An Organizational Model for Instructional Support at a Community College
The Instructional and Information Support Services (IISS) division at North Seattle (Wash.) Community College brings together the college’s Library, Media Services, and Distance Learning (DL) units, and the Teaching and Learning Center to support instruction campus-wide under a dean with a required MLS. With its active instructional focus, the Library is integral to the division. IISS is also the administrative home of Interdisciplinary Studies. This organizational model promotes interaction, collaboration, and innovation among disparate units that have the same overall goal of fostering teaching excellence and student success. A connection to Internet II and a campus gigabit backbone make possible a variety of advanced technological options to enhance instruction.
One of the ways North Seattle (Wash.) Community College strives to achieve its mission of being “a supportive, responsive teaching and learning environment distinguished by its commitment to openness, innovation, and excellence in education” is through a newly structured division. 1 The Instructional and Information Support Services (IISS) division brings together administratively a variety of units with campus-wide instructional support responsibilities. Included are the college’s Library, Media Services, and Distance Learning (DL) units, and the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC), which provides professional development for faculty and staff. 2 The managers of these units and all the librarians report to the IISS dean, who reports to the vice president for instruction.
During the 2002 reorganization of divisions, it was hoped that the campus-wide, subject-neutral focus of IISS would also provide fertile ground for growth of interdisciplinary studies programs at the college, and it became the administrative home of Integrated Studies, U.S. Cultures, and Global Studies programs. This is also a good fit because instructors involved with the Integrated Studies program, a National Learning Communities Project, are very actively engaged with other elements of the division including the library, DL, and TLC. The Integrated Studies program has pioneered the use of online components to enhance or fully deliver team-taught courses. Participating faculty have received accolades from colleagues at other institutions for this forward-looking work (see figure 1).
Figure 1. Instructional and Information Support Services at North Seattle Community College
The paramount objective of fostering student success is deeply rooted in this community college’s culture. The challenges around achieving it are typical for the type of institution it is. Students’ educational needs fluctuate greatly with the economy and the job market. For example, North is experiencing a surge of interest in academic transfer versus professional/technical courses, and is now attracting younger, full-time students wanting to take courses during the day. Instructional support mechanisms must be able to respond quickly to changing needs of the student population. Organization of the division to include campus-wide instructional support elements enhances collaboration and facilitates building and strengthening relationships among disparate units with the same ultimate objective. There are many ways that the organizational model influences relationships and collaboration, but the focus of this article is how it enhances instructional support for integrating technology in the classroom.
Making Use of Special Opportunities
Seattle was the first community college district nationally to be connected to the Pacific Northwest Gigapop regional data transfer center (GIGAPOP Internet II). With its connection to this network, North upgraded the campus to a gigabit backbone. The college has utilized its Internet capability to offer online courses that feature video streaming (video-on-demand) and other multimedia materials developed by telecourse companies or by the college’s own faculty. The Seattle Community College District was given its own television cable channel by the City of Seattle as part of an arrangement with AT&T Broadband. SCCTV broadcasts and video streams telecourses to Seattle-area neighborhoods. 3
The technological infrastructure of the college also includes a download satellite dish, a live-interactive video-teleconferencing system (ITV) linked to off-campus sites through the statewide K–20 Educational Tele communications Network System, and several Polycom Stations for videoconferencing from almost any on-campus location. More details can be found in the Media Services section of this article.
The Library, Technology, and Instruction
Libraries in higher education are struggling to achieve or maintain a position of importance within the institution. In College and Research Libraries News, Hisle lists the top issues facing academic libraries as identified by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Focus on the Future Task Force. One of the issues making the top ten was “The role of the library in the academic enterprise,” which recognizes the need to maintain the academic library as central to the purpose of the institution. Hisle notes that librarians feel they must “emphasize information literacy instruction and the importance of the teaching role of librarians,” and show “that the library remains central to academic effort.” 4
At North, several dean positions were left open for more than a year while the college reorganized its administrative structure. Given that instruction is the main focus of the college, it is important for the library that after the downsizing of administration occurred, it maintained a dean position (with an MLS requirement) reporting to the vice president for instruction. The division, which had previously included TLC as well as library and media services, was also expanded to include a growing DL program and a curricular area required for the associate of arts degree offered by North. Other options were considered, including placing the library under a noninstructional unit such as information technology (IT).
Librarians at North have faculty status and are on academic calendar appointments. They benefit from a strong faculty union and an institutional culture of shared governance. They are active participants in policy and decision making for both the library and media center, as well as in college governance through individual committee work. Although not directly involved with the management of DL or TLC, they benefit from the close ties and communication practices within the IISS division. Consultation, collaboration, and information sharing are the norms.
There are a variety of services to meet changing user needs. The library has the usual online public access catalog and an array of electronic databases and e-books available to patrons. North continues to move to online and electronic resources to enhance off-campus access, meeting the need for resource access any place and any time. Instruction is a major responsibility and is illustrated by several significant initiatives. A two-credit course taught partially online, Research in the Electronic Environment, is offered several times a year. In 2003 it is also an optional course, customized as needed, for students enrolled in Integrated Studies. This is one of the collaborations coming out of new relationships forged by the organizational change. An additional five-credit course, Research for the Twenty-first Century, is taught quarterly through a statewide DL consortium, Washington Online, by a librarian from one of the three Seattle Community College campuses.
Librarians also offer information literacy instruction to classes and collaborate with instructors to assist students with the research process. North’s librarians work with academic division faculty to introduce to their classes appropriate electronic research and resources. Two library classrooms, including one that is computer-based, are scheduled at the discretion of the librarians. Another recent collaboration born of reorganization opens these classrooms to use by the DL program for optional on-campus student orientation and for proctored midterm and final exams. Classroom space is currently at a premium at North so these new arrangements are especially welcome. The librarians also schedule, through TLC, special workshops for faculty on topics such as e-books.
Media Center Services
It is common to see media services staff all over campus since they not only maintain the numerous permanently-installed data projector systems in classrooms, but also are called upon for all sound and video set-ups campus-wide.
In addition to these “bread and butter” services, the media center maintains a collection of video and audio tapes, CDs and DVDs, and provides listening and viewing spaces. They house and manage a state-legislature-created ITV system that was installed in K–20 institutions in the early 1990s. The classroom set-up allows for a certain amount of local control during presentations and plenty of interactivity between the connected sites. Satellite downlink programs are also managed by Media Services and are typically held in this classroom, although they may be redirected to other meeting rooms on campus.
ITV technology has allowed North to share several live courses with its sister colleges, Seattle Central Community College and South Seattle Community College. In this way, offering classes with lower enrollments at any one particular campus can become cost-effective.
New in the fall of 2002 was the addition of Polycom, an IP-based video conferencing system. North received an EDA grant from the Department of Commerce to purchase the system and provide a different model of instruction. Because it is IP-based, this equipment may be deployed anywhere on campus that has a network connection. One of its potential uses is providing instruction for chemically sensitive individuals in a manner that gives them the feel of being part of the classroom. The system is currently being used for course delivery to a specialized off-campus program, and Polycom units are now available to provide great flexibility in streaming of live classroom instruction from science laboratories and any other campus location. There are also potential administrative uses for both Polycom and ITV.
Teaching and Learning Center
TLC at North began with funding from a Title III Grant in 1993. A group of faculty and members of the Professional Development Committee identified a cross-disciplinary need for an instructional development resource center on campus, including technical assistance, access to specialized equipment and software, and a dedicated, continuously available workspace. The concept was popular, and willing volunteers manned the space until hard funding was secured. Currently TLC is staffed by a full-time assistant manager/instructional technologist and several part-time assistants. TLC staff serves approximately 105 full-time and 230 part-time faculty.
In accordance with the college’s Strategic Plan, TLC works to foster student success by facilitating the instructional development process for faculty and providing training for staff. Whether faculty are developing content for the classroom, collaborating with colleagues in their own or across disciplines, investigating innovative pedagogical techniques, or seeking to improve their professional skills, TLC helps them accomplish their goals. TLC also shoulders the task of bringing a highly diverse campus community up to speed on new hardware and software systems.
Workshops in TLC
Each quarter, TLC offers a slate of forty to fifty noncredit, one- to two-hour, professional development workshops on a variety of topics. 5 Faculty and staff are encouraged to present workshops in their fields of expertise and suggest topics for useful future workshops. Emphasis is frequently on instructional innovation, pedagogy, diversity training, and exploration of technology in teaching. Instructors have opportunities to present to colleagues in their own field, and opportunities to network and collaborate across disciplines. When faculty from different divisions meet in TLC, ideas for innovative new courses and new methods of teaching traditional content often result.
Part-time Faculty and TLC
TLC expands opportunities for part-time faculty to network among colleagues, offers equipment and technical support they would not otherwise have access to, and provides comprehensive quarterly orientations especially geared to part-timers’ needs. Campus resources, benefits, responsibilities, and general information are provided to aid part-timers in meeting the challenges of teaching in a higher education environment.
In addition to a twelve-seat computer classroom with projection system for workshops and training, TLC has state-of-the-art Windows- and Macintosh-based workstations for individual use. Resources include CD-ROM burners, color and black-and-white printers, and several image and slide scanners. Each computer has standard Microsoft workstation and desktop and Web publishing software in addition to recent versions of such multimedia workhorses as Adobe Photoshop and PageMaker, Macromedia Flash and Dreamweaver, and various other image manipulation and presentation software packages. These resources are of particular interest to part-time faculty, who must often share office space and may not have access to such specialized software at home, and to staff whose office computers are not outfitted with specialty software or hardware.
There are several digital cameras and laptop computers configured with network interface cards for short-term checkout to faculty and staff. A conference room is available for groups of twelve to fifteen people and a small collection of assessment-related materials available for deans and faculty preparing for program review and accreditation. Assistance is available for individual faculty and staff creating projects. A staff member is available to troubleshoot and answer questions about technology problems.
Multimedia in TLC
In 1998, assistance with multimedia projects was added at faculty request. More and more faculty make use of this resource every year. The increasing popularity of online courses, as evidenced by the ever-growing numbers of students registering for these courses at North, is boosting faculty interest in multimedia enhancements to content delivery, whether or not they have used it before and whether or not they intend to actually teach online.
Video and audio production and editing, 2-D animation, graphic imaging, and Web design and development are no longer assumed to be far beyond the average faculty member’s capability. The available range of options stretches from fully online deployment of content, to Web-enhancement of an on-campus course, to making the switch from overhead transparencies to PowerPoint in the classroom. For the first time, many instructors are exploring the possibility of enhancing already content-rich courses with some form of rich media or online enhancement. Both training and production assistance are provided by TLC staff.
Creating Rich Media in TLC
Although faculty interest in multimedia and Web-based instruction is rising, challenges remain to the wholesale adoption of these techniques as baseline instructional standards. Some software is highly technical with a steep learning curve, and instructors do not have a lot of time for lengthy production techniques. The instructional technologist in the TLC facilitates the process of production for faculty, enabling them to comfortably attempt and successfully produce their own projects in a timely fashion. Cut-to-the-chase software instruction, streamlined production procedures, and creative integration of multimedia production with content development address the major barriers to inclusion of multimedia materials in course content. Software instruction focuses exclusively on what is needed to accomplish the task at hand; lengthy production tasks can be scheduled to run overnight or repetitious tasks automated for quick execution; content for the course can be visualized and developed with multimedia materials in mind from the beginning, rather than “gilding” multimedia onto content later.
A successful example of an instructional project that smoothly integrated TLC resources from start to finish is a recent content acquisition expedition to Hawaii by a geology instructor. A digital video camera and a high-end laptop were borrowed from TLC, the instructor was able to film the volcanic features, preliminarily edit footage on location, post images to a class Web site, and communicate asynchronously with students in his online class about these observations and potential follow-up field activities. Upon return, he captured the footage using TLC video editing and encoding capability, and posted it to his course Web site for use in future classes.
A Summer Institute on Online Learning
An example of one of the innovative instructional support services that originated in TLC is the Summer Institute. North hosts an intensive week-long training session each summer to support faculty toward completing DL projects that involve use of new online technologies and proven pedagogical approaches. DL and TLC staff collaborate with several faculty leaders throughout the district to plan and implement the institute.
The Summer Institute brings together about two dozen faculty from three community colleges in the Seattle district for an assemblage of thirty workshops and roundtable discussions on course design and delivery, presentations on many courseware tools, and many hours of open computer lab, during which faculty mentors work individually with other participating faculty to complete their specific online learning projects. Mixing experienced and new online faculty catalyzes ideas and accelerates skill building for all participants, not just those officially doing projects. A Web site created specifically for the institute incorporates daily participant contributions to a list of distance learning resources. 6
Workshops are offered at different skill levels. Participants select from different development tracks and attend concurrent sessions. Each chooses a project to complete during the institute. Projects may include developing a new online class, integrating a Web site into an on-campus class, or using new multimedia technologies with existing online materials. At the conclusion of the institute, all participants share their accomplishments in presentations to the group and invited guests. Personal self-assessments of accomplishments and barriers are also shared through online surveys.
Each year’s institute sets the stage for a greater integration of DL and professional development efforts across the colleges. This collaborative effort has fostered grassroots activities that will lead to a stronger, more unified DL program within the Seattle Community Colleges.
A Model for Multiple Technologies in College Classrooms
North Seattle Community College’s DL program is another integral component of the instructional support facilitated by IISS. The DL program is multidimensional, forged by the convergence of several forces: new national educational directions; special needs of faculty and students in community college settings; and diverse teaching and learning options facilitated by rapidly evolving technologies.
Distance Learning Infused within the College Culture
As of fall 2002, the college has developed nearly one hundred different DL courses and offers a subset of thirty-five DL sections each quarter. 7 More than fifty different faculty teach DL classes at the college, with full-time and part-time instructors represented equally. Annual DL enrollments have experienced robust growth rates, averaging 25 percent per year over the past five years. The breadth of its online course offerings enables the college to offer an AA degree fully online. In addition, the completion rate for online courses taught at North over the past three years is 82 percent, consistently surpassing the average completion rates for online courses at other community colleges throughout the state.
North’s DL courses go through the same rigorous development and review processes as their on-campus counterparts. Few faculty teach only distance-based courses. While divisions and faculty provide leadership on DL options for students, they work collaboratively with the DL staff team, which includes a director and two assistants. An apt analogy would recognize faculty as the pedagogical “movers” of DL fundamentals while DL staff team members represent the technological “shakers” in the picture. A collaborative spirit and unity of purpose are natural products of an instructional support system in which all stakeholders have a voice in decisions and all participate in design and delivery.
Other key instructional support components are:
- the philosophy that “one size does not fit all” for either faculty or students, such that the unique needs of each discipline are recognized and supported through the availability of a range of teaching and learning options;
- a trial-and-error spirit that encourages exploration of new technologies;
- a training program involving partnerships between the faculty and DL staff team; and
- two-way support between faculty and staff throughout the entire gamut of activities from initial training to curriculum design to course delivery to student support and finally maintaining and revising DL materials.
To further harmonize this medley of educational compositions, the college has established a formal, inclusive group of faculty, student, and administrative personnel to advise on pedagogical and logistical issues in DL.
A Distance Learning Toolbox: One College, Many Choices
Faculty and the DL staff team have instituted a variety of technology options for developing and delivering online courses. For the student, the look and feel of an online class may vary from instructor to instructor. Key instructional elements within most of North’s online classes are familiar to the student, however, despite differing technologies, because instructors generally learn how to develop their distance courses from each other and thus share very similar approaches.
Although many online courses are unique, the DL staff team has adhered to the philosophy that what works best for the instructor usually works best for students. Their goal is thus to create a flexible culture where use of technology is scalable to fit into the pedagogical needs of each discipline as well as to merge with each instructor’s style and level of technical expertise. High-end asynchronous discussion tools are central to online humanities courses, for example, while online science classes require sophisticated Web-based testing and grading technologies. A range of technological options is even built within some classes, such that students with broadband connectivity to the Internet (about 40 percent of online students) can use the video-streaming capabilities of the college’s Gigapop system. Students without broadband can take the course online and view the video portions via cassettes.
The DL team works to provide a DL toolbox comprehensive enough to give faculty the ability to create effective online delivery and evaluation methodologies that will lead to the achievement of the same outcomes as for on-campus course counterparts. Standard DL assessment tools include problem sets, journals, discussion room participation, projects, and proctored written exams.
Popular DL software such as FirstClass, WebCT, FrontPage, Dreamweaver, and Blackboard are all supported. These design and course management systems produce effective, user-friendly, and richly featured online curricula as reported by both faculty designers and student users. The features associated with some of these products are highlighted below. 8
FirstClass is a unique online communication tool. Although it provides little structure for course content and minimal course management capability, it allows for complex discussion-based and peer-evaluation group work online. It has earned accolades in the corporate world for its power to catalyze collaborative business atmospheres. These qualities are essential for the teaching/learning style of communication in online Integrated Studies courses, for instance, that emphasize small group seminars and group writing projects.
The learning experience of the student is enhanced by the greater ease and depth of communication that FirstClass offers through its entirely different super-enhanced messaging system. Message fonts are customizable, incorporation of graphics is effortless, and insertion of comments within other messages is intuitive.
For many of these same reasons, FirstClass works as well for handling group writing assignments as it does for basic online communication. Groups are easy to form and monitor. Students and faculty can work easily together and receive instant feedback without the need for additional submission forms. Documents can also be shared by large groups or one-to-one without difficulty. Students can see the comments as they exist within the work rather than in a submission form removed from the paper. Rewrites can be easily included so that progress is clear for both the student and the instructor.
The WebCT courseware offers powerful management and instructional tools for both online and on-campus courses. North has an annual license for unlimited use, making this software quickly and broadly accessible to all faculty to experiment with or fully incorporate into any online or on-campus classroom designs. Because no additional costs to the college are incurred, valuable flexibility is provided in how and when WebCT is applied, and it is thus positioned as the bread and butter courseware for the campus.
WebCT’s communication tools include asynchronous discussion boards, live chat rooms, and an internal e-mail system. The discussion boards easily handle busy exchanges of messages, long threads of conversation, and document attachments. Students and faculty can personalize their own discussion room features, compile and download messages, separate “read” from “unread” postings, and conduct searches on names or topics. The e-mail system eliminates the need for faculty to keep track of outside e-mail accounts. The WebCT system also automates many aspects of student tracking, assignment submission, grading, and testing including self-evaluation modules and anonymous surveys.
Each student’s individual history of page use is recorded and can be monitored. WebCT also provides a portal through which students may easily access any of their other WebCT classroom accounts, immediately check on updated e-mail and discussion room postings, and receive important college announcements.
The courseware does not include a content development tool. Web pages must be designed elsewhere, and some faculty might feel the need for a rudimentary knowledge of HTML coding to fine-tune some features. In general at North, Web pages are designed in FrontPage or Dreamweaver and either uploaded into or hyperlinked to the WebCT courseware shell.
FrontPage and Dreamweaver
These software programs are the faculty’s primary tools for designing Web pages. FrontPage is a content-rich online design and course management tool that carries the advantage of a short learning curve. Taught each quarter in TLC, FrontPage has proven to be a quick and comfortable way to introduce new faculty to the pedagogy and technology of online learning. Dreamweaver is another easy-to-learn Web site development software preferred by more experienced online faculty for its clean HTML code production, its receptiveness to design changes that follow course evolution, and its compatibility with popular, high-end multimedia applications such as Flash.
The college has a server specifically designed to allow fully interactive online classes to be implemented and delivered using FrontPage and Dreamweaver. With the campus-licensed FrontPage software loaded on work and home computers, faculty can easily manipulate their Web pages. Several course templates are available to help new instructors get off the ground. North’s IT and DL staff provide nearly constant technical support to instructors.
This online courseware is also used by some faculty. It is hosted at a statewide consortium of community colleges called Washington Online, which provides constant technical support at reasonable per-student rates.
Ways to Communicate, Collaborate, and Create
The DL staff team provides a comprehensive training program in collaboration with TLC. A quarterly series of workshops guides faculty through the technical aspects of online course development as well as the use of online and multimedia components in on-site classes. These and other DL-oriented workshops also cover pedagogical principles, best practices, design practicalities, course development and approval processes, and copyright issues. After the workshops, the DL staff team works individually with all instructors to complete online course development, assists with the steps in the curriculum approval process, and expedites the delivery of these online classes.
Teaching workshops to clusters of full-time and part-time faculty together allows ideas to be shared and cross-pollinated. Strong participation by full-time faculty promotes continuity in the program. Successful online course designs are carried forward and elaborated. Pedagogical insights are shared from one workshop to the next, year to year.
Each year, two faculty members serve as on-call mentors, with a commitment of three hours per week, for faculty who are developing or delivering online classes. At North, the faculty mentors have enthusiastically adapted their roles to include workshop presentations on different courseware products, co-development of online Integrated Studies courses, and technical and logistical support of faculty at all hours. As a result, many more instructors have taken their first steps to learn new technologies.
Stipends further create incentive for development of new online courses. An approach has been to team experienced and novice DL faculty members in developing new online courses. Knowledge and responsibility is thus shared between these faculty members through the first term’s implementation of the course. A support system is also being devised in which experienced faculty train new instructors in the practicalities of teaching already existing online courses.
DL staff carefully monitor educational effectiveness of distance learning courses in order to respond to student needs. Through an online survey form which students may submit anonymously at the end of each quarter, students are requested to describe their challenges and successes with the technical features, design elements, and logistical support tied to DL. Student comments have been enlightening and have greatly influenced the operation of the DL program. Close collaboration between staff and faculty keep this feedback loop working. Positive survey responses, increasing enrollment, high retention rates, and strong faculty involvement point to a successful DL model at North Seattle Community College.
The DL team provides especially intensive support for new and experienced distance learners during the weeks leading up to and immediately following the start of each academic term. The secret of success is to help students with different learning styles to overcome any and all logistical, pedagogical, and technical uncertainties and anxieties that might impede those important first strides in the virtual classroom.
Looking toward the future, North is moving away from categories such as “online,” “video-based,” and “traditional” learning modalities toward a continuous spectrum of learning methodologies. In addition, student support services for distance learners continue to expand. Online users are able to receive complete information on course prerequisites, entrance testing, academic advising, degree audits, personal counseling, and financial aid. They can also receive information on textbook purchasing, transfer procedures, and options for contacting teachers. Online technologies move North toward a more efficient and paperless environment both inside and outside of the classroom.
North Seattle Community College’s newly structured organizational model for instructional support brings together disparate units that share the common purpose of supporting teaching and learning campus-wide. The library, as one of the central elements, is thus well-positioned within the larger institution that highly values instruction. Specialized information literacy instruction is commonly sought by faculty from their librarian liaisons, and several for-credit library classes may be selected by students. In addition to traditional academic liaison roles, librarians create and maintain the library and media services Web sites, are actively engaged with new service development (for example, e-reserves), and participate in both college and district governance issues.
The campus technological infrastructure is robust, making possible the support of a wide variety of options for offering instruction both on campus and online. An unusual number of technology options are available to faculty for course design and delivery in keeping with the tenet that one size does not fit all, and experimentation is encouraged. To further facilitate incorporating technology in instruction, many professional development opportunities are available and collaboration and mentoring are supported. The environment is characterized by flexibility, collaboration, and relationship-building across units, with staff and faculty actively working together to foster student success.
References and Notes
1. North Seattle Community College home page. Accessed Feb. 25, 2003, www.northseattle.edu.
2. IISS division home page. Accessed Feb. 25, 2003, www.northseattle.edu/programs/iiss.
3. SSCTV home page. Accessed Feb. 25, 2003, www.scctv.net. Programs broadcast on cable channel SCCTV are also streamed over the Internet.
5. TLC Workshops Web page. Accessed Feb. 25, 2003, http://northonline.sccd.ctc.edu/tlc/workshops.htm.
6. Summer Institute 2002 home page. Accessed Feb. 25, 2003, http://northonline.sccd.ctc.edu/SI2002. Last year’s institute.
7. North’s Virtual College Web site. Accessed Feb. 25, 2003, www.virtualcollege.org.
8. Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications and the Centre for Curriculum, Transfer & Technology, EduTools. Accessed Feb. 25, 2003, www.edutools.info/course/compare/ byproduct/index.jsp. A one-on-one comparison of over thirty different courseware systems.
Jacqueline Mundell (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Dean of Instructional and Information Support Services, Coryl Celene-Martel (email@example.com) is Assistant Manager/Instructional Technologist of the Teaching and Learning Center, and Tom Braziunas (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Director of Distance Learning at North Seattle (Wash.) Community College.