Giving It Away Free Is Not Enough

Concurrent Session 8

Brief Abstract

The California Community College Online Education Initiative provides free online student support tools to all 114 colleges in the system. Despite evidence of their effectiveness and their free price, campus-wide adoption is not universal. Why? This session examines organizational change through a systems theory lens to illuminate how to lead from where you are.

Sponsored By


Michelle Pacansky-Brock (@brocansky) has received two Sloan-C/OLC awards for her online teaching effectiveness and served as Chair of the 2015 Sloan-C/OLC Emerging Technologies for Online Learning Symposium (ET4OL). She is the author of Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies, in its second edition with Routledge, and is currently serving the California Community Colleges as Faculty Mentor for Online Teaching and Learning with CVC-OEI/@ONE. Michelle is also researching the impact of humanized online instruction to improve equity gaps in online STEM courses with grant funding from the California Education Learning Lab.
Kate Jordahl is the Director of Academic Affairs and Consortia for the CCC California Virtual Campus-Online Education Initiative (CVC-OEI). Jordahl has worked at Foothill College, Los Altos Hills for over nineteen years as professor and administrator and served as faculty lead on the Foothill College OEI Implementation Team and as Foothill College Faculty Representative to both the OEI Consortium and the OEI Common Course Management System Selection/Implementation Committee. In addition to being a Peer Online Course Reviewer and online faculty mentor, she designed and facilitated the Foothill College Online Teaching Certification Course (OTC).

Extended Abstract

Across U.S. higher education, online learning is perceived as a “catalyst for organizational change,” but what are the conditions that enable this type of change?  While research shows institutions are hiring more senior level administrators to implement online education initiatives (Fredericksen, 2017), organizational change will only occur if all members of an organization are motivated to contribute to a shared vision.

In the California Community College (CCC) system, online education is poised to make sweeping changes in the way our colleges support students; yet, change is slow. The CCC system is comprised of 114 colleges and serves 2.1 million students. More than 23% of annual headcount is derived through distance education. Face-to-face enrollments in our system have remained stagnant or declined for the past eight years, while online enrollments have increased. Success rates between online and face-to-face classes are now distanced by only 4% (CCC Chancellor’s Office, 2017). The CCC Online Education Initiative (OEI), which was founded in 2013, has played a significant role in improving the quality of online learning in the CCC system. Driven by the goal to increase student access to high-quality, online classes, the OEI provides students with the ability to register in online courses at other institutions when they are not able to find an open section at their home college.

Online students services are an integral part of the OEI and, as such, colleges across the CCC system have access to online tutoring (NetTutor), counseling (Cranium Cafe by ConexED), proctoring (Proctorio), and online student readiness modules (Smarter Measure/Quest) at no cost. While financial constraints are often cited as a reason why colleges do not provide online student services, the uneven adoption rates of these free services (illustrated in the image below) demonstrates that there is more to the story.

screenshot showing OEI adoption rates

To make organizational change occur, institutions need more than an administrator leading the way and a statewide initiative. There needs to be buy-in and engagement across all levels of the organization -- including faculty who teach, those who support faculty who teach, those who support students, those who are in administration, IT, and HR. All employees need to see how their day-to-day activities contribute to the end goal. This session will provide data that illustrates uneven adoption across the participating OEI colleges and examine the environmental factors that influence the higher adoption.

The OEI adoption case study will be examined through the lens of systems thinking, which encourages one to understand an organization as a set of interconnected parts that are continuously changing and influencing one another (Senge, 1990). Viewing a higher education institution as a network of interrelated parts, as opposed to siloed divisions and departments, encourages all members of an organization to understand how the things they do on a day-to-day basis contribute to the end goal. But, first, that end goal must be meaningful and resonate intrinsically with all employers. This is where transformative leadership plays a key role. Often, when “leaders” are hired at a college or university, they are put into management roles. There is a distinct difference between managing and leading.

Organizational change is also hindered by the mindsets, or mental models, that guide a faculty, staff, or administrator’s day-to-day duties. These internal pictures, or mental models, of what “good education” looks like prevent online education from impacting organizational change, as it is expected to do. Some of these mental models that have been observed in California Community Colleges include:

“If we add more online classes, we’re going to lose our face-to-face enrollments.”

“Face-to-face classes are better for students.”

“Online success rates are too low, I won’t support growing online courses because it’s not good for students.”

“I need to see my students’ faces to know if they’re getting it.

These examples of mental models are barriers to organizational change. Internal images of “good instruction” prevent institutions from serving the needs of their students. This is particularly concerning within access-oriented institutions that are driven by the mission to serve underrepresented students.  

Mental models inform the judgements educators make everyday, and can contribute to an organizational culture that implies students who are campus are more important than students who learn online. In reality, students are students and being on campus for every class is a privilege that many students do not have.

The presenter will share stories from their experiences as classified support staff, part-time faculty, full-time faculty, and management to illuminate some of the barriers to organizational change that have been observed, as well as pinpoint examples of efforts to transform mindsets that hold potential for organizational change.

Participants will reflect on their own experiences within their organizations and seek to identify mental models that may be serving as barriers to change, as well as examples of successful transformations from their own institutions.