By Arielle Follett
A recent decision to offer 12 fulltime on-campus programs 100 per cent online in September 2014 has been suspended due to issues raised at a recent Board of Governors’ meeting.
Algonquin’s Centre for Continuing and Online Learning (CCOL) was given the okay to begin the process of offering 12 pre-identified programs fully online: medical office administration, project management, organizational quality management, financial services, event management, electrical engineering technician, computer programmer, photography, environmental management, public relations, green architecture and mobile and social media management.
This information was delivered to co-ordinators of these programs, who were told that they would have no say in the matter and that the decision had been made.
At the Board of Governors’ meeting on Feb. 10, the budget plan was brought forward at which point faculty representative Shawn McBride stepped forward to raise his concerns.
“In the budget, there was money set aside for moving more programs online. I became aware of it around then and I talked to all the co-ordinators of the daytime programs to see if they all had the same kind of concern and pretty much everybody was agreed (that the online plans were premature),” said McBride.
“It’s just the method that was chosen that I had some concerns about,” said McBride. “I don’t believe there was enough consultation with the existing people delivering those programs.
“We have programs that have been delivered for years and years so why recreate? Especially when there’s some programs that students would start in the online and then transition into the (on campus).
“It’s very important that the online and the face-to-face be equivalent so that things are synchronized,” he continued. “Otherwise you’re going to get two different types of students when you get to the second year.”
With McBride’s concerns in mind, the board decided to suspend the programs’ online delivery for another year to open up conversation within the faculty about what these programs should look like and ultimately, the school’s digital strategy.
Led by dean Linda Rees, the CCOL had identified programs with the potential to be successful online, whether it be because of a very high enrollment rate with a lengthy waitlist or because the program lends itself to online learning.
“We want to develop the student’s theory-based learning online,” explained Rees, using the photography program as an example. “Then we can bring them on campus during the summer to use our photography studios and such.”
Doug Wotherspoon, executive director of advancement, also brought up concerns about the “level of engagement” for students and the differing student audiences.
“Most students participating in traditional daytime programs are between 17 and 27-years-old and most online students are about 34-years-old,” said Wotherspoon. “They have dependants and they’re in the middle of their careers so it’s no surprise that they would want to take a course online because they can’t step away from all that.”
With 24,000 online students, offering more programs online is a logical step for CCOL.
“There is a demand for online programs. We get students who don’t have access to post-secondary education where they live, people who are looking to make a career change or even some kids coming straight out of high school,” said Rees. “When a student doesn’t get into the daytime program, they apply for the online so that they don’t have to wait another year.”
McBride was happy to see how the board reacted to his concerns.
“The college was willing to stop and regroup and take a look at how it was done and see if there is a better way,” he said.
The college is encouraging open communication, with the CCOL bringing in key speakers, forums and a multi-stakeholder advisor committee to educate faculty on the world of online learning.
“We need to have debate,” said Wotherspoon. “It’s always good to see a group raise an issue passionately about real concern. We’ve chosen to embrace that concern. Faculty must be comfortable with the direction the college is going in.”
The identified programs are expected to be delivered online in September of 2015.