Teaching & Learning Champions: Podcast hosted by Matthew Evins, Director of Academic Technology

Today on Teaching & Learning Champions, we’re joined by Dr. Erasmus Addae, AVP of Distance Education. We’re talking about the expansion of distance education through an international pandemic.

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Episode Transcript

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[Matthew Evins:] Welcome to another episode of Teaching and Learning Champions. I’m Matt Evins, Director of Academic Technology in the Teaching and Learning Excellence Division at ACC. Before I introduce our special guest, just an important reminder. The Teaching and Learning Excellence Division and the Office of Distance and Alternative Education provide comprehensive support in course design, technology tools for teaching, and other high-impact practices that contribute to our Guided Pathways model at Austin Community College. Our teams are available for various types of consultations to provide just-in-time assistance and support to faculty for their teaching. Go to austincc.edu/teachingsupport for more information. Today, I’m joined by Dr. Erasmus Addae, Associate Vice President of Distance Education, as we talk about the expansion of distance education through an international pandemic. Erasmus, thank you for joining me today.

[Erasmus Addae:] Thank you, Matt. I’m glad to be here, and I feel special.

[Matthew Evins:] You are the first podcast guest that we have had who has been on twice.

[Erasmus Addae:] Really? That makes me feel the more special.

[Matthew Evins:] Excellent. Excellent. Well, let’s jump right into it, Erasmus. Before we get into the effects of COVID on distance education, can you tell us a little bit about, what was the overall reach of distance education courses at ACC before this pandemic hit?

[Erasmus Addae:] So I’ll start with fall 2019 because that’s probably right at the point where — the point after which COVID-19 started. COVID-19 started in the spring, so fall gives me a better idea and perspective of numbers prior to the pandemic. In fall 2019, there were about 20,000 enrollment in distance education courses. Now, this number represent about 30% positive change in enrollment from fall 2015. In terms of credit hours, there were 59,593 and over a million total contact hours in distance education. So it tells you that distance education had a wider reach in the institution prior to the pandemic.

[Matthew Evins:] Great. Well, that’s definitely some impressive numbers. When you say 20,000 enrollments, that’s a duplicated count, right?

[Erasmus Addae:] Yeah. That’s a duplicated count. Now, in terms of head count, single head count, that is about — In fall 2019, we had about 13,000 to 14,000 students, head count.

[Matthew Evins:] That’s excellent. Can you tell us a little bit about the expansion of services that was needed to support distance education courses once the pandemic hit in the spring and all courses were forced to become distance courses?

[Erasmus Addae:] I’ll start by saying that ACC was in a better situation than most community colleges because, prior to COVID-19 pandemic, we had already started the virtualization of most of our support services. So we had already established an online advising and tutoring program. So what we had to do was to scale the services to provide support for all students. We already had a blueprint of how to provide these services to put it in simpler terms. Now, during the transition, we had to do some additional work to make sure that we reach all students, faculty, and staff. And I will point to the IT department’s work to virtualize technology services and help desk support for students, faculty, and staff. And also, your team, TLED, in collaboration with distance education working around the clock to provide training to faculty to ensure that they were ready to handle the situation, and also distributing equipment for students and faculty that needed those equipment to ensure that they were successful. So it was a collaborative effort, and also, we had already established processes, and all we had to do was ramp it up to make sure that we served everybody.

[Matthew Evins:] That’s great. In terms of the expansion of support, moving away from the services specifically but more of support for faculty, what would you say was the most requested type of support? Was it more training on how to use Blackboard? Was it more conceptually on how to deliver a course virtually? What was sort of the, you know, highest requested, or I should say most requested type of support from faculty that you’ve seen?

[Erasmus Addae:] So the most or highest requested support was on how to use Blackboard. Now, a majority of the faculty that had to move onto teaching online, that was their first experience in online teaching environment, and they needed to update their skills on how to use Blackboard in providing instruction. So we did provide a lot of support and training in terms of that, and we continue to do that on a daily basis.

[Matthew Evins:] Well, I’ll definitely say, if that was the highest requested type of support, the work that the distance ed group and the instruction designers did in developing those online Blackboard training courses at the start of the pandemic certainly proved to be useful and very much appreciated by the faculty members.

[Erasmus Addae:] Certainly. Certainly. And we continue to improve those training, and then adding to the knowledgebase as well. And we’ve seen significant increase in the use of the knowledgebase, looking at the hit analytics and behind the knowledgebase. We’ve seen an increased use in that system.

[Matthew Evins:] Great. What has been the overall feedback from faculty regarding teaching online since COVID? And specifically, what type of feedback have you gotten from those faculty members who, prior to COVID, have had no experience teaching online?

[Erasmus Addae:] So I would say, overall, the feedback has been positive from faculty. I think one thing that instructional division did that had been helpful was the establishment of the faculty mentorship program where faculty who didn’t feel comfortable sitting through training or working with an instructional designer had the opportunity to work with a faculty mentor in terms of developing their courses and also learning how to use Blackboard. That has been very helpful, and it’s been one of the positive feedbacks that we’ve received from the distance education assistant deans that we work with on a regular basis.

[Matthew Evins:] Great. One of the ongoing discussions around teaching remotely — and this has come up certainly from various surveys that have gone out but also anecdotally from the key teaching ACC Facebook group that started as a result of COVID — but one of the topics is consistently around the idea of testing and proctoring. Can you talk a little bit about where ACC is with supporting online testing and proctoring?

[Erasmus Addae:] Yeah. Sure. So testing and proctoring was one of the challenges we had to deal with during the transition. Prior to the pandemic, the college relied on ACC testing centers and also partner proctoring centers at physical locations around the world. Now, additionally, we also had partnership with an online remote testing vendor called ProctorU. ProctorU, prior to the pandemic, was a student-paid service. And since testing centers and all our testing center partners were closed during the pandemic, the institution had to expand the use of ProctorU with the college picking up the course for proctoring for all students to ensure that financially disadvantaged students were able to test. Now, the institution continues to pay to support online testing through ProctorU. The college has also purchased unlimited license for Respondus Monitor to facilitate and support testing. In addition to that, we also developed a testing process to be able to use our testing centers, ACC testing center personnel, to proctor testing on a limited basis. There are technology challenges and also personnel challenges there, and so we haven’t been able to expand the internally developed proctoring services, as we would have loved to. But we took a look at the numbers recently, and a majority of our faculty members have moved towards the use of Respondus Monitor. In fact, in the summer, the numbers indicate 17,000 tests through Respondus Monitor as against 8,000 tests with ProctorU. And we are also finding that a lot of the faculty members are doing their own proctoring using Zoom, Google Meet, and other web conferencing tools.

[Matthew Evins:] Well, it sounds like some great information for faculty. It also sounds like there could be some uncertainty for faculty around which testing and proctoring solution they want to implement in their course. So when we post this podcast episode on the TLED blog, I’ll make sure to include a link to the comparison between the various testing and proctoring solutions, which is a great resource that TLED and the Office of Distance Education has put together to help faculty make those decisions.

[Erasmus Addae:] Exactly. Absolutely.

[Matthew Evins:] Great. So looking forward, you know, of course the pandemic has been going on for quite some time, but looking forward, we hope and certainly expect that campuses will eventually reopen for the larger ACC community for more on-campus courses. What do you envision being the long-term goals and plans around distance education once that happens? Do you expect it to decrease back in lieu of face-to-face courses? Do you continue to expect it to rise? What are some of your predictions?

[Erasmus Addae:] So in terms of numbers, of course, yes, since the whole institution is now online, we should expect some decrease, but the long-term goal is to continue to grow distance education and enrollment where possible for more online programs. Now, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the numbers, but traditional face-to-face enrollments have been on the decline for a number of years now while, at the same time, distance education enrollments have been on the increase. In fact, between 2015 and 2019, we’ve seen approximately 30% increase in distance education enrollment. And so, continuing to offer distance education option, while at the same time support services would allow us to ride to storm of, overall, an enrollment decline. Most community colleges are seeing decline in face-to-face traditional enrollment, and it’s not different from what we have seen in ACC. So by continuing to offer and expanding services for distance education, we could use distance education as an equalizer to decline in enrollment.

[Matthew Evins:] Excellent. Well, Erasmus, before I let you go, one more question, on topic at least, is, are there any new projects or initiatives around the expansion support of distance education that you want to share with our listeners? I know that your office is constantly working on new things, especially to support the growing distance education numbers. So I want to give you an opportunity to plug anything that your office has going on.

[Erasmus Addae:] Sure. So our department was recently awarded a $2.68 million grant to support improvement in support services for students and faculty in gateway courses. Now, there are three project initiatives involved in the grant. One is to strengthen the embedded tutoring program we started last fall. Now, the purpose of the embedded tutoring program is to embed students in online courses so that we can proactively provide tutoring support to students who are struggling. That purpose is to be proactive in providing tutoring to students, rather than being reactive. Instead of waiting for students to seek us out and ask for the support, we are in the class and we know which students need the support and be able to provide that support to them. Now, secondly, the grant is also to strengthen early intervention and advising for online students in gateway courses. And then thirdly, to strengthen course design and redesign support for faculty teaching gateway courses. Now, the grant provides seed funding to purchase a new tutoring platform. It also provide funding for training and paying for faculty statements as well as hiring additional staff to support all these projects that are going on. We’ll be working on this grant for the next five years, and we hope to see significant improvement in the success of our online students.

[Matthew Evins:] That’s great, especially since it’s focused on gateway courses. Those are definitely an excellent of courses to target for this type of a grant. So congratulations on receiving that grant.

[Erasmus Addae:] Thank you.

[Matthew Evins:] All right. So the last question — and this really is the last question but certainly not on topic. Is there anything giving you Riverbat Pride this week?

[Erasmus Addae:] Well. So as I always say, the Riverbat Pride is all about caring for our students, and I see it all around me every single day. Faculty and staff go the extra mile to provide support to our students to ensure that they are successful. And so for this week, this is what is giving me the Riverbat Pride. And I have a story to tell in connection with this. I received a phone call yesterday from a student, and the student had been mistakenly dropped from his online class for excessive absences. And so I reached out to the department chair. Shoutout to Carolynn Reed from the Math Department. She’s the department chair. As soon as I reached out to her to try and explain the student’s predicament to her, she had already jumped on it and solved the problem for the student to be reinstated in class. So that tells you about the collaboration and the extra mile that faculty and staff go to support our students to make sure they’re successful. That gives me a lot of joy and pride.

[Matthew Evins:] That’s certainly a lot to be prideful for, so I will certainly share in that. And not only caring for our students, but especially in light of this international pandemic, you know, one of the biggest keywords that we’ve been living with since March is “flexibility.” So, you know, caring for our students and having that flexibility to allow for, you know, unforeseen circumstances and, you know, things that certainly come first in terms of our students’ needs, whether it’s housing or, you know, financial assistance or, you know, any of the other predicaments that students find themselves in. Flexibility and caring are certainly some very important things for our faculty and staff to show toward our students. So that’s excellent. Thank you very much, Erasmus.

[Erasmus Addae:] Absolutely.

[Matthew Evins:] Well, Erasmus, I want to thank you for joining me again. The topic was a great conversation. I really hope that faculty find this useful, especially for those that, as we talked a little bit about the testing options and proctoring options and the future of distance education. I think this was a wonderful episode, given this time of year and our hopes and goals of moving past the pandemic and reopening our campuses. So thank you for joining me today.

[Erasmus Addae:] Thank you, Matt.

[Matthew Evins:] Well, that wraps up another episode of Teaching & Learning Champions. Don’t forget that you can read episode transcripts on the TLED blog and find links to any resources we referenced during the show. I also encourage you to subscribe to the ACC district podcasts on any of your preferred podcast apps or listen to individual episodes on the TLED website. You can learn more about the Teaching and Learning Excellence Division and keep up with everything relevant to the faculty experience at ACC by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. Simply text ACCTLED in all caps to 22828 to subscribe. And, of course, you can find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @ ACCTLED. Thank you for tuning in, and we’ll chat next time on TLC @ ACC.


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