Global Business Classroom - A Team Approach to Online Program Development
Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) is an institution that went through the growing pains of deciding to support online education about four years ago. Issues that typically plague online education, such as class sizes, student identification, secured testing and faculty loads, no longer serve as roadblocks. At about the same time, the chair of SRJC’s Business Office Technology (BOT) Department experimented with the concept of teaching an online business class with a course titled “The Global Office.” The course was designed so students from other countries could “attend” class and interact with local students. It was a huge success that gave impetus to the expansion of our online offerings.
The student enrollment in the existing BOT certificate programs seemed to be stagnant, showing no real growth over the last few years. A new direction was necessary. Two new faculty members had been hired, so new enthusiasm was circulating in the department. The available literature and statistics supported the development of a full BOT certificate program made up of online courses.
Objective and Method
In the spring of 1999, three of the BOT faculty sat around a table during a department meeting and made a vow to develop an entire online certificate program within two years. The goal was that each of the three full-time instructors would develop at least one new online course each semester. The plan was then to systematically turn over the classes each semester to adjunct faculty until the entire program was developed.
Initially the faculty team decided to experiment with three different approaches to developing online courses. One instructor developed a course using WebCT. Another used our local SRJC online development program called CATE (Center for Advanced Technology in Education). The third used McGraw-Hill’s PageOut program, which was very nice looking and easy to maneuver for both the instructor and the students. It was limited, however, to courses that used McGraw-Hill’s publications.
The idea was to compare the three systems at the end of the first semester and select the best. The eventual goal was for all of the BOT classes to use the same online platform in order to provide consistency for the faculty members and students within the department.
The local CATE program was very well accepted at SRJC, but the progress in making upgrades was slower than with the private software platforms. In addition, the instructors felt technically prepared to go it alone.
The consensus at the end of the first semester was to adopt WebCT for several reasons. It was growing in acceptance among students and faculty across the nation. It was also developed to support online instruction created by a multitude of publishing companies, and was fairly user-friendly.
Workload and Enrollment
The work to develop an online class was a bit overwhelming the first semester. As a result, two of the three instructors on the team decided to repeat a class the second semester. Additional time was needed to make minor adjustments to assure that the courses were of the best quality possible.
The number of students who enrolled in the second offering of the online classes caught the faculty a bit off-guard. In the business English grammar class, as many students were turned away as were enrolled. We realized too late that a waiting list should have been established that could have at least doubled the enrollment. We also recognized that if there were enough students, additional sections could always open since there was no problem finding a room. Being better prepared for enrollments in the next eight-week session, we planned two sections, and four sections were filled. Another surprise appeared to be “online groupies,” students who search for other online courses after they successfully complete their first.
Eventually it became apparent that it was going to take more time than we had estimated to complete the program development phase. Additional funding for training and development was solicited from the Dean of Instruction/Vocational Education via VATEA resources. After providing a proposal outlining our plan and projected student enrollments, the resources became available. Funds were provided to develop a whole team of adjunct faculty who would be paid for training, as well as for time spent developing new classes. Once the major decisions were made, it was much easier to focus on how the training would take place. Since WebCT was the selected platform, a series of workshops were developed for training the interested faculty.
The number of adjunct faculty members who were interested in developing an online class was almost overwhelming. Even though the word was well circulated that online classes are a tremendous amount of work, the faculty members were eager and ready to volunteer. Other departments on campus have not yet generated the enthusiasm seen in the Business Office Technology Department. It is not clear why this is the case.
In addition, there was a roadblock in getting the certificate program approved by our district curriculum committee, because deadlines were not clear. Marketing efforts for the certificate program could not be made until the program was officially approved through an outside body — the Bay Area Deans. Individual courses were promoted, but a big marketing splash for the program itself had to be postponed. Program approval is expected to take place early in the 2000-2001 academic year.
Our department is pleased with our existing progress and is looking forward to the future. We were satisfied to find that Business Office Technology has been dubbed the department that is “reinventing itself.” This is a real turnaround from the previous perception that the department is a splintered, non-directional unit. Because funding was awarded to give us a little boost, we are confident that we will be able to achieve our goal of a full online certificate program within our two-year projected timeline.
Summary and Recommendations
From this experience, the following lessons were learned:
· Be Cautious of Promises. There is a lot of enthusiasm in the publishing industry for teaching online classes. There are a lot of promises of product availability. In two instances, selected products that were supposed to be finished in time for classes did not meet the deadline. The lesson learned was to look only at a product that is completed and currently available.
· Select a Common Format. Almost every major publishing company is working hard to capture the online market. There are many directions in which an online course can go. It is important to have everyone going in the same direction. It appears that WebCT is becoming recognized as the mainstream online provider. Many publishing companies are releasing their materials through WebCT, even if they are published elsewhere.
· Prepare for Naysayers. There will be many individuals on campus that will speak negatively about online education. Some say that online instruction is a disservice to education, neglecting those without access to computers. Issues such as faculty load and intellectual property rights are also considered drawbacks. Given this controversy, the BOT team has chosen to stay the course, reinforce each other, and stay focused on our objectives.
· Have a Plan. It is essential to have a well-focused plan. In our case, the documented student enrollment successes helped gain administrative support.
Certain ingredients appear to be necessary to undertake such an ambitious program development project. A vision, along with a well-designed plan, helped to keep the faculty focused on our objectives. A team of committed faculty that was willing to support each other, make serious decisions, and go the “extra mile” was essential to keep the project viable. Testing the waters the first semester and providing the student enrollment verification enabled us to receive the attention of administration and obtain supplemental funding.
Training faculty in pedagogical and technical skills, scheduling face-to-face meetings, and communicating online are the keys to building an online faculty team. We hope that these efforts will allow us to successfully continue long after our VATEA project funds disappear.
Spring semester 2001: The BOT Department now offers over 60 sections of online classes. This is more than any other department at SRJC, and represents the majority of all online courses offered at the college. Department enrollments have surged beyond expectations, and the BOT team is proud of its accomplishments.
Carole Bennett is a full-time faculty member in the Business Office Technology Department at Santa Rosa Junior College in Santa Rosa, CA, where she teaches several online courses. She is also the coordinator of an off-site computer instructional program serving more than 2,000 students per month. Bennett received her Ed.D. from the University of San Francisco, her master’s and bachelor’s from California State University at Long Beach, and her A.A. from Long Beach City College.
This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.