This week I begin a second week-long workshop series on how to use Canvas. Throughout all of my local training, I think about the role we play as part of the broader system of community colleges in California. All (or almost all) of the system’s colleges offer online classes. many for a couple of decades, and mostly on our own. Over the past few years the system office and state legislature have given distance education special attention through the Online Education Initiative (OEI).
I am a member of the OEI Advisory Committee, and so I have the privilege of working on this project and its noble goal: increase the number of transfer degrees awarded in a timely manner by offering well-designed and well-supported online classes to well-prepared students. The OEI chose Canvas as the common learning management system, and we created a mechanism called the OEI Exchange so students can easily take classes at colleges other than where they are matriculated. Though every California community college will eventually be able to offer classes as part of the Exchange, the services offered by the OEI can be used by any California community college under various terms. The statewide license for Canvas is covered by the OEI, so colleges like mine can start using it without committing to the full Exchange.
Each college’s curriculum committee approves courses for distance education delivery and local managers retain right of assignment, but courses that are to be offered as part of the Exchange must meet the standards of the OEI's Course Design Rubric. The colleges can take advantage of the training programs offered by the @ONE program, which is a statewide project providing free or low-cost online professional development to employees of the system. Extensive resources are available from @ONE to help faculty create courses that are ready for the Exchange, including instructional design help and courses that teach faculty how to be effective online educators.
Of course a successful Exchange requires the participation of departments besides professional development and instructional areas, so the commitment must be across the institution. Counseling, tutoring, IT, financial aid— each of us already know that myriad of departments work to support students, and the OEI has encouraged the development of productive relationships between the same departments at different institutions across the state. As the OEI approaches the end of its Exchange pilot phase, all involved are thinking and talking about how to include additional colleges.
I work at a small college that has islands of commitment to distance education. As we transition to Canvas, my college and others may test how relevant our online classes can be that are not part of the Exchange. We do not yet have commitment at the necessary level to participate in the Exchange, and it may be sad for our students until we do. There will be missed opportunities for our students to achieve their goals in a timely manner through the Exchange, and our faculty and staff will not soon have the chance to strengthen the connections between our islands of commitment and the broader archipelago of online courses on offer in California's community colleges.