Monday, June 18, 2007
There's Distance Ed, and Then There's Distance Ed
Our distance ed coordinator stopped me in the cafeteria last week to report that she's trying to enroll a student in an online class; the student in question is currently deployed in Afghanistan, and expects to be there for the next 18 months. He wants to take the class from there.
Apparently, the student reports that he wants to have something to think about other than his immediate surroundings, and a college class would fit the bill. He also wants to have something to jump into when his tour of duty ends and he returns home. I think it's a great idea, and we're working to make it happen, but we're bumping into some weird obstacles.
First, of course, there's tuition. As a cc, we have a higher rate for people from out-of-state, on the theory that state residents already pay taxes towards supporting the college. Afghanistan is clearly out-of-state, but it seems ridiculous to apply that logic here. His domicile is local, and his parents are doing the legwork of buying and shipping his textbooks and suchlike. We'll get the out-of-state premium waived one way or another.
Student fees are a question. They're dedicated to supporting student clubs, athletics, and access to the health center. I suspect that these are pretty much irrelevant in his case.
Then there are time zones. Professors who teach online classes sometimes have set times for quizzes or tests or chats. Those times are based on our local time zone. Afghanistan is in a very different time zone, so a time that may be perfectly reasonable for the local students may be utterly out of the question there, and vice versa.
Exam proctoring is another one. Typically, we require students in online classes to come to campus for proctored exams. We'll have to waive that in this case, obviously, but we haven't quite figured out how to replace it.
Library access is non-existent out there. Realistically, most students do most of their research for papers on the internet now anyway, but he doesn't really have the choice. I don't know that there's much to be done about that.
Then there are the obvious issues of a war zone. Internet access may be spotty from time to time, and his availability to tend to the classwork will be hard to predict from hour to hour, let alone week to week. (Even calling for tech support could be an issue, given time zone differences.) The standard periodic reading quizzes may not make sense, given that the assumption behind them is that students are largely in control of their own schedules. Given his circumstances, that assumption probably won't hold, at least not consistently.
These may all sound picky and silly, and compared to the threat of getting blown up at any given moment, they are. But the student wants a grade and course credit, and the grade has to be based on something rational. When he comes back, he wants to be able to jump right into college with some credits and real subject-matter knowledge already under his belt, and I want him to have that option.
Although we don't usually involve students' parents to anywhere near this degree, we've asked the parents to reach out to the professor before the course starts to give her a heads-up as to the student's situation and what the parents can and can't do. So that involves some FERPA waivers and some very clear communication on all sides, as well as a certain amount of trial-and-error.
We've had students in the military before, but they were physically local, so things like library access or exam proctoring were non-issues. This is different.
Have you ever had a distance ed student on active deployment? What issues (and solutions!) did you find? If you have a tip that could save us reinventing the wheel, I'd be grateful. I'd really like to make this work.
Chats would be another issue entirely. Do distance learning professors have office hours? Afghanistan's roughly 9 hours ahead. If one of your online professors had afternoon office hours it would be late enough at night for your student to presumably have some free time.
Central Texas College
CTC is a community college that is the front-runner in military Distance Learning.
I'm not sure I can fully answer your questions, but here are some thoughts:
- I'm sure different rules apply to those on active military duty with regards to in-state/out-of-state. If your student's permanent residence is at his parents', that may be enough to qualify him for in-state? Either way, this is something his parents could pursue.
- Most student fees, at least at our institution, can be waived if you aren't going to be using the services like the fitness center, health insurance, etc. Our online students pay some fees, but mainly the ones pertaining to technology and library infrastructure.
- Work with your library. I would guess that your librarians would jump at the chance to pursue new solutions for your student. On our campus, our library made a commitment to making course materials available online for our distance students - this is now in use in many local classes as well.
- Our program doesn't really use quizzes or exams, but I imagine that you could either set up an additional identical quiz for the student based on his time parameters, or make some sort of proctoring arrangements with a superior or someone else where he is in Afghanistan.
Hope this helps!
eedwards at uiuc dot edu
First, if the student's military home of record (on all the military documentation) is your state then he is an instate resident. Deployment doesn't count as moving any more than being sent out of town for work for a shorter length of time. In our case there are no student fees charged to students only taking DE classes except for individual course-related fees. If they are taking a mix of DE and on-campus then all fees apply.
We have students on the other side of the world and they make individual arrangements with the instructor on any synchronous interactions like chats. Quizzes/tests etc are normally open for 12 or 24 hours because non-deployed people have weird schedules too.
The military does have a system in place for proctoring. We do testing in the course management system so getting the test to them is not an issue. If testing is done in a system they can't access from off-campus then they would need to email the test to the proctor. Most of our folks are on bases where there is an education officer so I'm not sure what they would do if the student was in the field.
Does your library have subscriptions to online versions of journals? Those can normally be accessed from anywhere with a valid student login. They may also work with online libraries to provide electronic access to books.
Neither of those policies are essential pedagogically, and both combine to prevent you from having a true DL program. A fully-asynchronous course would be no problem for the student in Afghanistan (or Tokyo or Colombia or Iraq or Texas--and I've taught classes with students in all of those places).
I know that there is often intense resistance to completely eliminating synchronous elements, but unless you do, you are going to inevitably (and unfairly) disadvantage some students--not just those on military duty, but also those who have complex family responsibilities, work hours, and so forth. Exactly the students for whom DL can be a lifesaver. Convincing (usually) faculty that there are also pedagogical reasons (not just student access or convenience) to have a fully-asynchronous course is often the first step. And it can be a long haul.
But sometimes a student like the one you're posting about here can be the thin edge of that wedge.
The tuition is a separate issue, and one that may need resolution and support at a much higher level. The City University of New York's Online Baccalaureate for Degree Completers has resolved this issue by mandating that all students in this online program, no matter where they physically reside, will pay in-state tuition.
For instance, before our current computer paradigm, colleges utilized correspondence courses. Without getting bogged down in the comparative quality of all those historical programs, I bring them up to remind everyone that online classrooms do not have to reinvent the wheel.
DD, find an emeritus prof. at your college, and ask her/him how these situations where handled, for instance, during Vietnam. If your college is old enough to have records beyond that, then World War II was kind of a boom time for correspondence courses. - TL
[Feh. I'm not sure my reasoning about domiciles was clear enough. Your state should be obligated by federal law to treat him as a local resident since he has his domicile there, even if he has been sent overseas. As such, all he has to show is that it IS his domicile and then you should be obligated by federal law to treat him as an in-state student for tuition purposes. Therefore, you should treat him (for fee purposes) exactly as if he lived 50 feet from the campus; you charge him the local tuition AND the student fees. Thus nobody higher up the food chain (or further away on it) should be able to complain later.]
It seems to me that unless the instructor has a specific reason for his class to have local library access, it shouldn't matter. And I would think the thing to do with the tests would be to have the instructor treat him as someone perpetually doing makeup tests since he has a legitimate excuse. Obviously this will take more work on the part of the instructor; hopefully they'll be ok with that.
Combine the above with the waivers and that should cover almost all of it. I suggest you talk to the instructor if possible.
ACK! That really defeats the flexibility issues for students who have nontraditional schedules! It need not be that way. Check out this article for pointers on how to administer online exams to students without proctoring, while helping avoid cheating issues.
The issue of requiring on-campus exams is an ongoing one. Many faculty accepted online teaching only on the condition of on-campus tests, since they were worried about academic dishonesty. It may be worth revisiting that topic.
I don't know how much one would have to pay the tech test centers for the use of their testing services, but that might be worth investigating.
Or it might be a business opportunity for someone, to set up a test center that provided more than technical testing.
Others have already touched on key aspects of how this works including the proctoring system. Students need to arrange for a proctor, and as someone already mentioned, a commanding officer should cover that.