DECISION MATRICES FOR OFFERING COURSES ONLINE

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1 Session F1A-4 DECISION MATRICES FOR OFFERING COURSES ONLINE Ali Mehrabian School of Engineering Technology Daytona State College Walter W. Buchanan Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution Dwight Look College of Engineering Texas A&M University Alireza Rahrooh School of Engineering Technology Daytona State College Abstract There is a conundrum in online education: who should make a decision as to which courses to be offered online and what should be the basis of that decision? Some suggest faculty should make a decision, while others suggest department chairpersons. In both cases, there may be conflicts of interests that are worry some. Others suggest that this is a committee decision, requiring consensus and much debate. The issue becomes even more complicated for the faculty who believe that leaving the decision to the administrators who may already have too much power would further jeopardize the integrity of higher education. Some suggest that this would add another layer of bureaucracy to the institution. In this paper, some of the related issues and selection criteria for choosing online courses in engineering and technology-related fields are discussed, including current trends and related challenges. The authors suggest developing preliminary matrices for each course to measure the course s economical and non-economical benefits. These matrices would greatly enhance the decision making process and shed some light on the issues that otherwise would be missed in the process. Introduction The current state of online education at the college level in the United State is promising. The educational and economical advantages of offering courses online are well established and discussed in literature. According to Allen and Seaman (2010) report, after remaining steady for a number of years, the proportion of chief academic officers saying that online education is critical to their long-term strategy took an upward turn in As such, sixty-three percent of all reporting institutions said that online learning was a critical part of their institution s long

2 term strategy, a small increase from fifty-nine percent in The year-to-year change was greatest among the for-profit institutions, which increased from fifty-one percent agreeing in 2009 to sixty-one percent in For-profit institutions also were the most likely to have included online learning as a part of their strategic plan [1]. As such, many institutions of higher education in the United States and abroad have established online course delivery systems and mechanism, delivering effective online education to the learners. Over the past three decades, as the technological advancements of the distance learning have made online course delivery more robust and effective, they also reveal issues and pose different challenges to the profession. An on-going process improvement is thus necessary to find shortfalls and drawbacks. This is even more challenging in engineering and engineering technology where there are many hands-on and laboratory courses that demand live presence of students in classrooms [3]. The centralized theme of this paper is to help understand and develop course selection matrix based on some logical and pragmatic criteria. In this paper, the results of an on-going investigation project in this area are presented. The summary of the results of an online survey made in September 2010 as a part of a research in engineering education project is presented here in this section. This summary is a good representation of the criteria currently exists in the profession. Our case applies to both engineering and technology courses. The Conundrum There remains to be a conundrum that is the cause of conflict among some colleagues in this process: who should make a decision as to which courses is offered online and what should be the basis of that decision? There are multiple suggestions in response. Some suggest that this is a significant process and the faculty should be at the core of this decision-making process, while others suggest department chairpersons should determine the appropriateness of the courses. In both cases, there may be conflicts of interests that are worry some. Others suggest that this process is a committee decision, requiring consensus and much debate. The issue becomes even more complicated for the faculty who believe that leaving the decision to the administrators who may already have too much power would further jeopardize the integrity of higher education. Some suggest that this would add another layer of bureaucracy to the institution, particularly at larger institutions that are already suffering from the 500 pounds guerilla. All this escalates during economic downturns and budget cuts where faculty carriers are at sake. In this paper, our goal is to address some of the issues related to this conundrum, and to offer some remedial actions that are both pragmatic and robust. For example, think of this problematic scenario: For a department without any online course selection criteria, a department head suggests that all courses of a specific sub-program should be offered online while the department s sub-program faculty would think otherwise. No resolution would be reached after several hours of meetings. Eventually the college dean had to make a decision, not a recommendation, leaving the faculty very unhappy and dissatisfied, causing all sorts of tension and work environment conflicts. This is not the best practice among intelligent people with many years of combined education. A solid matrix would really ease the decisionmaking process in this scenario.

3 Current Trends There are currently mixed trends in selecting online engineering and technology courses in higher education at the college level, and there is no one common consensus or trends among the many institutions of higher education in the United States that we studies as to which courses shall be offered online [2], [3], [4], [5]. There are also consortium of universities and institutions offering online courses and degrees with more uniformity among them as consortium members. While some schools still debating the issue, an online study of 30 engineering technology and engineering departments and institutions are presented here at the very early stages of this study with the understanding that a much more in-depth analysis and study are needed. Most established public and private Carnegie Research I institutions seems to have a more established and sophisticated infrastructure and appropriate units dealing with online education and the issue. Larger non-profit public and private research intensive institutions have relatively larger committees and capacity within different engineering colleges and departments making the selection of online courses. Some liberal arts and other engineering schools believe that offering online degrees would be in conflict with the mission of the institution, although this is a relatively low number. However, they may offer separate online courses as part of their continuing education unit, program, or college. There are for-profit institutions offering online degrees and other courses exclusively online. Some of these institutions offer only professional and continuing education courses. There are currently a few established and documented criteria for selecting online engineering technology/engineering courses at the respondents institutions. The results of our survey indicate that the selection is mostly decided by the departments and college administrators considering the department budget, resource availability, regional economy of the institution, etc. We found to our surprise that only in rare cases, this decision is directly recommended by the faculty. In order to make engineering and technology education to be more accessible to students, the majority of respondents indicate using hybrid mode of course offering, i.e., via live and online modes combined simultaneously. There are also opinions that some courses should be offered live only, depending on the course type, type of faculty-learner interactions, availability of resources, etc. Guidelines for Establishing Criteria Matrices Selection of which courses to be offered online should be based on established criteria to ensure effectiveness, uniformity, and equity, among many other benefits. [2], [6]. This can be very challenging and complex tasks for some higher education institutions with limited resources. Some guidelines for establishing selection criteria matrices are presented here. For clarity, we divide them into general and course-based considerations since both are critical considerations in the process. They are provided here in no particular order. In this process, faculty is the main axis of the decision-making process.

4 General Considerations 1. Trial and Error: One must realize that after many years of online course offering experience, some departments and institutions know which courses are well-suited as online courses and which ones are not. Though this should not be interpreted differently than merely a trial-and-error procedure, the procedure may need to be examined over time to evaluate its effectiveness. 2. Geographic Location of the Institution: Rural as opposed to urban institutions of higher education have different populations to serve. They also have different resources and needs. This varies from state to state. Ease of physical access to an institution makes it more feasible, in most cases, for offering live courses. 3. Number of Students Serving: If there are larger number of students attending the institution, offering more online courses are justified. More students require more efficiency in the use of the resources. 4. Type of Student Population Serving: This is for inclusion, effectiveness, and increasing diversity purposes. Different population of students may tend to have different learning style. Peer-pressure and group learning tends to be contagious. If there are data available on the student population types, they should be examined for any tendency and trend. If a group of students tend to learn more effectively online, then the course should be offered online. If a hybrid mode of offering a course increase diversity and reaches a much larger population, then the course should be offered as such, and so on. 5. Full-time versus part time: The high number of full-time students may demand more live courses since full-time students are more willing to take live courses. Part-time students tend to like online courses more due to the time flexibility of the course. 6. Learning Outcomes: It is critical for an online course to be able to address the established learning outcome of the course. This is one of the most important considerations in establishing the criteria matrices. 7. Program Outcomes: Offering a course online should not adversely affect the program outcome. If there are evidences to that effect, the course should be offered live only. There are also other reasons for a course that is not a successful component of the program outcomes that may not have to do anything with the course offering mode. 8. Economy: How much money does the course generate for the unit, program, or the department? In a sluggish economy, this is an important question to address. 9. Student Enrollment: Does offering a course online increase or decrease student enrollment?

5 10. Faculty Consent: The faculty is the main axis of the decision-making process for offering online courses. After all, they are those developing and delivering the online courses. They should directly participate in this process. 11. Committee Consensus: This is to aid with uniform selection criteria across the borders. At larger institutions, committees have more access to the resources with the tendency of having larger pool of committee members to choose from. 12. Availability of Technology: It is imperative to mention that there is much low-cost technology available today that makes offering online courses economical. The availability of technology should be carefully examined before a decision is made to offer a course online. This is less of a concern in larger institutions of higher education where there is much technology available on demand. Course Considerations 1. Course Level: The level of the course should be considered carefully in offering the course online. Some institutions don t offer any freshmen courses online arguing from a learning maturity perspective and social learning experience perspective. For example, an introduction to an engineering course may not be a well-suited candidate for an online course. Some fundamental courses may also fall in this category if there are concerns about student not learning the fundamentals. 2. Process- and Graphic-based Courses: Some courses are heavily process based, requiring an enormous amount of graphics and are entry-level engineering courses. An example course candidate could be an introduction to CAD or a graphic design course. A hybrid course format may work well in these cases if there are portions of the course that can be offered online. 3. Knowledge-based Courses: This type of courses will do online or hybrid. An example could be an introductory course in occupational safety or an introduction to the history of architecture. 4. Hands-on courses: These type of courses could be offered online if there is a lab component that can be offered live to compliment the course. 5. Discussion Intensive Courses: There are courses that are knowledge-based and not graphics intensive, but discussion intensive. A hybrid mode of live and simultaneously online course offering will be a well-suited candidate for this type of courses. An example is an engineering management course in civil, industrial, or construction program. 6. Courses that require great creativity with divergent solutions and significant in-studio experiences: These courses should be offered only online unless a sophisticated

6 hybrid models can be developed later. Such model requires an in-depth creativity and maybe ill-suited if detailed considerations are not made. An example is a course in architectural design. 7. Other Courses: There are courses that are not entry-level but are process-based, build on engineering fundamentals already learned, and rely on use of a specific resource (like the AISC Manual of Steel Construction). Such a course is a good candidate to a hybrid course. Examples include but not limited to steel structures design and concrete structures design. There are also courses that build on entry-level fundamentals and are process or knowledge based such as structural analysis and or HVAC design. These types of courses have been offered successfully and effectively by the profession in an online or a hybrid mode. Equally important, a course should be offered live only if it is hands-on and the lab experience is very important to the learning process. Examples are fluid mechanics lab, or a construction materials lab, or an electronic course lab. Conclusion Selection of which courses to be offered online should be based on established criteria to ensure three educational principles of effectiveness, uniformity, and equity. Faculty plays a critical role in course and curriculum development in engineering and technology and when considering offering a course online, first the faculty should be consulted for his or her pragmatic opinion. If appropriate, the course selection should be presented to a committee consists of faculty in the field with experience teaching online courses. It is essential to realize that in engineering and technology not all courses are suitable to be offered online, but this decision should be made primarily by the consensus of the faculty teaching in the appropriate field. Based on the collective experiences and efforts of online teaching in engineering and technology from across the country summarized in this study, we strongly suggest that field-based pragmatic selection criteria should be established at each institution based on the engineering and technology unit s mission and objectives. References [1] I. E. Allen, and J. Seaman, Class Differences: Online Education in the United States, 2010, Sloan Consortium, [2] Ali Mehrabian, Walter Buchanan, and Alireza Rahrooh, Some Selection Criteria for Offering Online Courses in Engineering and Technology, to appear in Proceedings 2011 International Symposium on Engineering Education, Santos, Brazil, March 2011, pp [3] Azad, A., Song, X.. Internet-based Physical Experiments: Application within A Laboratory Course, Proceedings 2006 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Annual Conference, Chicago, IL.

7 [4] King, B., McCausland, H. and Nunan, T., Converting To Online Course and Program Delivery: The University Of South Australia Case Study, International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning: 1, , [5] Mehrabian, A., Alvarado, K., and Nahmens, I., Application of Technology in Project-based Distance Learning, Proceedings 2007 of the 5th International Conference on Education and Information Systems, Technologies and Applications (EISTA 2007), July 12-15, Orlando, FL. [6] Bates, A.W., & Poole, G., Effective teaching with technology in higher education: Foundations for success, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

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