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LeagueTLC Innovation Express
Exploring Issues, Innovations, and New Developments with Information Technology Professionals

Creating the Virtual College

Mary Kay Kickels
Vice-President, Academic Affairs Moraine Valley Community College

Providing options that meet student needs is the primary objective of class schedule development at Moraine Valley Community College. With the availability of Internet technologies on campus in fall 1997, the college initiated planning for the establishment of the Virtual College, an online class delivery format. The goal was to provide not only classes, but also a full complement of Web-based services to support students attending the college in an electronic environment.

The development of a full service virtual environment involves more than course development. Administrative polices and procedures must be reviewed, and a variety of services made available to students who register, attend class, and access support services electronically. Planning for this project was initiated in fall 1997 with the goal of having Internet-based courses on the schedule for the following fall semester.

Administrative Policies
During the planning year, a team representing academic affairs, information technology, and student development personnel met to review student services needed to support online learning and to audit academic and management issues as related to the delivery of Internet classes. 

While most college administrative practices easily applied to Internet course delivery, there was extensive discussion on policies related to class size, faculty load/compensation, and intellectual property. The class size was established at 25 students (as compared to 32 in a traditionally delivered class); a similar ratio of 20/27 applies to composition courses. For development of the course, faculty select from two compensation options: release time equivalent to the credit value of the course being converted for Internet delivery or a $3,000 stipend. Faculty may teach no more than two Internet sections in any semester, and they are compensated at the same rate as negotiated for other classes. The issue of intellectual property rights is under discussion.

Student Services
At the start of the Virtual College project, Web-based registration was available, but most student services required enhancements to provide an optimal Web-based learning environment. A student help line was created to provide technical assistance. The Learning Resources Center/Library expanded online services to include access to full-text resources. Electronic textbook ordering was implemented. Online counseling and advisement is in development to supplement the telephone services currently available. 

Moraine Valley Community College was selected as one of ten initial partners in the Illinois Virtual Campus (IVC), an electronic catalog of online courses and programs in the state of Illinois that aids the college in the development and expansion of student resources. Projects currently being piloted include online tutoring, a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) website, and a tool to allow students to self-assess readiness for the electronic environment. As an IVC partner, the college has access to these resources through an agreement that allows a district resident attending any Illinois college via the Internet to use online and campus-based Moraine Valley services.

Course Development
The development of the Internet-based curriculum is driven by a combination of faculty interest in exploring new class delivery techniques and student need. Earlier, the college established the Learning Challenge Grant program, which provides seed monies for faculty to explore new approaches to classroom delivery. With the campus introduction of the Internet and the campus goal of creating a virtual learning environment, the Challenge Grant format expanded to include a specific focus on the development of Web-delivered courses. 

Applications for the Challenge Grants are accepted and reviewed in the fall semester for implementation in spring. During the spring semester the faculty members who are selected meet weekly for hands-on instruction sessions conducted by a peer leader from the college's Teaching/Learning Team. The class has a formal syllabus that covers a variety of topics essential to Internet course development: content delivery methods, course layout and design, and instruction in Front Page, the software package currently in use for course delivery. Staff from the Information Technology division assist as lab aides and also provide an open lab session each week to assist faculty with individual design issues. Toward the end of the semester, the faculty members meet with their deans to review the ways content delivery is structured and the ways course objectives are met. The course is then demonstrated to all academic affairs administrators, other virtual college faculty, and IT staff on Demo Day, a one-day seminar held in mid-July. The recommended revisions are then incorporated into the course in time for the fall semester course schedule. 

Moraine Valley has successfully implemented the Virtual College, supporting not only students whose schedules do not allow for campus-based instruction, but also faculty interested in the alternative delivery of course content. 

More than 1,100 students have successfully completed course requirements via the Internet. The Fall 2001 semester will open with 33 online courses. The demand for multiple sections has expanded faculty interest in teaching online and resulted in the development of new training programs to assist faculty transitioning to online delivery of existing courses. The college is moving rapidly toward an online associate's degree and is working with departments to identify programs and courses that can be successful in an online environment. 

An unanticipated benefit of the Virtual College project has been the focus on learning that the project has generated. Over the last several years, Moraine Valley has truly become a Learning College, as departments and their faculty members explore and discuss the components of Web-based course delivery and the creation of a new learning environment that meets the needs of today's students.

Moraine Valley Community College believes that its Virtual College efforts are reaching students who would be unable to take courses at the college were it not for the opportunity to do so online. Increased enrollments have been seen in core courses, and multiple sections of these courses are being offered to new students. While the development efforts of Moraine Valley's Virtual College offerings have involved expenditures for this process, it is believed that, in the long run, the college will continue to see enrollment increases in these online courses.

Evidence of the significance of Moraine Valley's Virtual College project was given by the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB), which acknowledged the college with the ICCB Award for Excellence in Learning-Centered Instruction.

For additional information, please contact: 
Mary Kay Kickels 
Vice President, Academic Affairs



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