – take it or leave it!”? I hope not. I hope you had a chance to specify when you’d make the first payment, when you’d move in, what would stay in the house and what would go, what condition you’d find the house in when you took ownership, and so forth. The bottom line is this: A contract is an agreement between two or more parties that is designed to meet both sides’ mutual needs. If you hand your students a tightly prescribed list of assignments and due dates and say, “Here’s your contract,” what you are really saying is, “Here are my terms for this learning experience – take ‘em or leave ‘em.”

There is another way.

As Ann and I noted in our previous posts, adult learners respond positively when they have a say in the design of their learning experiences. Ann talked about “open inquiry” – allowing a student to choose his own path for reaching a learning outcome. A variation on this idea is the learning contract, which can be used to structure any part of a learning experience – an entire course or an assignment within a course.

The real power of a learning contract is in reaching a learner at her level at the beginning of the learning experience.

Here are some steps for developing a learning contract in your online course:

  1. Work with the learner to decide where she is now and where she wants to be at the end of the course or assignment; the gap is called a “learning need”;
  2. Translate the learning needs into learning objectives;
  3. Work with the learner to specify learning resources and strategies (what the learner will *do* to meet the learning objectives);
  4. Specify evidence of accomplishment (what the learner needs to show you, to demonstrate she met the learning objectives);
  5. Specify how the evidence will be evaluated;
  6. Check with colleagues and other experts to make sure the contract is a good one;
  7. Carry out the contract;
  8. Ask the learner to evaluate her learning experience: did she fulfill the learning contract?

You can see that formulating a learning contract with each student could be a lot of work, but if the learning contract helps to reach the learner where he is and motivates him to learn more effectively, it will be well worth the effort. And in the online environment, you can use the dropbox to pass the learning contract back and forth until you and your student have reached a final agreement. Many of the mechanisms for contracting are already built into the learning management system.

Note that the application of adult learning principles assumes you are in fact working with *adult* learners! Some (and possibly many) of the learners you encounter in your community-college online classroom won’t be mature enough to direct their own learning, in which case a learning contract won’t work for them. But for your adult learners, a learning contract can be a powerful means of giving these learners more control over their own learning experience and thereby motivating them to learn more effectively.

You can find good examples of learning contracts by searching online. The University of Waterloo, in Canada, has a helpful page that discusses how to develop the learning contract, with a sample learning contract derived from the work of Malcolm Knowles.


Malcolm S. Knowles, Elwood F. Horton III, and Richard A. Swanson. The Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. (6th ed.) Elsevier, 2005.

Available from Cascade Library – you can read it when I’m done with it. ♥

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Webinar: 104 Best Practices for D2L Technology on Sept. 23rd http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2014/09/webinar-104-best-practices-for-d2l-technology-on-sept-23rd/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2014/09/webinar-104-best-practices-for-d2l-technology-on-sept-23rd/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 19:30:18 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=4045 Next Tuesday (9/23/14) at noon, Tom Tobin from Northern Illinois University will do a rapid-paced webinar that highlights best practices in a variety of different areas using Desire2Learn Tools. These practices focus on areas of student engagement, usability, universal design, academic integrity, instructor presence and more. The webinar his hosted by Desire2Learn (who rebranded their product as Brightspace this summer).

If you’re interested, sign up online.

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Faculty learning communities: an opportunity for professional growth http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2014/08/faculty-learning-communities-an-opportunity-for-professional-growth/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2014/08/faculty-learning-communities-an-opportunity-for-professional-growth/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 23:03:29 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=3913 Most of us have experienced moments in the online world when something really clicks. The interaction is rich, students are deeply engaged, and there’s a strong sense of community. Yet how often does this actually happen? What strategies can we implement to promote more instances of this rich engagement and meaningful flow of ideas? Beyond the training that Distance Education has to offer, what opportunities do we have to learn about such strategies?

Before I attempt to answer that, allow me ask another question. Do you ever find yourself secluded in the silo of online teaching? In spite of your robust discussions with students in your online classes, do you find yourself closed off from interacting with your own teaching colleagues at PCC? Are you yearning to gain some perspective that is outside of the box, to interact with peers to share ideas and effective strategies for online teaching?

In a box

Image credit: Paul Vasarhelyi, Copyright: imageegami / 123RF Stock Photo

My own perspective is that one of the best opportunities we have is through online faculty sharing their own strategies and expertise with colleagues at PCC. I have heard from a significant number of online instructors who are looking for opportunities to share and learn in this way.

Welcome to the Faculty Learning Community!

With this opportunity for sharing and professional development in mind, I invite you to consider a Faculty Learning Community (FLC) approach, specifically for online instructors focusing on instructional topics of the group’s choice. There are plenty of topics that would be of interest, e.g. promoting student engagement and interaction, academic integrity, the “problem” student, online student retention, strategies for providing feedback, truly communicating our own voice in the online environment, effective assessment, effective use of audio and video, unexplored tools in D2L… I’m sure that you have a number of additional topics in mind. In their book Developing Faculty Learning Communities at Two-Year Colleges, Susan Sipple and Robin Lightner highlight a number of potential benefits of an FLC for faculty, including

  • exploring strategies that can improve teaching and impact student learning
  • improving the professional lives of faculty by reducing the sense of isolation and burnout
  • creating opportunities for peer mentoring relationships
  • providing the time and space for scholarly reflection
  • developing additional expertise in teaching and learning that supplements discipline-based expertise (Sipple & Lightner, 2013).
Communities around the world

Image credit: Nopporn Suntorn, fgnopporn / 123RF Stock Photo


Faculty Learning Community exploration sessions during in-service week

To begin the exploration and implementation of this opportunity, lightning-round style presentations focusing on strategies for promoting interaction and engaging students in the online environment have been scheduled during in-service week at each campus. These will be followed by some time for discussion, and the final part of the session will be dedicated to exploring the concept of a faculty learning community, interest in such a community, preferences regarding the structure, and possible topics of focus. The goal is to collect input and begin one or more faculty learning communities fall term.

It would be great if we could have a Faculty Learning Community for online instructors at each campus, and a fifth one meeting virtually. This will depend on interest and having at least one instructor interested in co-facilitating such a group. (You are welcome to let me know if you might be interested in such a role.)

Here are the sessions scheduled during in-service week. The CA & RC sessions could use more volunteers for the “lightning round” sharing. Let me know if you’re interested ;-)

  • Sept 16 (T), SY, FT Faculty In-service, 2nd breakout
  • Sept 17 (W), RC TLC, 1:30 – 2:30
  • Sept 17 (W), SY, PT Faculty In-service, 8:00
  • Sept 18 (Th), CA Terrell Hall 100, 1:00 – 2:00
  • Sept 18 (Th), SE, PT Faculty In-service (TBD)

In closing, faculty learning communities have been popular in other states for many years. They can be an excellent way to stimulate innovation and to increase communication and collaboration among faculty who are often isolated from their colleagues. I hope you’ll consider joining us to share your ideas.

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“Applying the Quality Matters Rubric” – Online workshop for Oregon CC instructors http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2014/08/applying-the-quality-matters-rubric-online-workshop-for-oregon-cc-instructors/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2014/08/applying-the-quality-matters-rubric-online-workshop-for-oregon-cc-instructors/#comments Fri, 22 Aug 2014 00:33:51 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=3905 I am pleased to announce the next opportunity for online instructors at PCC and other community colleges in Oregon to participate in the online workshop “Applying the Quality Matters Rubric.” The workshop will start on Tuesday, October 28th and end two weeks later. It will be facilitated jointly by Kristen Kane (Columbia Gorge CC), Tani McBeth (PCC/Clark CC), and Greg Kaminski (PCC). The workshop is totally online, so you’ll plan your own schedule. There are numerous engaging online activities during the workshop, so you do need to be able to dedicate time during that 2 week period, up to 20 hours total.

I am handling registration for this workshop, so just let me know if you would like to participate. All you need to do is create a “MyQM” account at https://www.qmprogram.org/myqm/. I will do the rest. The cost of this workshop is covered through our statewide OCCDLA grant.

Workshop Description:

This workshop explores the Quality Matters Rubric and provides a framework to improve the quality of online courses. This is the QM foundation workshop for anyone who might be interested in participating on a peer review team in the future, and participants will surely be able to apply the strategies to their own online course design. During this workshop participants have the opportunity to explore many standards of the Quality Matters rubric in depth, and to apply those standards to a demo course.

Those who complete the workshop might have a future opportunity to participate in the “Peer Reviewer Certification” course offered through Quality Matters. (The PRC is a 2-week online workshop designed to follow the “Applying the QM Rubric” workshop.) I can highly recommend these workshops and participating on a peer review team as excellent professional development opportunities.

Just let me know if you have questions, or if you would like to participate in the “Applying the QM Rubric” workshop.

Greg Kaminski

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10 free eLearning audio and video tools for teachers http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2014/08/10-free-elearning-audio-and-video-tools-for-teachers/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2014/08/10-free-elearning-audio-and-video-tools-for-teachers/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 16:53:09 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=3886 Audio icon

Image source: Microsoft clip-art

Some time ago I ran into the article 10 free ELearning Audio Tools for Teachers. I wanted to bring that list to your attention and to share some of my thoughts based on experience working with these tools. I’ll follow the same order as it was listed in the article above and I will make the names of the applications I recommend bold.

10. Windows Movie Maker (Windows only). It used to be installed on every PC and came with every Windows OS.  But not anymore. It is still available on Microsoft site for free. This is a great simple video editor and possibly this is the only video editor you need for creating a simple video content for your class. You can record right into it from your computer’s camera or you can work with files recorded on camcorder or smartphone.

What if you have a Mac? Movie Maker’s brother from Mac OS side is iMovie. It’s installed on every Mac by default and does all what the MovieMaker does, and a little more, but overall they both are similar, simple, effective, straightforward from user’s point tools, that get the job done.
I’ve used them both with great results, but really mastered iMovie lately. Check out my staff intro video, it’s done on iMovie.

9. Photo Booth / GarageBand (Mac).  Photo Booth is a simple program that allows you to capture a video or take a photo from your webcam, trim a video and export it in .mov (.jpg for photo) format. This is possibly just what you need to make a simple video. But for more tweaks you have to go to IMovie. Why not to use that one from the very beginning?

GarageBand comes for free on Macs and is intended to serve beginning musicians providing relatively simple and relatively powerful multi-track recording and a MIDI virtual studio. If you know how to operate it – good. You can record your audio on it, edit and export in MP3 format. If you are not familiar with it, I’d recommend to start with Wavepad – it will save you few hours of trying to figure things out.

8. PowerPoint. Yes, PowerPoint can record your audio notations and embed the audio … But it is probably not going to work for the online environment  that well. Theoretically, you can store your PPTX files in the Learning Management System (LMS), but then your students will have to have PPT software on their computers to be able to open your file after the download. That might be a challenge for many of them. We suggest our instructors to convert their PPT files into PDF format, and if you have PPT with audio embedded into it, please refer to Camtasia software to make a video out of it. This will work better!

7. Audacity (Windows/Mac/Linux) is an audio editor that you can get for free. It allows you record, edit and save audio in different formats.  It works on PC and Mac and is simple to use. One thing to keep in mind, you’ll have to download and install MP3 codec/plug-in separately. I have a copy of audacity installed on every computer I’ve had for the last few years and I’ve used it a lot!

6. Sound Recorder (Windows). This sound recording program is built into every Windows equipped computer. You can find one in Start > All Programs > Accessories. It is good for taking notes for yourself. It’s not great for posting on the web as it records only in Windows Media Audio (.WMA) format. You will need a converter to make a widely used MP3 file. I would not rely on this tool as a content creator.

5. YouTube. Everyone knows and loves YouTube nowadays! But do you know that you can record right into YouTube from your webcam and then trim and tweak the recorded video? Give it a try – this is probably the easiest way to get your out there and embed into LMS later on. Beware that your video can be seen by anyone now. The trick to keep it to the limited audience is to give the video a gibberish code name, so people searching for say “math 101” will not get it in a the search result.

On another hand, PCC has Kaltura, a streaming server integrated with D2L that allows you to do the same thing and limit access to just your courses.

4. Jing. Jing is a screen capturing software that will capture your screen and all the movements on it along with your voice notations. It is made by TechSmith, who also makes Camtasia, but is much simpler and gives you an option to host your video clip on a free screencast.com account. You can embed the video or send a link of it to your student. That would be the simplest, most streamlined way to get your message across, if the screencasting works for your subject. You can also download your clip for more editing and post it later on YouTube or Kaltura site. This video explains how Jing works.

3. Vocaroo. A simple and efficient online voice recorder. To start with it go to the vocaroo.com. Click record, review your recording, click to save and share your recording with the world. Embed, email, tweet, Facebook, create a QR Code or download. You cannot change privacy settings – everyone who has the link can hear you. Here’s a recording that I’m sharing with you.

2. Voki. There are folks who don’t like to be on camera. And there are folks who like to have fun in virtual reality. Check out voki.com, where you can create your personal avatar, who can speak with your voice (if you record your audio), or simply type the text you want read aloud. Here’s an example of a Voki recording.

1. Italk. It is a great app for people on the go, but there are a couple drawbacks that I can see just from reading the description. It doesn’t save files in MP3 format and you need an external converter to do this. Also extracting the recording from your mobile device can be tricky.

But wait… the article we are looking at was written almost 1.5 years ago and things got changed and improved over that time. There is a ton of audio recording apps for mobile devices out there and we should make a separate post to review some of them in the near future.

Note: This program was not on the article’s list, but it is my very favorite audio tool that you can get for FREE: http://www.nch.com.au/wavepad

WavePad (Windows/Mac) is an excellent audio editor for both Mac and PC. It offers many features and has very straight forward user interface. It works with lots of audio formats (WAV, MP3, AIFF, MP-4, Audio, RAW, etc.). It’s easy to understand how to edit and correct your audio, it has great video tutorials and “how to” links build to the interface so you will not get lost. It’s not easy to find a free version of the software, but you can get one from the NCH Software website if you look for it hard enough. Normal version of WavePad has free trial period of 14 days, then asks you to pay around $100. I was able to find free one that is not a demo version. Enjoy!

“The free version does not expire and includes most of the features of the normal version. If you are using it at home, you can download the free version here. You can always upgrade to the master’s edition at a later time, which has additional effects and features for the serious sound engineer.”

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The power of choice in the online classroom http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2014/08/the-power-of-choice-in-the-online-classroom/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2014/08/the-power-of-choice-in-the-online-classroom/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 03:54:10 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=3881
Woman studying math online

Woman studying math online. Image courtesy of US Dept. of Education. https://flic.kr/p/fCYCVe

Self-directed learning has been a long-time best practice in the field of andragogy. But what does it look like in an online classroom? And how can it be used to improve an online course?

When I first began teaching online, it was very clear that what was missing from my course was accountability. I also had this sense that students had far more questions than they were asking. I started researching ways to help students be more engaged and accountable. I’ve heard the mantra “students don’t do optional” a few too many times. Yet as much as I might not like to admit it, it’s generally true. I knew that whatever I added would need to be required, but I hesitated to add anything that would feel like busy-work. Our students are already really busy. And most of them work. The last thing they need is busy-work.

What I came across in my reading was a list of best practices that would benefit some students, but clearly just be busy-work for other students. Discussions and email exchanges can be great, as long as they’re genuine and focused. Utilizing on-campus resources is great, as long as one has access. Working with an online tutor is also great, but it’s not for everyone. Doing extra homework can really solidify concepts, or bore a student to mathdeath. All of these can be really beneficial for students, but none seemed appropriate to require of every student.

With this and self-directed learning in mind, I decided to add a required participation component that allowed students to choose the means by which they completed it. I called it “Open Inquiry,” and it’s meant to be a means through which students earn credit for asking meaningful questions related to the mathematical content of the course. They can do this by posting a question in an on-going discussion board, by sharing a resource they found in an on-going discussion board, by emailing me a question, by working with an online tutor, by going to one of PCC’s on-campus Student Learning Centers, by completing additional homework problems, or by another alternative they request.

There are three primary benefits this element of choice has added to my course. The first is obvious—students get to spend a significant chunk of their time doing whatever best meets their needs and ability level. The second is also obvious—when students get to spend time on things they feel are beneficial, they do better work. The third isn’t quite as obvious though. By allowing students a choice, the rapport that I have with my students and the rapport they have with each other changed dramatically. For one, students stopped apologizing for sending me emails. I never understood why students would start an email to an online instructor with, “I’m sorry to bother you, but…” Isn’t that a primary part of our job? Once it was part of a required component, the apologies stopped altogether. Another surprise was how it changed the rapport students had with each other. Students who benefited from open discussions started posting really exceptional work, and in doing so naturally formed small groups within the class. But because not everyone was required to post, the discussion board stayed void of a plethora of “Cool!” replies.

For a few last nitty-gritty details: I weight “Open Inquiry” as I would class participation, which is at 4%. I do have to record each submission manually, but I estimate that I spend less than 5 minutes a week doing so.

Do you have other ways that you’ve implemented self-directed learning in your online course? It would be great to hear them.

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Space, time, learning and support http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2014/08/space-time-learning-and-support/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2014/08/space-time-learning-and-support/#comments Mon, 04 Aug 2014 18:20:36 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=3869 Space: Where are all these distance students?
learning location image

Image credit: Ken Hawkins CC-BY-2.0

A relatively recent article from the WCET website re-ignited an old conversation among the student support staff in our department. The article, entitled Where in the World Are Our Distance Education Students?: IPEDS Reality Check, explored the location of distance education students relative to the institutions who serve them.  I won’t belabor the results of the study, which you are welcome to explore, but suffice it to say the results vary greatly from state to state.  The study reveals that as little as 7% to as much as 92% of distance education students reside outside the state where the school they “attend” is located. Why am I glossing over this data?  I’m not sure it really matters…

Why online?

Take a moment to consider a few of the reasons students choose to take their classes online. Work and family are commonly cited factors for choosing to study online among students. And it’s not hard to imagine how online classes offer convenience and flexibility for students with busy work schedules or family members who demand a lot of time and attention. Accessibility and cost are also factors that make online learning appealing. Students with disabilities, students with limited mobility, or students who struggle with language often prefer online classes. Also, many online students find the financial savings on transportation, textbooks, printing, and course fees attractive. Personal learning preferences and increased engagement are also valid reasons why online classes appeal to some. Frequently, communicating in writing results in more thoughtful participation and helps some students to organize their thoughts. Students who are often too intimidated to speak in traditional classes find they excel as discussion participators in an online forum. Location is one of the more obvious reasons a student would choose an online class.  It makes sense that students living in rural areas, or who don’t have local options for their preferred degree programs, would seek out online alternatives.

However, even though location seems like one of the most obvious reasons to learn online, it doesn’t always rank highly as a deciding factor. To cite the Online College Students 2014: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences report, “Among undergraduates, about half live within 50 miles of the campus or center and this has held constant over the past three years. However, there has been a shift from 25% to 31% living more than 100 miles away.”  The same study from 2013, asked students what the greatest advantage of studying online is, and found that only 9% cited “elimination of travel” as an advantage, yet flexibility regarding schedule, work obligations, and pace of learning dominated their top perceived advantages.


It seems to me, based on the data and my experience with online students, that the primary concern for online learners isn’t necessarily place, but time.  While many aspects of modern distance education courses allow students a great deal of flexibility in regards to location of course activities and support, similar considerations for time flexibility are not as common. Most online students have come to expect that their learning experience won’t require that they do much travelling. Course materials, communication options and support services are typically available available online or by phone. While valid arguments can be made about the questionable quality of some student support services in the online modality, there is typically a way to provide a reasonably equitable student experience regardless of location.

The considerations made for the time limitations of our online students are much less extensive.  We know that many of our online students chose their course delivery method based on schedule related complications. Furthermore, online class options are intentionally recommended to students who are working full time or burdened with parental obligations.  Despite knowing that online students keep odd hours and have limited time for school, most student support services still maintain traditional “business hours” that approximate the Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm model.

While some support needs can be addressed by email in an asynchronous fashion, not all support interactions can occur asynchronously, and not all student service departments will provide services by email or even offer email contacts for students.  For a student with a full time job during “business hours” who is not allowed to make personal calls from work, this essentially means they have no options for engaging with some college services.

This problem doesn’t only impact distance education students. Many on campus students have busy lives which leave them little time to be on campus. While they may manage to carve out time for their scheduled class meetings, many on campus students don’t have time to stay late for office hours, or to wait in line at a student service office during drop in appointment hours. In the distance education department, we are all too familiar with on campus students who regularly contact our staff for support because they simply don’t have time to engage with on campus staff during regular business hours.

To take the argument a step further, I’m not entirely sure why a community college would feel compelled to adhere to a traditional business hours model for offering services regardless of online or face-to-face modality.  In the context of a traditional 4 year university with on campus residential housing, it makes sense to limit service hours for what is essentially a captive audience. But it’s no secret that community college students are considered “non-traditional” more often than not.  Our students are diverse in age, educational history, income, and many additional ways which make their needs unique. As a college we openly acknowledge and celebrate that we serve an unusually large student population and geographically vast district. Anyone who has spent time at our different campus locations can quite easily observe that they’re not all equally located in convenient central or residential areas with ideal public transportation options. Why not acknowledge our unique student populations and geographic location challenges, and build our service models around their needs?

P.S. So what?

Acknowledging that my audience here is largely comprised of college faculty, I suspect at this point many feel compelled to get out their red marker and comment about my lack of practical solutions. And I will admit that I don’t have all the answers. I was asked to post about this topic as a conversation starter, and hopefully I have accomplished that.  Lest I lose too many points on this assignment, I humbly offer the following potential “extra credit” solution options.

  • As a college we could revise our definition of “business hours” to offer more evening and weekend support options
  • Improve and expand the options for asynchronous support interactions and offer more effective online “self help” materials for students
  • Allow for after hours support services by appointment when real time interaction is required
  • Build online support communities where student service professionals and peer advisors can engage students who cannot or prefer not to come to campus

And finally, I humbly offer a possibly unexpected partial solution: re-branding.  In my years as both an online student and online student service practitioner I have always felt that “Distance Education” is a misnomer.  And I hope I have made clear why “distance” isn’t the primary concern for our students.  Instead, I feel that “Online Learning” is a far more appropriate description of what we do and who we serve. Our students are online, independent of space and time, and it’s time we acknowledge that and not keep them at a distance.

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Screen reader users are standing by… http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2014/07/screen-reader-users-are-standing-by/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2014/07/screen-reader-users-are-standing-by/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 16:30:41 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=3852
Web Accessibility logo

Web Accessibility logo from Wikimedia Commons

Are you curious how accessible something you use in your online course is to a blind student? Well thanks to Disability Services, we have blind accessibility techs available to test your course with a screen reading program. The techs are graduate students at PSU, who have in-depth experience using screen reading programs like JAWS to navigate their learning materials and other online information and resources.

While the PCC accessibility guidelines for online course content address accessibility for many types of disabilities (blind, color-blind, low vision, photo-sensitive seizure disorder, deaf, hard of hearing, mobility, and some learning disabilities,) how a blind student operates a computer is something many people have never seen and sometimes can’t imagine.

What should be tested?

If a document uses real text (and not an image of text), it is generally readable by a screen reader. Formatting that document though is very important to it being understandable to all students, but especially someone without vision. The screen reader will read out the formatting of headings, lists and links.

Forms and objects that require input from the student need to be tested with a screen reader to determine if the buttons and form fields are labeled properly and can be navigated and operated without a mouse (a mouse is a visual tool, so blind users navigate solely with the keyboard). And software that is required but not an essential function of the course (such as publishers’ online tools), also should be tested to make sure it is usable to someone using a screen reader.

So what do you do if your learning object isn’t accessible to a screen reader user? Don’t worry, you don’t have to get rid of it. We in Distance Education and staff in Disability Services are available to help you come up with an accessible, equally effective alternative, which is the requirement under the law. Read more about the legal side of accessibility.

We recommend and can help you set up testing of publisher’s online tools and ebooks before you adopt their textbook. Schedule an appointment with me (karen.sorensen@pcc.edu) to have something in your course tested by a screen reader user.

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