Distance Education Committee
Annual Report 2005-2006
May 31, 2006

The Distance Education Committee of the Academic Senate is a joint committee  comprised of committed, active, regularly attending members (see below).  This year has been a challenging transition year, during which the committee’s successes can partially be measured by the Objectives report outlined below, and more fully appreciated by acknowledging the intangible but important progress the committee has made in understanding its mission, providing a forum for open discussion, and balancing the achievement of tangible objectives with nurturing evolving educational philosophies in a rapidly changing technological environment.

Members
Teri Bernstein, Chair
Julie Yarrish, Vice-Chair, Spring semester (admin)
Kiersten Elliott, Vice-Chair, Fall semester (admin)
Mona Martin (admin)
Marilyn Adler
Fariba Bolandhemat
Alan Buckley
Ellen Cutler
Dana Del George
Maria Erickson
Diane Gross
Michael Gustin
Peggy Kravitz
Laura Manson
Judith Remmes
Claudia Szekely
Odemaris Valdivia
Christine Miller (classified)
Waleed Nasr (classified)
Lee Peterson (classified)
Marilyn Simons (classified)
Student representative (open)
members unable to attend during Spring semester: Marilyn Adler (sabbatical), and Diane Gross (class conflict); other members with temporary conflicts stayed active through email or sub-committee work.

Meetings:  The Distance Education (DE) Committee’s regular meeting times this year were alternate Tuesdays in the Library conference room, 12:45-2:00 p.m.  We met fourteen times during the 2005-2006 academic year:  September 13, September 27, October 11, October 25, November 8, November 22, December 6, February 14, February 28, March 21, April 4, April 25, May 9, and May 23.  Two of the meetings had formats that addressed technical issues and solutions specifically; one hour of one meeting was faculty only (to address working conditions issues for possible discussion with the collective bargaining unit); the balance of the meeting time was spent addressing various aspects of the committee’s goals and objectives.



Distance Education Committee of the SMC Academic Senate
Objectives 2005-2006:


1.  Collaborate with Admissions/Enrollment to solve existing problems with the enrollment and records interface with Distance Education students and faculty. 
Status: Revised to: Receive updates from Admissions and Enrollment in advance of any changes to the online interface.
Comment: this objective was set in reaction to problems that had occurred in prior years, but were, for the most part, resolved.  Revised objective is more in line with the scope of the committee. 
Disposition: resolved.

 

2. Draft Administrative Regulations regarding Distance Education, and submit to Senate for approval.
Status:  An eight page draft was developed, and has been edited considerably, with mutual understanding on many points.  At the committee’s direction, Mona Martin and Teri Bernstein have been charged with editing the draft over the summer to bring it to the committee in form that will be close to a finalized document.  Certain segments that overlap Curriculum responsibilities will be referenced in the document; Curriculum is in the process of revising its Distance Education section and we are engaged in an open dialogue with them; two DE members participate in a Curriculum subcommittee on this.
Comment: This has been an important but challenging vehicle that has helped the committee shape, in a grounded way, its scope.  Additionally this project has provided a forum to discuss the boundaries between administrative functions and Senate committee functions.
Disposition:  Agendize as a priority for Fall 2006.

3    Survey faculty regarding mentoring of new online faculty and develop a plan to formalize the process.

Status:  Regarding Surveying faculty: not yet done, but Committee did discuss some questions to ask in the future:  How did you learn?  How can we institutionalize this learning process?  How much training did you get?  Brainstorming ideas on this issue included making a DVD to communicate experiences, or using CCConfer.  A graduate research survey in which many DE faculty across the state participated addressed some of the mentoring and training issues underlying this objective. One survey participant, Judith Remmes, distributed the results to committee members after the last meeting, so a discussion is pending.
   Regarding mentoring: a Summer Mentoring Project materialized during May. Jeff Shimizu contacted Julie Yarrish about recruiting DE faculty to mentor Nursing faculty on campus in the Faculty media room for five hours per week each week during summer intersession for a stipend amounting to about $50 per hour. Although these funds were available only because of a grant, the situation presents an opportunity to measure the successes and learn from the participants’ experiences—as mentees, mentors, and administrators.
Comment:  Progress in this area was not initiated by the committee, but, as noted above, both the outside survey and the mentoring project present opportunities.  Since mentoring is related to faculty training, we still have to exercise care, consciousness and transparency as to  who is responsible for what aspects of training, and making sure that the Faculty Association is involved when compensation issues arise.
Disposition:   Surveying SMC faculty is a broader issue than gathering information on this one issue, so it is a separate function, and can be an important way to assess faculty needs.  I will try to inspire myself and the committee to undertake the survey aspect of this objective for 2006-07, with a broader purview, building on the work begun by the DE committee in 2002-2003.
   With respect to the Summer Mentoring Project, I, as committee chair, will request a report from Julie and/or Jeff, in conjunction with the participating faculty, to be given at a DE meeting in the fall.  It will then be up to the committee to incorporate other research around the topic of mentoring and training, and develop an objective or plan of action if there are interested individuals—on or off the committee-- to pursue this.

4.  Establish a monthly technical-issues subcommittee open to all faculty using online instruction, to discuss and solve technical problems, conducting follow-up with the provider as needed.

Status: One off-calendar meeting held; one meeting held with e-college during the regular meeting time. 
Comment: Follow-up with e-college is time-consuming but worth it. Responsibility for this follow up needs to be assigned by the committee on a shared basis, or assigned to staff by the administrator in order to be more timely and effective (Chair cannot do it all).
 The session with e-college by phone during the committee meeting time was very successful; perhaps the technological component of this could be expanded so more faculty could participate.
  Alternative time slots have not been successful in the past, but maybe that is only because we have not picked the right time, or accommodated the time slot with a functional remote way to participate.
Disposition:  This objective as written is too ambitious, but the objective of providing a forum for discussion of technical problems is one embraced by committee members. Committee is participating in an opening-day Salon in partial fulfillment of the underlying objective.  Committee will probably discuss how to rework this objective to continue it in substance for 2006-07.
 

5.  Define procedures and standards for peer evaluations of online faculty

Status: Postponed.
Comment: This objective overlaps with Faculty association responsibilities.  The technical issues involved in setting this up, once the contractual and philosophical issues are resolved could be addressed by classified staff.   This might be a long term goal.
   A first step toward achieving progress on this issue might be developing a “best practices” guide that could be available on the DE website…
Disposition:  Discuss as a possible issue to consider for next year’s Objectives list; possibly pose it as a Salon topic for opening day or a future brainstorming session.
 
6.  Collaborate with campus community to develop a process by which the Distance Education Committee is informed of all changes related to distance education.
Status: We are very involved with Curriculum as we revise our Administrative Regulations and as they revise their Distance Education procedures.  The DE chair is assigned to both the Information Services Committee and the Technology Planning subcommittee of DPAC. These relationships provide avenues for the exchange of information.
Comment: Regular reports during committee meetings from administrators, and an annual visit from the VP of Academic Affairs could create a pattern of shared communication that would enhance this process directly with the committee members. 
As the DE function grows in importance with respect to maintaining and improving our FTEs, collaboration to enhance communication is an important part of Strategic Planning..
Disposition:  Suggest that Committee adopt this as a continuing objective for 2006-07.


Unranked objectives:

--Review Computer Use Policy article of the contract prior to ratification and discuss with appropriate Faculty Association personnel.
Status: What contract?
Comment: We have not taken any action on this item and no committee member has pushed for this.
Disposition:  Remove from list as separate objective, and deal with as a part of the “collaboration” objective as the need arises.

--Make a presentation to the Board of Trustees regarding Distance Education programs and progress.
Status: Revised, re-understood, and pending further discussion
Comment: This objective was understood by many of the faculty on the committee to mean one thing, and by the administrators on the committee to mean something else.  (I am not sure about how the classified members may have understood it). 
“Presentation to the Board of Trustees” was understood by the administrators to mean a written (not public) report, satisfying the Chancellor’s office requirement regarding “District responsibilities.”
  Many faculty (including the Chair) understood “Presentation to the Board of Trustees” to mean a report made by the whole committee at a public meeting of the Board of Trustees, incorporating much of the data required by the Chancellor’s office, but serving a public relations function for DE. 
  The committee deferred to the wishes of the Director of Online Services.  No presentation to the Board is currently planned.  The Committee will do some public outreach instead by participating as presenters at the opening day break-out sessions.
Disposition:  a presentation to the Board at a public Board meeting is possible and maybe even desirable at a future time, but perhaps not in conjunction with any administrative function. Committee will have to discuss this as a possible objective for 2006-07 or later.


 --Improve the Watercooler or propose another communication tool to bring more information to more Distance Education instructors.
Status: Faculty do not use the Watercooler.  Chair does not use the Watercooler to post information.
Comment: The Watercooler has not been tried as a repository of minutes or agendas or other documents as a way to entice faculty to visit this potentially valuable way of delivering information.
  One potential issue: e-college personnel have 100% access to all of this information and that may be a reason that faculty find it difficult to utilize it fully.
  The  Academic Senate website may be a better way to gather and promulgate information.
  Public folders can be privatized for members-only as another solution to the issue of information distribution.
Disposition:  Let committee decide at the beginning of Fall how to pursue the issue of dissemination of information.
 

--Complete the evaluation of the WebCT VISTA platform as possible option, and decide whether to explore this or other platforms further.  Develop a way to collaborate with administration in making platform decisions.
Status:  Several actions were taken in pursuit of this objective.  Several faculty formed a cohort to evaluate the WebCT VISTA platform in a special contract during Summer 2005. 
Other faculty investigated Moodle, Desire2Learn and other platforms on a more informal basis.  In addition, Julie unearthed Edutools as a tool to compare platforms, and Teri set up a rudimentary spreadsheet to use as a way to discuss platform attributes, but several committee members wanted a more complex way of evaluating and rating the attributes on a scale of desirability or necessity.
Comment: Since the issue of other platforms is always looming, especially since individual faculty get jazzed about certain possibilities, a procedure for evaluation would be helpful.  On the other hand, the development of the Nursing curriculum, which represents a major effort to get it up and running in e-college presents a hurdle to changing platforms.  In addition, testing of other platforms revealed that issues with the server, helpdesk, and interface with ISIS, in addition to cost issues, would be outside the purview of DE committee input—these are IT or administration issues.  Nevertheless, DE faculty do not want to be in a position again where they have no input into platform decision-making.
Current contract with e-college expires in June 2008.
Disposition:  Fariba Bolandhemat is willing to develop a basic framework for platform evaluation over the summer.  Committee can then decide how to proceed.

Additional accomplishments, outside of stated objectives:

 
1.
Clarified DE committee’s mission by working through Scope & Functions at the direction of the Academic Senate Executive committee.
2.  Established a membership roster, so former problems about “who is on the committee” were no longer an issue.
3.  Began a discussion of the responsibilities of faculty and administration with respect to “best practices.”
4.  Found common ground in the enthusiasm shared for creating a “salon” environment of shared experiences and ideas.
5.  Expanded enrollment by over 35%, in spite of administrative reorganization (see below)
6.  Submitted two proposals for break-out sessions for opening day, August 2006, relating to Distance Education and the theme of Strategic Planning.  We appointed committee members to coordinate each of these breakout sessions, and are following up with Professional Development committee members
7.  Shared a variety of informative documents that will help guide and broaden our discussion of pedagogy and educational philosophy, including a document that provides a template for accreditation standards for distance education programs.
8.  Identified topics that may need additional attention (will be considered as we develop the 2006-2007 objectives):
--institutional research needs, including resources outside of those currently provided;
--a possible subcommittee to explore grant-writing;
--web site clean-up, correction of links, re-visioning;
--improvement in procedure for posting minutes and agendas to the Web (Chair dropped the ball this year; additional committee members could be appointed to pick up the slack)
--possible on-line handbook of online resources for course development, etc
--possible newsletter (occasional)
--how to include more DE faculty in two-way information dissemination
--cyber counseling, cyber tutoring and other student service issues cannot be jettisoned if we are to maintain academic integrity (a parallel program to our onground offering)  

Administrative reorganization and enrollment increases affecting Distance Education and this committee:  The original administrator in charge of distance education, Winniphred Stone, resigned just before the start of Fall semester.  The Board opted not to fill that position, and reduced the number of administrators in this area from two to one by creating a new position, Director of Online Services, and eliminating the position of Project Manager. 

During this period of reduced administrative support and no new classified hires, distance education enrollment has grown over 35%:
2004-05:  8,036 e-college seats plus 46 off-platform classes;
2005-06:  10,758 e-college seats plus off-platform classes (not yet fully tallied).

This could not have been accomplished without the continuity provided in administration by Julie Yarrish (the former Project Manager now in the Director position) and her assistant, Marilyn Simons, as well as continuity in classified support provided by Waleed Nasr and Christine Miller.  In addition, faculty have mentored new faculty and have provided levels of support at the department level that have not yet been fully documented.

Further stretching the resources of the Distance Education personnel has been a contract, initiated by the former administrator, to bring Nursing classes online.  Completion of this project will require long-term efforts from administration, classified and faculty working together.

Other challenges:
--maintaining currency with technological developments; departments not already on board have a steeper learning curve as the possibilities expand
--compliance with section 508 regulations, since accessiblility software does not always keep pace with new technologies (accessibility of online content items, particularly multi media)
--supervision of faculty teaching from remote locations
--getting the SMC community to understand the strengths and challenges of a Distance Education offering, and ensuring that the Distance Education impact on the fulfillment of our mission is understood and discussed.
--maintaining or obtaining adequate or abundant financial support in a period of budget constraints.

Respectfully submitted,
Teri Bernstein, DE Chair