Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon

DL Issues Matrix for Gap Analysis

Executive Summary of "DL Issues"

In Fall 2008, the DOI/EAC Leaders group entertained a preliminary discussion of several issues related to Distance Learning. A more in-depth consideration was undertaken by a subset of that group: Loretta Goldy, Susanne Christopher, Scott Huff, Birgitte Ryslinge and Kendra Cawley, supported by the particular expertise of John Sneed and Greg Kaminski (Distance Learning), Laura Massey (institutional Effectiveness) and Art Schneider (Div Dean responsible for Computer programs at SY, now Faculty Department Chair for CAS). The goal was to systematically examine the questions and related standards/practices and identify gaps in operations and/or effectiveness. The following is a summary of those discussions.

Impact of DL on PCC Community

Distance Learning has had a significant impact on our teaching culture. Differences in philosophy, values and principles lead to divergent practices that vary in effectiveness, and we would benefit from a college wide discussion.

Action needed:

  • Wider discussion should culminate in a clear statement of mission, values and goals for Distance Learning that would help guide DL standards and practices.

Data Collection

Institutional Effectiveness (IE) regularly collects and publishes data regarding enrollment trends and student demographics that inform many of our practices around DL.

Action needed:

  • Some of the issues addressed below may need special attention from IE.

Support Options for Students

Areas of concern included technical help, tutoring and on-line writing assistance, testing options and communication to students and faculty about DL support. Tutoring and online writing assistants are being piloted through eliminate; website information and helpdesk technical support are in place. A new staff position, Online Student Services Facilitator, is tasked with addressing many of these issues. Assessment (in person) is a major concern because the hours are limited, vary by campus, and are not uniformly supported.

Action Needed:

  • Clear identification of areas that need attention from new DL staff member.
  • DOIs/DOS and VPASA should examine testing issues and find equitable solutions.

Course Quality Control

Key questions involved the development, and courses, review and mentoring to support continuous improvement, academic freedom and the “ownership” of courses, and maintaining academic integrity in the assessment of distance students. Practices are in place to support the development of DL courses, and encourage the sharing of materials. Use of Quality Matters with faculty trained to engage in peer review helps with consistency. Older courses may not have received the same attention. It is not clear how well SACs stay on top of the appropriateness and quality of their DL offerings.

Action Needed:

  • Discussion of review (and improvement) of design and delivery for existing courses should lead to streamlining and normalized review schedule.
  • Clarification of standards (and contract issues) and discussion on impact of “course-sharing” vs. academic freedom is warranted, at both SAC and college level.
  • Strategies for assuring academic integrity in student assessment are needed.
  • SAC recommendation for DL should be secured prior to offering in DL modality, and SACs should follow up on assessment of course one year after initial offering.

Student Retention

How does retention in DL compare with that for on-campus courses, what are best (or problematic) practices, and how do we best work with new students.

Generally, retention is equivalent to (or slightly higher than) our on-campus courses. Differences may be attributed to the student population (experience with DL), or the nature of the course, and research suggests that the same factors leading students to drop are the same as those that led them to chose a DL modality. Research consistently identifies faculty-student interaction as key.

Action Needed:

  • Identify and share best practices that can be incorporated into instructor training.
  • Investigate other factors that impact retention (survey students earlier in the term, or those who have dropped, or in specific courses where retention is lower than expected.)
  • Find a way to survey students earlier in the course, or after they have dropped, to identify practices that might improve retention.
  • Find a way to encourage students to complete the orientation.

Faculty Workload

DL courses vary considerably in enrollment limit. Differences among the subject areas, and among campuses for a given subject area (or a given course) cause equity concerns among the faculty. A group of PCC faculty, deans and DL staff that convened in 2007 made a recommendation for a default class size of 25 based on a study of national DL practices. There appear to be a variety of deviations from this, including reasoned exceptions based on particular course needs, facilities and enrollment strategies. Some of the assumptions that underlie our practices are based on a DL landscape that has changed significantly.

Action Needed:

  • Recommend some ad hoc group or task force.
  • Update research.
  • Revisit assumptions that may play differently now (better tools for course management, more experienced students and instructors, larger pool of best practices.)
  • Consider: Is interdisciplinary consistency a value? Is intra-disciplinary consistency a value? What principles drive our notion of equity?
  • Discussion of rationale for class size limits that include notions of appropriateness and supportability, noting savings and losses at different parts of the organization.
  • Clarify role of the SAC and the processes that would support consistent implementation at all campuses.
  • Consider how actions suggested above would impact current contract negotiations. Is it timely? Is it necessary, since class size limits are not specified in the contract? Are the current strategies for awarding overages and overloads effective?

Course Scheduling

What is equitable in terms of schedule sections of a course – DL vs. on campus sections, DL sections at different campus, distribution of courses among the faculty (FT and PT). FTE is a powerful driver for budgets and new positions, so equity is not just a value but a practical concern. Practices have been adopted by individual SACs/Departments to address immediate pain, but no college-wide standards or practices are in place.

Action Needed:

  • Discussion acknowledge & explore the issues, identify values, determine how to define “equity” for DL offerings.
  • Identify models that have been effective in other disciplines (or other places), and make them known to our departments and deans.
  • Coordination and cooperation among the Div Deans is essential. Deans Council would be a good forum, to discuss this generally. Specific solutions would need input from Dept Chairs as well.
  • Is there value in considering how to remove FTE from the equation, perhaps by subtracting DL FTE from campus enrollment stats, or assigning DL FTE to a separate “cyber division”?