Transformative Strategies for Cultivating a Sustainable Virtual Campus: An Effective Approach to Online Institutional Innovation

Concurrent Session 10

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This interactive presentation will share institutional strategies enacted by the Virtual Campus at Indian River State College to build a successful distance learning program. Attendees are invited to participate in a dialogue about best practices of distance learning program management. Take-aways will include successful strategies for growing a virtual campus.

Presenters

Dr. Alison L. Moore is an instructional designer with the Virtual Campus of Indian River State College where she supports faculty members with hybrid and online courses. She earned her Ph.D. in Instructional Systems and Learning Technologies from Florida State University in 2016, and her research focuses on informal workplace learning among instructional design and performance improvement practitioners. Dr. Moore's interests also include designing with learning analytics and ADA compliance in mind.

Extended Abstract

Purpose of Presentation

The purpose of this interactive presentation is to share institutional strategies enacted by the Virtual Campus (VC) at Indian River State College (IRSC) to build and maintain a successful distance learning program. The session will begin with an overview of the history and mission of the IRSC VC, then move into a discussion of the various methods VC leadership has enacted. Attendees will engage in a dialogue with the presenters and each other as the group discusses challenges, success stories, and lessons learned surrounding the topic of growing a distance learning program.

At the end of this session, attendees will be able to:

  • Analyze the status of an institution’s current distance learning program
  • Summarize goals and strategies for building a distance learning program

Target Audience

The target audience for this presentation includes professionals at academic institutions who are involved with distance learning programs and online curriculum development. This presentation will also interest groups that want to build a distance learning program.

Introduction to IRSC VC

IRSC, located in Fort Pierce, Florida, established a Virtual Campus in 2012 in an effort to provide students with flexible, web-based courses, and simultaneously maintain the mission of supporting the community. Over the past few years, the VC team has developed a unique master course model that allows for the effective and efficient design and production of quality online courses. This presentation will outline several strategies implemented by the VC team that have yielded positive results. This interactive presentation will describe:

  • Institutional strategies
  • Project management
  • Implementation
  • Quality assurance
  • Efforts for continuous improvement

Since its founding in 2012, the VC team has strategically added key professionals to its ranks. Initially consisting of a six-person office, the VC staff now includes 18 professionals: a director, five instructional designers, three developers, two project coordinators, two eLearning technologists, and five video production specialists. Regular reflection on VC performance and brainstorming of future goals have allowed for the purposeful selection of staff members to meet the needs of stakeholders.

This portion of the session will be interactive—attendees will be encouraged to share related experiences, ask questions, and engage in discussion. Presenters will also guide attendees through a reflective exercise to gauge what strategies may work best for their unique institutions. Slides and handouts, which outline the recommended strategies, will supplement the session.

IRSC VC Strategies

The following five evidence-based strategies represent those selected approaches, implemented and refined by the IRSC VC team, that have yielded positive results. The presentation will address each strategy in detail, starting with a brief overview and introduction to the method. An in-depth description of how the strategies are executed should elucidate the practice behind the action.

Master course design model. In order to meet growing workforce needs, IRSC faculty and administration strategically planned the formation of the VC. The VC leadership team determined that the institution would deploy master courses created and maintained by instructional designers and course developers. The decision to employ a master course model yields several benefits within the context of the IRSC VC.

With a master course model, faculty and instructional designers collaborate to produce storyboards and instructional materials for online courses, which are built by course developers. The master course shells reside in the learning management system and are deployed into the live sections each semester. Once the master course is approved at the department level and deployed, instructors can personalize their live sections.

A result of using the master model is consistent design for students and faculty. Across courses, the template provides a standard organizational structure and appearance. Students and faculty quickly become familiar with the layout of VC courses, which places the focus on content rather than navigation. This design model has created faculty and department buy-in.

Quality Matters. A guiding force in the VC’s design model is the integration of the Quality Matters (QM) Rubric. Implemented as a component of the VC design process in 2012, the QM standards provide a structure for ensuring best practices of online education. QM peer review certification is a requirement for all VC staff and faculty.

In order to ensure quality assurance, VC courses are reviewed internally by faculty with the QM Rubric. Additionally, 20% of courses are submitted to QM for external certification. The formal incorporation of QM into the VC design model demands considerable time and financial commitment, which further demonstrates a devotion to excellence held by the VC.

Cross-college teams. The VC also formally incorporates members from the IRSC academic community into work processes. This inclusion garners valuable input from across the institution, as well as strengthens stakeholder buy-in.

From the onset, an overarching goal of the VC was to offer entire degree programs online—not simply a catalog of individual courses. To achieve this objective, VC leadership worked closely with academic deans and vice presidents across IRSC to formalize a strategic plan. Incorporating administrators’ insight regarding which programs to transform into an online format was crucial. Due to this cross-college partnership, the VC now offers twelve wholly online degree programs, spanning Nursing, Business, Education, and Computer Science.

Similarly, multiple individuals throughout the college participate in the creation and maintenance of courses through the VC design process. For example, instructional designers work one-on-one with faculty subject matter experts to design quality online courses. Additionally, course storyboards are reviewed and approved by department chairs and deans before being developed. This inclusion of a greater percentage of IRSC academics has led to increased interest and participation in online course creation and updates.

The VC embraces cross-college participation in its long-term planning, evidenced by the creation of the VC Workgroup. As a driving committee comprised of IRSC faculty, staff, administrators, and VC team members, the workgroup meets twice a month with an overall mission of continuous improvement. The focus of subcommittees varies year-to-year based on pertinent issues, including student readiness, textbook affordability, faculty roles, curriculum maintenance, and change management. Regularly including the greater IRSC community into VC decision-making and planning yields increased rapport with all stakeholders.

Due to these positive interactions, the VC has subsequently been invited to consult on various institutional programs. VC staff members increasingly provide instructional design expertise to workgroups and committees focused on student success, campus-wide initiatives, and faculty development.

Predictive analytics. To further efforts in ensuring student success, the VC is exploring predictive analytics by piloting Blackboard Predict. A unique algorithm based on recent IRSC student data produces a score for each student indicating the probability of achieving a passing grade for each course. The goal of the VC is to collaborate with faculty and advisors in utilizing this information diagnostically and support at-risk students. Based on pilot experiences, the VC team is moving forward with investigating appropriate decision-making, namely what actions should be taken given the information made available by the system-captured data.

Institutional culture. A crucial element of the success of the VC is the innovative leadership at IRSC. Many of these strategies result from direct decisions made by top management of the VC and throughout the campus. This leadership style encourages faculty members to embrace change and seek innovation, experimenting with new technologies and applying new instructional approaches. The wide reach of the VC collaborations throughout the institution are a testament to stakeholder buy-in and the impact on institutional culture.

Evidence

These strategies have yielded positive results and growth in a variety of areas. During its first year, the VC consisted of only a handful of online courses. The VC now offers 12 degree programs wholly online and hundreds of courses. Additionally, student enrollment in VC courses for the 2016–17 academic year exceeded 15,800. In addition to increased stakeholder interest across the institution, the VC team also produces more than 50 new courses a year, while simultaneously maintaining existing courses in the VC catalog. While this success cannot be attributed to any one strategy, the methods discussed in this presentation, all working in tandem, have yielded a distance learning program conducive to overall improvement of the VC and IRSC institution at large.

Future Plans

Currently, VC staff pursues several initiatives with short- and long-term goals. Over the next year, the team will continue to build a base of blended course offerings, as well as establish internal standards for creating and evaluating blended instruction. In five years, the VC anticipates predictive analytics will become a major guiding force for faculty members’ decision-making regarding student success. In the next ten years, IRSC courses will continue to be offered online and may have a more international focus. Continual evaluation of the strategies discussed will help determine future steps to promote student success.

Bringing It All Together

This session will share recommended strategies for building distance learning programs and prompt attendees to analyze their institutions. Through interactive discussions facilitated by presenters, attendees will gauge what strategies may work best for their unique organizations. Handouts will serve as valuable take-aways for sharing information with home institutions.