Quality Distance Learning Programs and Processes

Quality Distance Learning Programs and Processes

William H. Riffee (University of Florida, USA) and Christopher Sessums (University of Florida, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 5
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch250
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Abstract

With today’s advances and capabilities in electronic communications, distance learning is a natural extension to any quality educational program that wishes to maximize its reach to qualified students. Any institution that desires to provide quality distance learning opportunities must commit to a significant investment in developing the infrastructure and leadership (Beaudoin, 2003). The University of Florida’s (UF) Division of Continuing Education (DOCE) has provided that infrastructure to implement and build a quality distance learning effort along with executive education initiatives. After the launch of several successful distance programs, the provost of the university established the position of Associate Provost for Distance, Continuing and Executive Education and provided the budget necessary to begin an organized effort toward building a quality distance learning infrastructure throughout the university (www.aa.ufl.edu/itr/pdf/DistanceEd.pdf). Ten percent of the gross revenue from those programs was distributed to an account for distance education initiatives in the provost’s office. The DOCE was also added to the associate provost’s responsibilities, as was executive education.
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Introduction

With today’s advances and capabilities in electronic communications, distance learning is a natural extension to any quality educational program that wishes to maximize its reach to qualified students. Any institution that desires to provide quality distance learning opportunities must commit to a significant investment in developing the infrastructure and leadership (Beaudoin, 2003). The University of Florida’s (UF) Division of Continuing Education (DOCE) has provided that infrastructure to implement and build a quality distance learning effort along with executive education initiatives.

After the launch of several successful distance programs, the provost of the university established the position of Associate Provost for Distance, Continuing and Executive Education and provided the budget necessary to begin an organized effort toward building a quality distance learning infrastructure throughout the university (www.aa.ufl.edu/itr/pdf/DistanceEd.pdf). Ten percent of the gross revenue from those programs was distributed to an account for distance education initiatives in the provost’s office. The DOCE was also added to the associate provost’s responsibilities, as was executive education.

A successful leader, who had implemented early distance learning programs, was appointed to the associate provost position while dually maintaining his position as dean of one of the colleges on campus. He enlisted various directors within the existing DOCE structure to begin building the infrastructure and to advance the processes by which new programs could be developed, marketed and evaluated. The newly organized office under the associate provost became known as the office for Distance Continuing and Executive Education (DCEE). Its mission was defined as promoting and supporting the development and application of distance learning, continuing education and executive education for the University of Florida. The office became the leading source of information, resources and recommendations for colleges and departments interested in developing non-traditional courses, seminars, certificates and programs.

Prestera and Moller (2001) note that “high-quality organizations actively support performance through processes, structures and feedback systems that are aligned with organizational goals”; subsequently, one of the first efforts for DCEE staff was to create a process for developing new distance learning programs. This process started with open discussions among department/college representatives about content, timelines, staffing and budgets. The DCEE office developed expertise in marketing intelligence studies to determine if a market exists for a program prior to building it. Rather than a “field of dreams – build it and they will come” program development approach, the DCEE office took a business approach to determine if programs would have a viable market, allowing for an economic model that would provide internal or external revenue for the department and college involved. The DCEE office assisted departments and colleges in developing a business plan so that resource needs and revenue projections are understood and properly allocated. Recognizing the importance of economic viability, the DCEE office wanted to ensure that scarce resources were not depleted from other programs. A positive revenue flow was necessary for reinvestment in distance programs and distribution to other programs as well.

In further developing the program, a decision was made to provide the following additional services:

  • Organizational planning (This includes providing a consultant to assist faculty in developing an idea into a viable distance learning project)

  • Program management

  • Financial planning

  • Student administrative services (admissions, registration, ID services, etc.)

  • Faculty services (training, coordination and funding)

  • Administrative services (administrative processing and approvals)

  • Technical services (Web support)

  • Production and design support

Key Terms in this Chapter

Discussion Boards: Also known as a ‘message board,’ this term refers to a Web site component that enables users to participate in topics of discussion by posting and replying to comments electronically.

Marketing Intelligence: This term refers to the act of gathering information about a specific audience. Marketing intelligence is an attempt to quantify potential participants for a specific program. The information gathered informs program administrators as to how they might organize the prospective program, as well as who they will be trying to sell the program to directly.

Infrastructure: The often unseen network of services provided within the institution that supports the daily operations. In this case, the distance teaching and learning infrastructure includes people working behind the scenes that support students, albeit in an invisible fashion. For example, the registrar’s office, the office of student finances, the financial aid office, information technology system specialists, as well as distance learning administrators, deans and department chairs.

Distance Learning Programs: This term refers to programs that typically do not meet or hold class sessions on campus.

Facilitator: A knowledgeable guide for a discussion, activity or course. In many cases, a course facilitator or faculty facilitator acts as a mentor for a course, providing guidance, assistance or trusted advice to the student.

Virtual: Simulated; performing the functions of something that isn’t really there. For example, ‘virtual classroom space’ refers to a simulated, electronic classroom space created on a Web site rather than a physical space in a physical location.

Hybrid Distance Learning: A distance learning program using both electronic delivery and local facilitators or mentors to coach, counsel and support students.

Non-Traditional Courses: This term is used to define courses that typically operate differently than on-campus courses. For example, non-traditional courses may have students meet electronically rather than face to face. They may also meet on weekends instead of weekdays. Non-traditional courses can also be non-credit courses or certificate courses offered by a college or university that are aimed at students who are not seeking a bachelors, masters or doctoral degree.

Synchronous: This term, meaning ‘coinciding in time,’ refers to communication carried out with all parties present at the same time, but not necessarily in the same physical location. For example, a face-to-face or telephone conversation, a videoconference and a chat-room discussion are all forms of synchronous communication. (Retrieved on August 18, 2004, from www.uwe.ac.uk/library/nlsf/blackboard/glossary.shtml)

Stakeholder: Any individual, group or organization that will have an impact on or will be significantly impacted by the quality of the product or service an organization or institution provides. For example, stakeholders in a distance learning program can include: a college dean, department chairperson, instructors, students, the financial aid office, the institution’s registrar, the student services support team and the information technology staff. Each of these individual have a stake in the program and can have a profound or limited impact on the program’s perceived quality.

Cohort: A group of individuals (in this case, students) who went through the same experience or event at the same time. A cohort does not necessarily progress at the same rate. Thus, students who entered the university in Spring 2000 for the first time form a cohort. (Retrieved on August 18, 2004, from www.umb.edu/faculty_staff/ir/glossary/.)

Accreditation: Recognition by a certifying organization or agency that a college meets certain acceptable standards in its education programs, services and facilities. Regional accreditation applies to a college as a whole and not to any particular program or course of study.

Off-Calendar Programming: Courses or programs that typically do not follow the normal school calendar; that is, courses that have different start/stop times than traditional face-to-face university courses or programs.

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