A Strategic Delivery of Instructional Technology in a Distance Education System
Concurrent Session 6
This presentation highlights a community college’s efforts to enable and expand enrollment for diverse student populations via distance learning technology. Expanding the network into dual-enrollment high school programs involved challenges that addressed the following: Infrastructure, scheduling, politics, and extended instructions technology support.
Northland Pioneer College (NPC) is a public community college that serves over 12,000 students annually across Navajo and Apache counties in northeastern Arizona including the tribal homelands of the Navajo, Hopi, and Apache peoples. To provide accessible, high-quality, student-centered education that meets the needs of its diverse students and communities, NPC uses an interactive distance learning network to connect its nine locations across two counties that encompass an area of 21,158 square miles.
NPC has been actively establishing and maintaining its relationship with local school districts by providing college credits to high school students via dual enrollment programs. Dual enrollment arrangements provide an alternative way for rural schools to expand their curricular offerings. While dual enrollment programs are beneficial to students, parents, high schools, and postsecondary institutions (Johnson & Brophy, 2006), lack of high school teachers that are qualified for teaching dual-enrollment courses, and the “average daily membership (ADM)” by Arizona state law that mandates K-12 students’ daily attendance hours on their own campus, presented major challenges. Offering dual enrollment courses taught by college instructors via connected, synchronous distance learning technology appears to be an effective option to address these challenges.
Two Title III grants, EAGLE and TALON, played an important role in the development of the distance education infrastructure at NPC and a distance learning technology-enabled dual enrollment framework.
Equitable Access to Gainful Experiences (EAGLE) was a 5-year (2010-2015) project to improve NPC’s distance learning environment. During the implementation it faced many challenges including personnel changes in IT, unforeseen regulatory obstacles, cost, training, and faculty frustration. NPC identified these challenges and approached them with a systematic solution. Budget requests were filled for additional IT personnel, IT trainers and facilitators, and compensation for faculty mentors. The College improved the network connection and replaced outdated technological components. To combat faculty skepticism and frustration in technology integration, NPC created a faculty-led Learning Technology Committee, implemented monthly technology training sessions, offered Instructional Skills Workshops, conducted IS training sessions before the beginning of each semester, provided on-demand training and consulting, and made online resources available to all faculty.
Upon conclusion of the EAGLE, a new 5-year (2016-2021) project, Technology to Advance Learning Outcomes at Northland (TALON), was launched to develop distance technology-enabled dual enrollment partnerships with multiple local high schools. While EAGLE engineered a model for interactive, connected learning environment within the College, TALON aims to scale up that model to initially include 10 area high schools in the network (see Figure 1). Lessons learned and best practices developed from EAGLE helped inform the implementation of TALON. However, expanding the network into high schools involves new and potentially more complicated challenges associated with infrastructure, scheduling, politics, instructional design, and extended IT support and training. These challenges, to be specific, include network connection over a vast territory, equipment delivery and maintenance, scheduling conflicts between schools, faculty and student readiness, local school monitoring of classrooms, and delivery of training to diverse user groups.
Coordinating with each of the initial ten high schools is an essential component of the TALON project, and deploying the proper network and technology integration is key to success. During the early stage of implementation, the College (1) pursued an aggressive and comprehensive solution to manage connectivity, security and control the issues that exist in the typical connected learning environment, (2) created a schedule that each high school agrees with will help in the initial implementation of the video connection classroom and organized delivery, (3) worked with the high school to set up classrooms conducive to student learning, (4) hired new IT personnel and faculty due to the network and course expansion, (5) created monitoring and support mechanism to maintain the new TALON classrooms, (6) conducted training sessions and facilitated best practices discussions for faculty and staff, and (7) explored approaches to supporting the long term sustainability of the project.
Instructors’ overall feedback on the classroom technology is positive, emphasizing the ease of use, great audio and video quality, integration of LMS for grading and tracking, and access to class recordings. However, board interactivity, instructor control of remote cameras and microphones, and session countdown timer will need to be improved.
While good classroom dynamics was observed, a few instances of non-participation and classroom disruption were noticed. The instructor and TALON director will work with the high school principal to address such issues.
Poor attendance does not seem to be a pervasive issue as TALON instructors have systems in place for students to make up missed work and these systems seem to be working for the motivated/committed students.
A different bell schedule for TALON classes (T/Th & M/W) was suggested and will be considered for 2017-18.
With a portion of the grant fund being reallocated for training on best practices, NPC will pursue additional professional development opportunities for TALON faculty and staff, both internally and externally.
High schools are requesting more TALON classes. There are several concerns: growth too fast for a pilot program; only 50% State operational aid is generated. The College will advocate for 100% State operational aid to help with funding, and continue to explore other approaches to the sustainability of the program.