MCNY DL Case-Study: Paradigm-Shift in Business Program s Approach to Serving Predominantly Black Minority Students

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1 MCNY DL Case-Study: Paradigm-Shift in Business Program s Approach to Serving Predominantly Black Minority Students Jaya Kannan Associate Professor and Director, Learning Centre Metropolitan College of New York Tilokie Depoo Professor & Director Business Programs Metropolitan College of New York Background: Historically Black Colleges: According to the 2010 Sloan Consortium report, although one-third of the country s 4500 universities offer online degree programs, only about 10 percent of the nation s Historically Black colleges (HBC) do. Even among black colleges, compared with two-thirds of the public institutions that are offering distance programs, only 10% of the private colleges do so (2007 report released by the Digital Learning Lab of Howard University). This gap between private and public black colleges is said to be attributable to institutional mission. (Kolowich, 2007). In this context, given the national drive to expand distance learning programs and on-line courses to minority serving institutions, we are keen to explore the challenges facing Metropolitan College of New York (MCNY), a mission-driven private college providing a unique experientially-based education model to a minority student population that is predominantly black. Aim and Scope: In analyzing MCNY s DL implementation in 2010, we investigate the relevance of the institutional commitment as a primary factor. This case-study presents the challenges of implementing fully online courses targeting underprepared minority students (predominantly black) enrolled in a business degree. Tackling issues of administrative skepticism, structural weakness, student expectations and technology support, we provide evidence that contrary to institutional belief, underprepared minority students can achieve a high degree of comfort level and satisfaction and perform academically well in online courses. Student Profile At MCNY and the Business Program The profile of students in the business undergraduate and graduate programs mirrors those of the college at large. At the undergraduate level, MCNY students are typically adult, minority, predominately female students who are also working. Ninety-six percent of full-time, first-time undergraduates receive financial aid. The minority ethnicities at the undergraduate level are broken down into 72% Black, 21% Hispanic, 3.4% White and 3.6% Non Resident Alien (international) students. While our male undergraduate students average 32.8 years of age, our females average at 32.5 years. Program Planning for the Purpose-Centered Education Context Until 2010, the DL efforts in the college have focused on hybrid-courses with minor exceptions and no courses had been offered completely on-line at a programmatic level. This was for fear of being held back by a) the limited infrastructural support, b) faculty s perceptions that these students were not technologically and/or academically skilled to handle fully online courses and c) the anecdotal evidence from the classroom that student attitudes toward learning in a fully online environment was far from favorable. Copyright 2011 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 1

2 However, the findings from the college-wide 2009 technology survey report proved to be an eye-opener. Approximately 47% of students surveyed indicated a strong desire to take an online course. Unlike earlier perceptions, the qualitative data from this student survey was also overwhelmingly in support of course delivery in the on-line environment. In addition to the encouraging shifts in the institutional strategic planning initiatives and programmatic imperatives warranting online course, the voice of the students contributed as a strong motivational element. This provided the right impetus for the Business program s leadership to boldly envision a curriculum that was to be delivered approximately 28% on-line. As an added incentive, the faculty of the Business Programs immediately endorsed the desire by the college to introduce online courses. They saw online courses as an opportunity to expand the Constructive Action philosophy beyond the walls of the campus and to increase instructional and professional feedback to students while encouraging greater student interactions. To place the significance of strengthening MCNY s purpose-centered education model using online teaching and learning in context, here is a brief description of the curriculum: In an effort to resolve the pedagogical dichotomy between applied knowledge and the classical acquisition of theoretical knowledge, this proposed degree program is carefully designed to integrate theory and practice into a cohesive and comprehensive whole. Every semester, a student engages in a self-designed Constructive Action a real world managerial activity driven by a beneficial goal or purpose. Students learn to look at their Purpose from different perspectives (systems, self& others, values and skills) called Dimensions which, when taken together, provide students with a holistic way of looking at organizational situations and designing solutions to problems and challenges. Essentially, the Constructive Action is empirical evidence that students learned specific theoretical concepts, are able to engage in a practical application of theory to problem solving and can demonstrate a critical analysis of why the theories in practice supported a certain hypothesis. The Constructive Action in an online environment provides an added advantage to students as well as business partners. In an online course setting, CA allows for meaningful commitment and comments from instructors and cooperation between mentors and students. It offers greater flexibility to working students who have family commitments and are juggling several courses and greater accessibility to mentors and potential for strengthening student learning via the asynchronous mode. Other compelling reasons to offer online courses were to: implement the college s strategic plan of developing a comprehensive distance learning strategy that combined academic, administrative, technological and marketing aspects of purposecentered-education use this as a vehicle to more efficiently meet the institution s vision of promoting social justice develop students technology skills more implicitly by anchoring it within the unique curricular design that marries theory and practice. consolidate courses to increase the average class size and potentially increase program enrollment while not requiring additional physical space. Challenges and Goals at the Institutional Level For an institution that was foraying into pure on-line courses at a program level for the first time, there were quite a few challenges facing the Business Faculty at MCNY. These challenges helped in formulating these goals: (1) create a strategy to secure buy-in from administrators and non-business faculty on the merit of offering fully online courses, (2) build the overall process to build and offer courses online, and (3) develop the mechanism for assessment and continuous improvement in these very early stages. Copyright 2011 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 2

3 In order to have successful online course offerings, the Business Faculty identified four levels of essential support. These included academic support focusing on standards and assessment managed by the faculty, technical support focusing on training of LMS for students and faculty, student academic support, and institutional support from key administrative offices such as student services. Brief Summary of Business School Program Implementation In the light of the challenges facing the faculty, the Business Program s approach to the development and launching of fully on-line courses can be characterized as a collaborative effort between faculty, technology staff and administrators at the college. A committee of full-time and adjunct faculty as well as staff from the college volunteered to serve on the implementation committee. The committee was charged with the following: (a) identify the courses that would be best suited for online course offering; (b) identify standards as baseline guidelines for course development; (c) identify faculty with existing on-line teaching experience to teach first offering of courses; (d) identify assessment measures to be used for continuous improvement; (e) monitor student success and progress within the online environment, and (f) assist in the further development of on-line courses to ensure that students can continue with taking online courses throughout the curriculum. The committee convened in summer 2009 and is still a standing and active committee within the Business Programs. All of the faculty members teaching online in the initial semester of course offering had experience developing and/or teaching courses on-line. Despite their prior experience, training was provided on the LMS, pedagogy and assessment for all who taught in the first semester of offering. Initially, in fall 2009, a total of 13 undergraduate (out of 45) and 4 (out of 62) graduate courses were selected for development offering in the following semester. Initially, it was planned that 2 courses should be offered per semester for both the undergraduate and graduate programs. This represented a total of 29 % all undergraduate courses and 4% of total graduate courses. Thereafter, 3 additional undergraduate and 3 additional graduate courses were developed for the next two semesters, Spring and Summer, totaling 19 courses in the undergraduate and 9 graduate courses for the calendar year Cumulatively, over the three terms (Spring, Summer and Fall 2010) 13 undergraduate and 7 graduate courses were delivered fully online. Courses that did not meet enrolment minimums had to be cancelled for the online platform. On average, there were 217 non-unique registrations in the courses. When combining all the three terms in 2010, enrollment in the online courses grew at an average of 56% with the bulk of the growth coming from the initial semester of offering to the following, summer semester. The number of students enrolled in online courses also grew by an average of 63% to 205 undergraduate and graduate students. Students who enrolled and then dropped courses average 23%. Notably, there were no withdrawals from the initial semester of offering to the second semester, summer Method and Emerging Results In collaboration with MCNY s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, the Faculty of the Business school designed a Feedback Survey administered to every student in every online course in all of the 3 terms in The goal of this ongoing study was to evaluate on a continuing basis, students receptiveness of this new mode of delivery and to identify areas for improvement. This assessment was in addition to the college s ongoing Semester Course Evaluation Program. The assessment comprised of an eight question survey made available to all students enrolled in online courses. The survey was administered by the college s third-party vendor, Survey Systems. Two of the questions also allowed students to provide written comments about their experience in the online course. Copyright 2011 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 3

4 Initial results show that on average, students who were enrolled in fully online courses passed at higher rate when compared to all business students enrolled in all courses for the same period. Specifically, undergraduate students enrolled in online courses had passing rate of 96% as compared to 79% for onsite students. Graduate students had a one percent better passing rate at 93% than students enrolled in onsite courses. Results presented in this analysis are only for the Spring 2010 and Summer 2010 semester as the data for the Fall 2011 semester is being analyzed at the time of this writing. The response rate for the Spring and Summer semesters are 17% and 20% respectively. These results capture data related to three main areas: 1. Student satisfaction: Did the course meet their expectations of a DL course 2. Comparison of student experience between online learning and face-to-face learning 3. Retention rate: did completion of DL course in term 1 lead to registration for term 2? The student response was overwhelmingly positive in all the above-mentioned areas. When it came to student satisfaction, the evidence from the self-reports showed that, online courses met and/or exceeded students expectations by 85% for both semesters. This included self-reports of 35% favoring somewhat above expectations and 23% favoring well above expectations. An analysis of students response to the question how did this DL course compare with courses taken in the traditional settings revealed that 46% of the students thought their experience of distance learning was better than traditional settings. Given the novice stature of a program offering online courses as part of the business curriculum for the first time, students' registration in the online courses increased by 195% in the subsequent second semester of offering. Additionally, more than 50% of the written comments support the idea of increased offering of online courses. While analyzing persistent rates in distance education programs, Rovai (2003) distinguishes between Tinto s notion of input and integration variables. While students characteristics and prior experience that determine the input are not normally altered by institutions, the integration variable determined by action taken by the college (in terms of policies and practices) after the student s entry into the college has a greater impact on the student s experience and perception. MCNY s efforts toward integration, starting from orientation to academic support via office hours and the strength of the student cohort model may have played a significant role in achieving this high persistent rate. Conclusions Many of these student subjects took the DL courses for the first time and indicated that they would continue to do so if courses were available. Their positive response contradicts the college s perception of our students attitude to online learning and corroborates with the U.S Doe (fall 2010) report that students experience of online learning is marginally better than regular class. Given the history of the college s hesitancy to forge ahead with pure online courses, the characteristics of the student population, and its alignment with national trends, findings about the high level of student satisfaction at the initial stages of the business school's program implementation comes as a surprise. Drennan, Kennedy, and Pisarski (2005) suggested that student satisfaction is influenced by positive perceptions toward technology and an autonomous learning mode. That the students thought their Copyright 2011 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 4

5 experience of online learning almost matched the strengths of the classroom goads us into wanting to explore this connection between perception, learning methods and performance further. This very encouraging evidence in a short period of two terms is the result of a paradigm-shift approach in the Business School s strategic planning. Instead of being held-back by the dominant belief system that online learning may not be the most suitable platform for minority students facing the challenges of limited accessibility, lack of academic preparedness etc, it took these variables as wonderful opportunities for re-defining the Business curriculum. It met the problem head-on by developing a robust system built on quality course delivery and well-rounded support (technology, academic and administrative). This radical approach has persuaded more than 90% of the students to benefit from the advantages of online learning and change their attitudes to asynchronous online learning and complete the course. As a next step, we are keen to identify the complex variables that contributed to this high satisfaction rate and study its correlation with evidence of student learning. References Drennan, J., Kennedy, J., & Pisarski. A. (2005). Factors affecting student attitudes toward flexible online learning in management education. The Journal of Educational Research, 98(6), Kolowich, S.(2007). Modest gains for black colleges online. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from Rovai, A. P. (2003). In search of higher persistence rates in distance education online programs. The Internet and Higher Education 6, 1 16 Sloan-C. (2010). Class differences: Online education in the United States, 2010.Retrieved from About the Presenters Dr. Tilokie Depoo is Professor and Director of Business Programs at Metropolitan College of New York. His teaching experience includes both on-line and on-site courses and has pioneered numerous innovative career focused programs for students. He has managed fully on-line degree programs and has served as instructional designer for several graduate level on-line courses. He has over twenty five years of corporate business experience with a diversified professional background in both international and domestic businesses. In the last few years, his focus has been to develop curriculum that aligns with real world practices to better prepare students for successful careers. He has Ph.D. in Global Leadership and Strategic Management from Lynn University. Address: 431 Canal Street New York, NY Dr. Jaya Kannan is an Associate Professor and the Director of the Learning Enhancement Centre at Metropolitan College of New York. Her expertise in the field of online learning combines the interconnected areas of teaching, course development, administrative planning and research. Her international academic experience has included teaching and research in India, Singapore and USA. Current research agenda involves studying learner autonomy and assessment of the learning process in the online environment. She has a PhD in Computer Assisted Language Learning from Anna University, India. Address: 431 Canal Street New York, NY Copyright 2011 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 5

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