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

S.I.D.E. Road: The Highway
to Success in Distance Learning

Long Beach City College
Long Beach, CA


The S.I.D.E. Road – Success in Distance Education project aims at assisting current and prospective distance learning (DL) students in having a successful distance learning experience and maximizing their comfort level with DL courses. Developed by the Instructional Technology Development Center (ITDC), the Distance Learning program, and faculty from Learning and Academic Resources in the School of Learning Resources, Teaching, and Technologies at Long Beach City College (LBCC), the project was funded in part by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office Fund for Student Success. It consists of a website and an interactive multimedia CD and addresses students in different types of distance learning classes, including online, teleweb, televised, and hybrid courses. The project is available to all LBCC students, as well as to the college’s website visitors online.

Project Goals
Long Beach City College distance learning course offerings increased significantly in the past four years in response to students’ growing interest in DL courses. Consequently, it became necessary to address the various challenges that the DL format brings about. These challenges are primarily caused by significant changes in course procedures as well as methods of instruction, learning, and interactions that students are accustomed to with a typical on-campus course. The procedural differences are evident even before any course session begins: While on-campus students are accustomed to showing up in class and, by doing so, indicating to the instructor that they are indeed taking the class, online students are required to be active in establishing status as active students, either through initiating email communication with the instructor, providing their email addresses while confirming registration, or submitting an electronic response to an instructor’s welcome email indicating that they are taking the class. The two general challenges that distance learners face are both communicative in nature: (1) lack of face-to-face communication with the instructor and other students, and (2) the dominant mode of communication used in the typical DL course, which is text-based and requires the use of electronic devices to communicate. Thus, instead of using verbal communication, distance learners are required to learn how to accommodate their needs and develop learning and technical skills that will enable them to optimize their DL experience.

S.I.D.E. Road addresses the well-known DL challenges of retention and success by providing students with tools they can use to develop skills necessary for success in a DL environment. At the same time, the project helps students increase their motivation, confidence, and sense of accountability by assigning them an active role in understanding their own responsibility prior to and during their DL experience. The challenges students face may include procrastination, short concentration span, difficulties in following written text and media-generated directions, or insufficient internet or technology skills. In order to succeed, the most significant skills that DL students need in this mode of learning are

  • learning skills – tools and behaviors that keep students motivated, disciplined, and in charge of their own learning;
  • basic internet skills – the ability to use browsers to access the internet, and the ability to identify resources both on campus and online that help students handle academic and administrative issues throughout their distance learning experience; and
  • communication and collaboration skills – interaction with other students in the course, with the course instructor, and with other course resources.

The underlying assumption of the instructional design principles applied in S.I.D.E. Road is that any student can succeed in a DL course as long as that student develops the learning and technical skills necessary to succeed. S.I.D.E. Road ensures that students are provided the opportunity to expand their repertoire of learning preferences and acquire the necessary skills to become successful in this type of learning. Students are encouraged to access and use these tools before they begin their DL experience and revisit them whenever necessary throughout the course. Additionally, S.I.D.E. Road highlights success stories of students who completed DL courses at LBCC by providing filmed student testimonials that prospective students can view to assess their own level of readiness in a personalized environment, and to increase their motivation in acquiring skills they may lack.

Project Description and Development
In creating the high-level design deliverables for the CD, creative and motivational strategies were identified and selected for the CD modules. Simulative practices were designed to carry most of the content in this courseware, and the following primary strategy was applied to engage the student users.

Many students in technology-based courses find themselves in trouble at the end of the semester, having failed to accomplish what was required of them to complete the course. Student users of the interactive courseware use a time pilot to turn back time to various significant milestones throughout the semester and help them make better decisions that result in excellent performance and successful completion of the technology-based course. When different decisions are made, the students’ grades can be observed changing increasingly from F to A.

The simulative practices introduce Luis (TV course), Mara (hybrid course), and John (online course); each had made a distinctive set of wrong decisions during their DL experience, and each is waiting for the student users to use the time pilot to help them make better decisions.

In making various decisions, students are also given the opportunity to download blank forms of learning management tools (e.g., time management schedule) for use in the real DL courses they are taking. The three modules also include a variety of content processors, hyperlinks for immediate clarification of terms, and links to web pages as part of the overall interface. To account for individual differences in learning styles among users, the hyperlinks woven into the simulative modules are also available through an alphabetical list in a separate module. A post-activity screen allows students to assess their suggested decision and, through individualized and immediate feedback, see if the scenarios indeed helped them to do the right thing and eventually lead them to succeed in the course.

The S.I.D.E. Road CD includes an Overview module, in which students are engaged in a variety of practices to learn about typical DL characteristics, features, and requirements. All practices include individualized and immediate feedback to allow students to learn from their errors and to reinforce their correct performance while interacting with the program. The Overview module consists of six topics:

  • Types of Tech-Based Courses (title and definitions drag-and-drop practice)
  • Success Factors in DL Courses (factors checklist practice)
  • Tech-Based Course Requirements (hardware and courses drag-and-drop practice)
  • Technical Considerations (Yes/No check-and-learn practice)
  • Accessing Tech-Based Courses (watch and answer multiple-choice practice)
  • DL Adventures, in which students select the most appropriate course listed on a page of the Schedule of Classes to fit personal and academic needs

The S.I.D.E. Road CD is available for sale at the LBCC bookstore for minimal cost to cover duplication expenses. Based on feedback from the pilot evaluation, efforts will be made to make the CD content available on the web, using similar creative strategies when possible.

The S.I.D.E. Road website consists of (1) an interactive checklist to help prospective students and those who have never taken online courses before to prepare for their DL experience prior to and during the first week of the course, (2) practical tools to address specific DL challenges while taking a course, and (3) links to virtual campus resources.

A web-based interactive checklist allows students to assess their progress in preparing for their DL course and ascertain that they have taken the necessary steps to start the course successfully. Students mark various items on the checklist with either Yes or No. If a student marks a checklist item as a No, an explanation of the material included or the process involved is provided, and students are directed to complete the necessary steps, acquire the skills involved, and apply what they learned. If an item is marked Yes, students are given reinforcement information and verify that they accomplished this item successfully. All completed items are checked and all pending items marked with an X to remind students that they still need to work on these items or skills. Items not accessed are not marked at all. A text-based version of the S.I.D.E. Road checklist is available at the Center for Learning Assistance Services.

The interactive checklist includes links to various information pages aiming at personalizing the DL experience, making it less threatening and more manageable. For example, students are encouraged to visit the Procrastination page, where they learn about the causes of procrastination and how to avoid it through a series of student testimonials and tips.

S.I.D.E. Road practical tools and resources include a dynamic list of links, as follows:

  • Step-by-step technical instructions, in both .html and .rtf formats, for tasks frequently necessary in DL courses – for example, downloading and installing Acrobat Reader, attaching a file to an email message, opening a .zip or .sit file, or setting up QuickTime player
  • Information and optional download of various learning and academic tools that students may use to develop study skills, manage their time, and take charge of their own learning throughout their DL experience
  • Information and links to DL procedures at LBCC, including an Ask the DL Program Specialist feature, online registration and email confirmation – all accompanied by student testimonials regarding success factors in DL courses, tips, and frequently used DL terminology
  • Information and links to LBCC library resources, including the library online catalog and electronic databases
  • Information and links to LBCC counseling services, including express counseling and online orientation
  • Information and links to other resources such as the DL online helpdesk, the open-access labs where students can use computers to work on their courses, online bookstore, and online registration

S.I.D.E. Road Pilot Evaluation
A pilot testing and evaluation of the S.I.D.E. Road was conducted to determine ease of use and navigation, clarity of instruction, effectiveness of activities, achievement of individual objectives, and changes that the students would like to see made. The pilot testing was conducted by about 50 student volunteers in 11 sections of 7 cross-disciplinary, technology-based courses (teleweb and online). Highlights from the pilot outcomes include the following:

  • S.I.D.E. Road was found to be helpful in improving study skills in the targeted areas.
  • Survey respondents were significantly more in favor of taking a DL course with S.I.D.E. Road than without.
  • A significant percentage of students first learned about college resources to assist students in DL through the S.I.D.E. Road project.

S.I.D.E. Road Institutionalization
While S.I.D.E. Road is available to any current student, prospective student, or even visitor to the LBCC DL website, it is also the core curriculum of a new course in a series of Computer Proficiencies for Academic Success (CPAS) classes offered by the Learning and Academic Resources department. CPAS 805 (Preparation for Distance Learning) is a weeklong, half-unit on-campus course that provides students the opportunity to master technology and study skills necessary to succeed in DL courses. While CPAS 805 is not mandatory, it is recommended to all new and continuing DL students through notes in the Schedule of Classes, as well as a link on the DL website.

Other institutionalization steps were also taken:

  • The S.I.D.E. Road web page is linked from all DL courses offered at LBCC, so students do not have to log out of their courses to access resources and tools they need to complete a course assignment.
  • S.I.D.E. Road is an ongoing component of the curriculum used for new faculty orientation sessions.
  • All LBCC faculty were informed about the project in numerous campus events and publications. S.I.D.E. Road demos are frequently presented at the Faculty Resources Center as part of the ITDC ongoing workshop offerings.
  • The Center for Learning Assistance Services at LBCC assists in all dissemination efforts. Large signs informing students of the project were posted in both open-access computer labs and in the library’s main lobby. S.I.D.E Road fliers are also available at the Center.

Summary
The S.I.D.E. Road project is designed to allow maximum flexibility for customization and update purposes. It has become the main resource for both LBCC DL students and faculty as they go through their distance learning experience. Both faculty and students contact us frequently requesting updates or modifications that will best fit their current needs. The ITDC and DL programs at LBCC are confident that, as technology changes and as DL keeps growing at LBCC, S.I.D.E. Road will continue to adjust itself to support every need that surfaces and thus continue to contribute to DL student success.


For more information, contact

Amit Schitai
Director of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning

Long Beach City College
4901 East Carson Street
Long Beach, California 90808
(562) 938-4353

 
 

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