Since joining CalSouthern after 28 years at Irvine Valley College (IVC), President Glenn Roquemore, PhD, has been able to focus on developing the quality, engagement and effectiveness of distance and online learning, which is part of his goal of expanding traditional learning beyond the classroom. Roquemore believes that successful implementation of online learning is possible for all institutions and will soon take place alongside in-person instruction as a viable option for higher education.
In this second installment of the two-part interview about his transition from traditional to online learning, Dr. Roquemore discusses the peaking interest in distance education of prospective learners, what makes it a practical option, and offers tips to other institutions about how to effectively introduce online learning to a previously traditional education.
What has surprised you most about working at (or presiding over) an online vs. a traditional university?
A traditional brick-and-mortar institution involves a lot of brick and mortar. Since every problem is ultimately the college president’s problem, a lot of your time is spent dealing with maintenance, safety regulations, building and expansion, community relations, and other concerns and costs associated with a physical campus. While all of these contribute to the quintessential, ivy-clad environment that many consider ubiquitous to a college experience, they also carry non-teaching costs that have to be absorbed by rising tuition.
At CalSouthern, I have more time to focus on the quality, scope and effectiveness of our classes, faculty and programs that directly benefit our learners. Despite our virtual existence, there is as much, or more, engagement among constituents as there is in traditional universities. Since, by design, online universities are built on the premise of instant and continuous communication, school- and program-specific silos are less commonplace. I’ve honestly never communicated with my colleagues as much as I have since arriving here – and I’ve definitely learned to love Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Ring Central.
Are you noticing more high school and college students gravitating toward all-online learning since the coronavirus? Does this apply to community college students? As a former community college president, do you have any advice for community college students?
It goes without saying that both faculty and learners are being exposed to online learning like never before as online education options continue to expand. But, online delivery of course content must be done in a way that doesn’t jeopardize the quality of the material or the instruction. The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s office has fairly strict guidelines for effective online instruction.
Ultimately, I believe that online learning will take its place alongside classroom instruction as a viable, quality option. One positive byproduct of the pandemic and shelter-in-place orders is that any stigma associated with the web-based model will be a thing of the past.
Community college students can benefit the most from online instruction, since many of these learners face the type of transportation, work, child, and elder care challenges that make a traditional daytime college experience nearly impossible.
Do you have any tips for traditional colleges and universities that are adding an online learning component? What have you and others at CalSouthern learned that will benefit others similarly committed to expanding access to all learners?
- Plan for future pandemics. This rule applies to all schools, whether traditional, online or a hybrid of the two. Although many institutions practice for catastrophic events, pandemics were likely not on the list before this year. We now have experience with this kind of disrupter and should take this time to devise a plan while the impacts are still fresh in our minds.
- Think about the learner experience. Pay careful attention to how easy or complicated it is for your learners to register for and participate in their online classes, including downloading and getting familiar with the web-based platform you are using. Instead of designing the learner interface for veteran users, it’s best to assume that your learners have little to no previous online education experience.
To make it as seamless as possible for first-time and returning learners, CalSouthern offers a learner- to-teacher ratio of 1:1 as well as constant one-on-one counseling, instructional and technical aid. Traditional schools simply aren’t set up to promise this.
- Expand ways to help “newcomers” navigate the online space. Yes, online learning is everywhere – but for many learners, the concept and practice of web-based instruction and curriculum is still relatively new. Consider tutorials, how-to videos and other interactive offerings that will take the fear out of virtual classrooms.
- Focus on interactivity. Effective online learning should result in more, not less, opportunity for learners to ask questions, comment and engage.
- Leverage the inherent benefits of virtual learning, especially student access to mentors, advisors, faculty, department heads, and even deans. At CalSouthern, we’ve completely rethought the concept of office hours. Learners have direct access to our faculty and mentors for guidance and instructional aid.
- Pass on the cost savings to students if you can. Compared to many other traditional universities and online schools, CalSouthern is significantly more affordable, allowing working adults to obtain the degrees they need without racking up debt.