Sarah Brennan, Sandy Figueroa, Sherese Mitchell
Web-enhanced courses, or courses that include a web component in addition to traditional classroom requirements, debuted at Hostos in the early 1990s. Fully online (asynchronous) and hybrid courses were listed in the Hostos Schedule of Classes in 2002 (Schedule). The development and implementation of technologically enhanced courses was not an original Hostos idea. The Central Office of The City University of New York (CUNY) has been communicating University-wide goals for more than a decade using a document called the Performance Management Plan (PMP). Among the many goals identified by CUNY Central was the expansion of instructional and online technologies used in classrooms.
Each CUNY campus uses the University PMP goals to develop specific cam- pus goals. At Hostos the process is for the college President to share the new CUNY Central PMP with the division vice presidents. In the division of academic affairs, the Provost and Vice President sets division targets and faculty and staff within the division are identified to report on the progress made toward accomplishing those targets. The Office of Instructional Technology (OIT) and the Committee on Academic Computing (CAC) have traditionally been charged with implementing and reporting on the instructional technology goals that focus on providing know-how workshops for faculty and students, developing support structures for technology users and expanding the presence and variety of online and instructional technologies used in classrooms across the disciplines. The Central PMP goals have been effective in helping Hostos CC to strengthen its efforts to incorporate technology in learning environments.
The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) emphasizes scholarship of teaching and learning by nurturing the faculty spirit of inquiry and fostering a culture of continuous improvement striving for excellence in teaching, scholarship and service. The Center has traditionally been charged with responsibility for fostering interdisciplinary sharing of pedagogical strategies to promote teaching excellence; preparing tenure-track and tenured faculty to engage in reappointment, tenure, or promotion processes; celebrating faculty achievements in teaching, scholarship, and service; promoting teaching innovations inside and outside of the classroom. With this in mind, the CTL has joined the OIT and CAC movement to support users of instructional and online technologies by focusing on the teaching and learning processes involved in using these technologies in the classroom. The online facilitator investigation group (OFIG) arose from the vision and eagerness of two faculty to discuss teaching with technology with colleagues engaged in the practice. The CTL enthusiastically supported this endeavor.
In early 2000s, the number of technologically enhanced courses approved for students was relatively low. The Fall 2002 Schedule of Classes identified three asynchronous and eight hybrid courses offered for students. The catalog shared definitions for both types of courses: Asynchronous courses had at least 80 percent of class activities taking place online; hybrid courses had at least 30 percent of class activities taking place online. Online activities were considered to be completion of assignments online and participation in online discussions. Currently, those definitions are found online on the OIT website (see http://www.hostos.cuny.edu/oaa/facdev.htm). The 2003-2004 PMP documents show that more than 15 course sections were web-enhanced. Many web-enhanced courses qualified because they included a Blackboard component (Blackboard provides faculty and students with an online space to share important course information and communicate with each other. It is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week assuming the online Blackboard system is fully functional.)
The Committee on Academic Computing developed standards and guidelines for teaching web-enhanced courses. The standards were approved by the College- wide Curriculum Committee in the spring 2004 semester (2003-2004 Performance Goals). Bilingual online tutorials were posted for Blackboard users in 2005 (2004- 2005 Performance Goals). In 2006, the Committee on Instructional Evaluation presented a set of guidelines for conducting peer-observations of asynchronous courses which was approved by the college Senate (Observation Guidelines). By 2008, the number of web-enhanced courses increased to more than 50 sections and the number of courses converted to asynchronous or hybrid formats totaled more than 60 (2007-2008 Performance Goals). Also, in 2008, a set of standards for online instruction prepared by the Committee on Academic Computing was approved for adoption. By 2010 more than 300 course sections were designated as web-enhanced while the number of asynchronous and hybrid course remained steady (2009-2010 Performance Goals). Three degree or certificate programs, including the A.A.S. in Early Childhood Education, are available in asynchronous or hybrid (part online, part face-to-face) format.
ONLINE FACILITATOR INVESTIGATION GROUP (OFIG)
In fall 2010, the CTL began collaborating with Business and Education faculty members interested in starting an interdisciplinary dialogue and OFIG was born. The planning team determined the format of the dialogue to be a sustained conversation among a specific group of campus members held over a period of time. The number of participants was capped at ten so that the meeting schedule could be dictated by participant availability. The planning team drafted a call for participants and an application form. Applicants were asked to share the reasons for their interest and confirm their promise to attend all planned sessions. The topics of four sessions were shared in the information materials.
The planning team conceptualized the dialogue, originally, as a Brown Bag Lunch series of conversations that would explore teacher, learner, and support staff attitudes, challenges, interests, and questions about teaching with technology. After reviewing the literature, Randy Bass’ concept of scholarship of teaching was thought to best capture the essence of what the online facilitators group was trying to accomplish:
In scholarship and research, having a ‘problem’ is at the heart of the investigative process. . . But in one’s teaching, a ‘problem’ is something you don’t want to have. . . Asking a colleague about a problem in his or her research is an invitation; asking about a problem in one’s teaching would probably seem like an accusation. Changing the status of the problem in teaching from terminal remediation to ongoing investigation is precisely what the movement for a scholarship of teaching is all about. (Bass)
The team realized there was a need to investigate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWAT) of teaching and learning with technology, and began asking questions including: What is being done? What is going well? What needs improvement? The team wanted to understand better the academic prepared- ness and overall performance challenges of faculty and students with respect to on- line teaching and learning. The team saw the OFIG conversations and presentations as a way of thinking about student ability to comprehend and retain information using a different method of instruction and engagement with faculty. The team was concerned about the faculty’s ability to identify students struggling with the technology while learning the material and the effect that balancing the two would have on course persistence rates. What would be the implications of technology on institutional retention and graduation rates? The team wanted the series of conversations to encourage faculty to reflect individually and collectively by sharing anecdotal stories and experiences. The planning team realized that even with multiple meetings not all of the questions would be answered. However, the four planned sessions would be a start.
A series of one or one and a half hour facilitated conversations were crafted to emphasize a different aspect of teaching with technology during each session. The first session focused on the faculty experience and included a brief presentation on student learning styles. Based on the planning team’s observations, very rarely had planned discussions of online teaching been designed in the context of student learning styles or learning theories. Rather, the focus of most faculty development sessions had generally centered on the mechanics of online teaching or had been an apology for online teaching. The second meeting engaged a panel of student presenters who were experienced with online learning. The OFIG participants found the student panel session to be one of the most helpful sessions offered to date. On the rare event where, online teaching was the focus of professional development, the voice of the student was not heard or even considered in planning or in the development of curriculum. The third session was constructed to touch on the idea of assessment and evaluation of online learning environments and included surveys completed at Queens College and College of Staten Island, both CUNY campuses, regarding student and faculty attitudes towards technology. Because of the complexity of assessment, the presenter from the CUNY Graduate Center targeted context and implementation of assessment to begin the conversation. The final OFIG meeting is scheduled for May 2011 to explore faculty accomplishments and best practices and to give OFIG participants an opportunity to celebrate personal successes and share feedback.
The first meeting of the OFIG conversation yielded a list of proposed ideas including but not limited to:
Prepare for academic advisors a recommended list of questions to use with students interested in enrolling in an asynchronous or hybrid course;
Revive the quiz that assesses the level of student preparedness for online learning;
Revive and disseminate the standards and guidelines created to promote excellence in teaching with technology; and
Prepare a research article based on the OFIG experience.
The next two sessions were panel presentations. The panel of students held in February hosted students who successfully completed online or hybrid courses and were from allied health sciences, business, and education degree options. OFIG participants identified the following areas as needing further discussion/exploration:
The skills/pre-requisites for students who want to take online courses;
Level of student motivation needed to do well in online courses;
Ways to raise student levels of motivation;
Perspective of less well motivated students who enroll in online courses;
Type of teacher who can effectively motivate online learners;
Types of teaching structures that work best in online learning environments; and
Ways in which the new computer generation is impacting faculty life.
The third meeting was a panel presentation of three CUNY faculty members from the College of Staten Island, Graduate Center, and Queens College, respectively. OFIG participants identified ways in which their strategies for approaching online teaching were impacted:
Use fewer podcasts;
Incorporate more social networking;
Consider more seriously the use of wikis as a discussion board for online collaborative [projects]; and
Make Blackboard more interactive in all classes.
The last meeting is designed solely for the investigation participants to discuss best practices and address overall issues, concerns, and interests with each other. In addition to the in-person meetings, research articles were provided to OFIG participants and an online blog was created.
Traditionally academicians have struggled with questions about effectively engaging apathetic and overburdened students. Technology offers many opportunities to make curriculum delivery more efficient and student friendly. The type of change that is needed, however, for Hostos to be a competitive institution in the academic-technology market is beyond the scope of OFIG and would require an institution-wide collaborative response driven by faculty and staff. The college has made significant gains in increasing the use and presence of instructional and online technologies in the classroom, in large part, due to the achievement of aforementioned PMP goals. The OFIG represents the organic way in which individuals with common interests can come together to reach for excellence. The importance of aiming for excellence in teaching with technology needs to be in the forefront of planning and action moving forward.
Some recommendations arising from the OFIG conversations for future initiatives or topics for discussion include, but are not limited to:
Development of an action plan to support faculty transitions from the traditional classroom to the online classroom;
Design and implementation of an educational campaign that disseminates college standards and guidelines for online teaching faculty;
Design and implementation of an educational campaign that informs at-large faculty about what it takes to convert courses to asynchronous or hybrid mode and the time and skills it takes to teach them;
Convene a task force charged with identifying characteristics of an effective online learning classroom and disseminating that information division and college-wide; and
Develop and implement a guide for conducting excellent peer-observations that provide online teaching faculty with effective feedback and recommendations.
The technology movement outside of the institution is advancing rapidly with new and innovative technologies arising regularly. These technologies are engaging student interests and have many implications for higher education. Academicians are constantly asked to keep up with the technological trends as well as with other educational trends making the field of higher educational most responsive to the ever-changing world.
The OFIG is one group that was formed to investigate the concerns of faculty engaged in online teaching, whether asynchronous or hybrid, and to promote the merging of instructional and online technologies with traditional classroom settings. The OFIG conversations and presentations uncovered many areas of need among teaching faculty. Realizing the enormity of this burgeoning field, OFIG only began to scratch the surface of teaching with technology at Hostos.
The members of OFIG, the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Office of Instructional Technology and the Committee on Academic Computing are eager to continue the conversation. Everyone is welcome to join the OFIG blog on Blackboard. Interested individuals are encouraged to make their request by sending an email with name and statement of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, the CTL is open to faculty with other pedagogical issues or concerns that should be investigated.
Excerpt from: Bass, Randy. “The Scholarship of Teaching: What’s the Problem?” Inventio: Creative Thinking about Learning and Teaching 1.1 (1999). Web. March 2, 2010. http://doit.gmu.edu//inventio/issue_Spr_99.html
Hostos Community College. Fall 2002 Schedule of Classes. Bronx, NY. Print. Guidelines for the Observation of an Asynchronous Course, Committee on
Instructional Evaluation, Approved in February 2006. Print.
Hostos Community College, The City University of New York, College/President Performance Goals and Targets 2003-2004, End of Year Performance Report. Print.
Hostos Community College, The City University of New York, College/President Performance Goals and Targets, 2004—2005, End of Year Performance Report. Print.
Hostos Community College, The City University of New York, College/President Performance Goals and Targets 2007—2008, End of Year Performance Report. Print.
Hostos Community College, The City University of New York, College/President Performance Goals and Targets 2009 - 2010 Year-end Performance Report.