Case Study for Successful On-time, On-budget, With-quality Distance Learning. Kevin Currie Executive Director Northeastern University Online

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1 Case Study for Successful On-time, On-budget, With-quality Distance Learning Kevin Currie Executive Director Northeastern University Online Charles Kilfoye Director of Instructional Technology Northeastern University Online Successful online programs in higher education are driven by two primary factors: the growing demand for online learning and an institutional strategy that helps facilitate this growth (Maloney, Burks, 2010). But how does an institution of higher learning create a fast-paced, competitive distance education program within an established, traditional environment? Northeastern University Online (NU Online) provides an example of how to build a vibrant, growing distance education program while maintaining excellent quality and high faculty/student satisfaction. Growing from fewer than 500 to more than 14,000 annual course enrollments in just six years, NU Online uses a formula that combines institutional leadership, program development, access and availability, faculty recruitment and development, comprehensive review and oversight, and an emergent technology architecture to create an institutionally focused approach to distance learning that ensures a quality learning experience, improves faculty and student satisfaction, and increases new enrollments. Business Issue Online education is one of the fastest growing segments of higher education with one out of every 10 fulltime college students in the United States earning their degree online; online learners make up 20 percent of all students enrolled in part-time programs online (Eduventures, 2008). Eduventures predicts better than 11 percent annual growth for online education between the years 2008 and By 2014 they estimate that online headcount at degree granting schools will hit 35-40%. The Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks reports global market for online higher education will exceed $69 billion by But while distance learning continues to emerge as a dominant model of delivery in post-secondary education, many schools struggle to keep pace with this growth and demand. To meet this need in online learning potential, NU Online developed a scalable and cost-effective online learning strategy that is focused on enrollment growth through providing high quality, market driven online programs. This is a sustainable model in which student/faculty satisfaction is paramount. In this model costs are controlled and return on investment is ensured through the use of custom developed methodologies and best practices for designing, deploying, and delivering world-class online learning for the higher education market. This is a model other higher education institutions can apply to their online programs. Brief History Northeastern University was founded in 1898 and has been a leader in distance education since 1974 when it began broadcasting courses to remote campuses via ITFS microwave signals. In 1984 the university began provided engineering degrees by satellite transmission and was also a member of the NTU consortium. In 2004 these courses were transitioned to streaming video technology. As an early adopter of Internet based instruction, Northeastern began providing online courses in The first degrees were offered in 2003, and the online unit name was formally changed to Northeastern University Online (NU Online) in NU Online now supports and services more than 70 undergraduate and graduate degree programs and professional development certificates representing seven of the colleges at Copyright 2010 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 1

2 Northeastern University. These courses are offered in formats that range from the traditional semester to six-week intensives. Goals and Objectives Some of the goals for Northeastern University Online include: creating quality online courses and programs; providing access for potential and current students; exploring new online technologies and trends; implementing new online classroom technologies and services; upgrading existing technologies; constantly improving the student and faculty online experience; and increasing tuition revenues. Due to NU Online s demonstrated effectiveness in delivering a high-quality educational experience, various colleges, schools, and departments within the university as well as other institutions of higher learning have partnered with us for consulting, training, hosting, and joint offering of courses and programs. Institutional Leadership and Support One of the most important success factors for creating a viable online unit is finding at least one champion within senior management who can generate institutional support and find the necessary funding. NU Online was fortunate in that the then new dean of Northeastern University s continuing education unit saw distance learning as an important element to both his and the university s future success. But a champion alone will not suffice. In order for the effort to succeed, it must also have broad based institutional support. This was achieved at NU Online through making sure that it addressed some of the core missions of Northeastern (access) and that it had a good financial model that would return surplus tuition dollars to the university. Program Development In the highly competitive online learning market, having the right programs is critical. With the cost of advertising programs rising every day and competitors like the University of Phoenix willing to spend nearly a billion dollars a year on advertising, an institution must choose correctly which programs to market. NU Online made this decision based on a number of data points. As a member of Eduventures, NU Online had access to many industry reports that include which popular degrees are in demand and which degree need was not being met. We also conducted surveys of our markets to discover why students left us (we found stop-outs vs. drop-outs). We contracted with an organization to conduct a brand review to understand how we were perceived within our market. And we retained a firm to conduct blind focus groups with individuals that represented our demographic to discover what advertising mediums we should be using. From these studies, we selected or created degrees and decided which advertising mediums would be best for our limited marketing dollars. Faculty Development and Support An integral element for successfully creating and sustaining the growth demands of online learning was the development of a course creation model that focused on faculty. The NU Online model focuses on coaching and mentoring faculty to become effective in the virtual classroom. We provide instructor-led training that helps faculty create their first course and learn about online technology and tools available through NU Online as well as how to structure courses for the various learning styles. NU Online has a team of instructional designers working with faculty to design and implement their courses using the latest online teaching tools. In the end, our goal is to develop successful online educators rather than simply build online courses. Copyright 2010 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 2

3 Development and Delivery Northeastern University Online also relies on a progressive and proactive model of development and delivery that ensures volume and quality for our instructors. This approach is known as the Four Ds model for the systematic definition, design, development, and delivery of all our online programs and courses. There are multiple levels of support and training in order to ensure successful design and delivery of our distance courses, including using sophisticated and standardized approaches for course delivery, providing a comprehensive and successful instructor-led training and certification program that helps faculty to create their first course and learn about online technology and tools available as well as how to create courses for the various learning styles. Oversight and Review A key approach Northeastern University Online uses to ensure delivery of high quality and scalable online programs is a comprehensive system of oversight and review on all online courses and programs every time that they are offered. From an instructional design standpoint, we use a four-step quality process that includes training, review, quality assurance, and feedback systems. 1. Certification Training: Educating faculty in the proper creation of online courses is an essential element in creating an engaging learning experience for online students. NU Online provides a comprehensive, instructional designer (ID)-led online training experience that immerses potential online faculty as online students before they ever step into the virtual classroom as instructors. NU Online faculty experiences what it is to be online learners before they become online instructors. Each potential online faculty attends a two-week online certification-training program that resembles an online course similar to those they will be teaching at the start of the term. Instructional designers facilitate all certification sessions and participants must complete a comprehensive online exam in order to obtain certification at the end of the certification training. 2. Readiness Checks: The next checkpoint in our quality process is the course readiness review. This begins the oversight process of all our hybrid and online courses and programs. It is essential to make sure instructors are following best practices and guidelines set forth in the training, and the readiness check is the first opportunity to do that ( Figure 1). Figure 1. Readiness Checks Copyright 2010 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 3

4 Beginning two weeks prior to the start of a term, our instructional designers begin reviewing all scheduled online and hybrid courses to ensure they are ready for use by our students on the first day of class. 3. Quality Counts: The next phase of the process is the Quality Counts initiative. This happens approximately two weeks into the course. During this phase the IDs compare the facilitation and delivery of the class to a rubric developed at NU Online that measures best practices and requirements for successful online learning. This process includes a review of online courses, recording and recommendations of the review data, and reporting of the outcomes to programs and faculty responsible for the courses. The items reviewed in the Quality Counts process include course facilitation, design and delivery of the course, and faculty engagement. The IDs also assesses the instructor perspective for lecture materials, presence in the course via communication and participation. 4. Surveys: Northeastern University Online completes the quality assurance process with level one evaluation that contains student feedback about the quality and satisfaction of the courses taken (Kirkpatrick, 1994). Students complete these surveys on a summative and formative basis, depending on the duration of the online course ( Figure 2). Figure 2. Formative and Summative Student Surveys Architecture To support its rapid growth, NU Online provides state-of-the-art hardware and software architecture that ensures our institutionally centered, distance learning program is scalable, economical, and efficient. Using Blackboard Community, each college/program NU Online supports can have its own custom wrap for branding its course offerings. To ensure faculty and student satisfaction with the delivery and support of Internet-based teaching and learning, NU Online provides 24/7 technical support. Discoveries The result of this institution-wide effort to construct a competitive, growth-oriented, distance education program has been the creation of a vibrant, rapidly growing distance education entity that provides a case study that demonstrates the following activities: Identifying the institutional leadership and support necessary to define a vision of a growthoriented, institutional-wide distance education program in higher education. Copyright 2010 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 4

5 Defining a vision for a cost-effective effort that includes quality and student satisfaction for an institution's distance learning program. Identifying and using proven systems and processes such as training, reviews, quality checks, templates, and surveys to identify issues and ensure well-designed and delivered online courses and programs. Differentiating an online effort from competitors through program/degree selection and making faculty and student satisfaction significant attributes in online programs. Creating a distance education service that establishes best practices for quality improvement and learning in online courses and programs. Identifying the resources and tools required for developing well-designed instruction and ensuring quality and learning in distance education courses. Conclusions Many institutions in higher education continue to explore ways to expand distance education programs in a scalable and economical manner with high quality that will lead to faculty and student satisfaction. The demands of growth and scalability often make this goal difficult. By employing a proven model for growth and sustainability through leadership, training, support, and oversight of online programs, Northeastern University Online established an industry-leading framework for quality using innovative techniques for online course design and delivery. This approach enabled Northeastern University Online to differentiate its online offerings from those of their competitors, rapidly increase enrollments, and emerge as one of higher education most successful providers of distance education. References Kirkpatrick, D. L., & Kirkpatrick, J. D. (2006). Evaluating training programs: The four levels (3 rd ed.). San Francisco: Berret-Koehler. (Original work published 1994.) Maloney, J. F., & Oakley, B., II. (2010, March). Scaling online education: Increasing access to higher education. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 14(1), About the Presenters Kevin R. Currie is the Executive Director of Northeastern University Online. He has nearly 30 years of experience in higher education, management consulting, sales, and training. Under his direction quarter hour enrollments have grown from 3,125 to more than 70,500 and expanded from offering several courses to hosting more than 70 degree programs. Before assuming his current role, he was the Senior Associate Dean for the College of Professional Studies. Prior to that he was Director of the Corporate Training Group at Boston University Corporate Education Center. Mr. Currie holds a B.A. and a Graduate Certificate in Training and Development. Address: Northeastern University 360 Huntington Avenue, 41 BV Boston, MA URL: Phone: Fax: Charles Kilfoye is Director of Instructional Technology at Northeastern University Online. He oversees the strategy and implementation of technology-mediated teaching and learning. He manages the Copyright 2010 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 5

6 instructional design, faculty training and support, course design and development, and technology adoption for the school. He also directs and teaches in the online graduate program in distance education. He holds a B.A., M.A., and is completing an Ed.D at Northeastern University. Address: Northeastern University 360 Huntington Avenue, 40 BV Boston, MA URL: Phone: Fax: Copyright 2010 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 6

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