Online Blogucation

Hallmark #2 – Planning

Fasten your seatbelt and hold on to your hat! This week we are going to talk about planning in regards to the Middle States Accreditation plan. While I say that a bit facetiously it is actually a little piece of the canvas which is part of a bigger more exciting piece of work.  By standardizing accreditation requirements nationwide for higher education online learning programs, those of us firmly planted in online learning programs can take a huge leap forward to demonstrate (with statistics, research and data) that what we are doing is not only catering to a growing market’s demands but doing so because the pedagogy and statistics show that our students are learning and competing and often exceeding their counterparts in fully online programs.

There are 9 hallmarks in the Middle States Accreditation plan and today we look closely at #2-Planning. On a side note, I will give you some background into this series of blogs. After an introduction to the overall Distance Education Programs--Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education (Online Learning) each person on our team (the Academic Consulting team at Pearson eCollege) took a hallmark to focus on and fully explain. In the draw, I drew #2 Planning.

Now, as I plan for this blog (I deliberately chose the word plan in case you missed that) I can see how apropos it is that I have the planning topic. I am a planner to the point of a clinical neurosis some might say. I am the person who, when the seatbelt light goes off on an airplane as we pull into the gate, I get up and find my car keys and my credit card so when I get off the plane and get to the end of the very long walk to my car, I can jump in, start the car and proceed to pay for parking. Downtime is used for reflection and analysis but it is also a moment or two that can be used to take care of details and save time later on. So from the planner’s perspective, let’s look at hallmark #2.

With that statement of credibility (I am qualified to talk about planning because I am a neurotic planner in my day to day life), let us take a look at how EduKan, the consortium of online campuses for 6 Kansas community colleges, leads by example when it comes to these accreditation hallmarks. Some institutions will fret and have to hire consultants to comply when this becomes standard whereas other institutions, such as EduKan, will simply look at the list and say: “we already do that.”

Hallmark #2 reads:
The institution’s plans for developing, sustaining, and, if appropriate, expanding online learning offerings are integrated into its regular planning and evaluation processes (MSCHE Standard 2).

From the guidelines, analysis and evidence of this hallmark will review:

  • Development and ownership of plans for online learning extend beyond the administrators directly responsible for it and the programs directly using it;
  • Planning documents are explicit about any goals to increase numbers of programs provided through online learning courses and programs and/or numbers of students to be enrolled in them;
  • Plans for online learning are linked effectively to budget and technology planning to ensure adequate support for current and future offerings;
  • Plans for expanding online learning demonstrate the institution’s capacity to assure an appropriate level of quality;
  • The institution and its online learning programs have a track record of conducting needs analysis and of supporting programs.

So in asking how EduKan’s director Mark Sarver addresses the topic of planning, he replied that all aspects of the planning guideline are addressed through their Strategic Planning committee. The Strategic Planning committee for EduKan includes representatives from all jobs and roles within the organization. The group includes but is not limited to: academic deans, advisors, instructors, registrars, other administrators et. al. They devise a 3 year strategic plan which is created and agreed upon by all members of the committee. It is all encompassing to include goals, budget planning, technology planning, and indicators of success. The stakeholders on the committee then take the plan back to their respective groups and gain approval from those groups. As the committee meets every three years, they check the indicators of progress, document successes and adjust or re-define goals for the next three year plan. Statistics, reporting and data analysis provide the documentation needed to assure the required appropriate level of quality. The process is ongoing and it includes every role in the EduKan system to gain buy-in from all those with a role in the success of the online program and the consortium as a whole.

EduKan is not unique in this process. All institutions have a similar program or committee that examines, develops, implements and then reviews their overall plan for successfully educating the students who attend their institution and enrolls in their courses. If they have always been a traditionally on ground campus, this will have to expand to include the online goals above. If they already have an online component to their offerings, they will have to be sure they can document that they are addressing the analysis components above. Of the 9 hallmarks soon to be part of the accreditation process for online learning programs, number two might be one that you can check off as already being in place. Good luck!

-Pamela Kachka, M.A.Ed.-
Academic Consultant


A Holiday eWish: Digital Media, Blogs

Finding its way to the top of many instructor wish-lists this season is the incorporation of digital media into their courses. As I talk with professors and read through recent articles, it seems many instructors of hybrid, fully-online and traditional-courses are seeing signs that all seem to point to the same reality:  The use of digital media in education is on the rise.

In the pulse of current research on the subject, we find that across disciplines and educational levels, the use of digital media in educational contexts has been emerging rapidly and is outpaced by a growing demand for the same. Several factors, to include (1) access to Web 2.0 tools that can power digital media in our courses as well as (2) rising student interest and demand for digital media in their learning, serve as active ingredients in this brewing digital media revolution.

A simple Google search on the topic yields an outstanding 96.9 million hits- far more web pages, articles, blogs and resources than we could ever resolve to explore- even with perhaps a bit more downtime during this holiday season than we might enjoy throughout the year. Still, in a recent discussion in a Web 2.0 course I co-taught this past month, it was clear: the winter break exudes potential for course-improvement exploits and tempts many instructors (including myself) with the possibility of enriching our course(s) before their next spring-term run.

Earlier this month, I facilitated a dialogue with educators and administrators around the inclusion of digital media in eLearning. We discussed various tools and uses, among them, the pedagogical benefits of blogs. I was surprised to find that while the concept of blogging is not new, it has still not found its way into many courses, including blended and fully-online offerings. And so, I gravitate towards to asking the following, simple question:  With as much research and information is available on the pedagogical uses and educational benefits of blogs, how have you (and I) incorporated blogs successfully into our own courses?

If you find yourself having had a less-than-pleasant blog experience in the past or having not yet taken the plunge to incorporate the use of a blog in your traditional, blended/hybrid or fully-online course, consider that blogs can be used in your course(s) to:

  • Build engagement
  • Elicit collaboration
  • Foster interactivity
  • Develop literacy
  • Cultivate thinking
  • Promote tech-savviness

This short list represents just a few of the pedagogical benefits and objectives that can be accomplished through the effective use of a blog. Though seemingly-simple themes and prevalent in the research on digital media in education, we cannot underestimate their true impact on learning! Highlighting the first outcome (building engagement) as an example, we know from our own teaching and learning experience (and notable confirmation from formal research) that engagement is critical to achievement. Simply put, without student engagement, our instructional efforts and course content cannot facilitate the fullness of the learning experience for which they are designed! Combine this with a commitment to prepare our students for the communication and collaboration via the methods and platforms they will face in their “real world” and the resulting task might entail weaving into our teaching and learning the social sites, tools and digital media students often use on a regular basis outside of class.

In commenting on the use of blogs, Steve Hargadon, International Society of Technology in Education’s (ISTE) emerging technologies chair, offers several, simple ways to implement blogs in a course:

“Teachers can create simple blogs through which they communicate classroom work and activities…You can post an assignment on a blog and have your students post responses in the comments. You can put up a place for students to talk about their reactions to a chapter in a book.” Or, he suggests, teachers can assign individual blogs to students, encouraging them to communicate their ideas in writing and allowing them to receive comments on their posts from their classmates.

With so many great blogging tools at your disposal, you can take the plunge today to incorporate a blog component in an upcoming course. Below are a few suggestions to help you get started (and hopefully get you closer to checking-off another item on your Instructor winter-break wishlist):

Blogging Tools:

A seemingly endless number of tools are available for the creation and management of blogs. You’ll find many of them are actually free to use. I’ve compiled the following list of noteworthy options for you to explore:



Far from an exhaustive list, here are a few resources you might find helpful in your own research on the use of blogs:

  • Blogs in Plain English (A short introduction to weblogs):
  • Blogs for Learning, an online resource about instructional blogging:
  • Matrix of potential uses of blogs in education:
  • Resources for educators wishing to learn more about blogging for themselves and/or their students:
  • Top 10 Reasons to Use a Blog in the Classroom (A student-created list based on personal experience and interest):

A few tips:

As a team, we often share with instructors tips and best practices we have identified in our own teaching. Here are a few on incorporating tools and technology in your courses:

  • Pedagogy should dictate the technology and tools we incorporate into our courses (rather than the availability of the tools alone).
  • Multimedia should add to the learning experience and be relevant to the course, content and students. (The right tool, a relevant graphic or a pertinent video can help to enhance your content and address the needs of multi-modal learners)
  • Providing students with clear instructions of your expectations, such as the participation guidelines of a blog assignment, is critical to the success of the assignment. (Working backwards from the perspective of what I would like my students to do with an assignment often helps me identify the critical components I would like to see in their participation).
  • Integrate assignments, such as blogs, early in the course design, being sure to clearly connect the assignment to course outcomes (Reynard,  2005). (This is a critical step before the assignment can become more than just an extra task for your students).
  • Once created, use the URL of your blog to create a link within a discussion item in your eCollege course. This will allow students to engage with the blog from within your eCollege course.

Indeed, blogs are a technology that can be easily applied to education. “What blogging really did is create a way to have conversations on the web that couldn’t have taken place before… It’s a simple technology to use. It’s easy to protect, so it can be used just within a classroom environment or just within a certain group of people (Hargadon, 2010).”

L. Rachel Cubas
International Academic Trainer & Consultant
Pearson eCollege


Hargadon, S. 2010. Ed Tech Experts Choose Top Tools. The Journal. Retrieved from:

Reynard, R. 2005. Blogs in Higher Ed: Personal Voice as Part of Learning. Retrieved from:


eTeaching Institute
Instructor-led and hands-on courses, including Creative Uses of Web 2.0, are available through the eTeaching Institute. You can find out more on


Research Confirms – Instructor Presence is a Primary Key to Success Online

I recently embarked upon research to study large survey online courses. It is common practice in face to face courses that intro level courses often have more than 100 students. In fact, one of the studies I read had 400-600 students in the course at a university in South Africa. My interest was to determine how effective these courses are when given fully online and what are some strategies that professors and instructors can employ to assist them in handling these large enrollment courses.

My research revealed many findings. So as not to keep you wondering, these large enrollment online courses are equally effective and in many cases slightly more effective than face-to-face courses if effectiveness is measured through retention (finishing the course) and final grade. In order to set these courses up for success, many factors should be in place. Varied assessment and quality course design are two such factors. Both come before the students are enrolled in the course. Review and improvement of both, throughout the process, will continue to make the course more effective for students and more manageable for instructors.

However, the most important role of the instructor, both in the days before a course starts and during the running of the course, is to provide instructor presence to build a learning community in the course and help students feel less isolated, an unfortunate byproduct of a poorly facilitated online course (Berry, 2009). Almost all researchers on the topic of large survey online courses agree that instructor presence is vital to the success of such a course. The top three tasks are to: “maintain frequency of contact; have a regular presence in class discussions; [and] make expectations clear” (Dennen, Darabi, Aubteen, & Smith, 2007). Other key actions include providing a current photo and biography of the professor and communicating via informal emails (Berry, 2009). Other studies revealed that students wanted detailed information up front, before the course begins. Students rated having an option to ask clarifying questions as a more important interaction than when the instructor uses a discussion thread in the early days of the course for introductions and replies to each student’s post (Dennen, Darabi, Aubteen, & Smith, 2007). One more interesting finding was that when evaluated by students, more feedback from an instructor was not necessarily better. “Increased instructor posting did not result in increased student participation” in discussion forums. In fact, “there seems to be a threshold at which an instructor’s…overwhelming amount of communication inhibits or discourages learner communication and participation.” Instructors need to contribute occasionally in discussions to keep them going or to ask questions intended to further the conversation. However, clearly there needs to be a limit. This is more good news for the instructor wondering how he/she can manage such a large group of students in one course. The most important thought summarizing communication and instructor presence is that perceptions will always differ between instructor and student so open communication is key to successful teaching and learning (Dennen, Darabi, Aubteen, & Smith, 2007).

There are no surprises in any of these findings. Since online learning began and we have been able to survey and study the results, we have known that good teaching includes good overall design and varied and effective assessment but the most important aspect is good instructor presence throughout all aspects of the course. So keep up the good work and know that you’re making a difference.

If you’d like to read more on this topic, check out the Educator’s Voice link. The full article should be posted any day.

--Pamela Kachka, M.A.Ed.--
Academic Trainer and Consultant
Pearson eCollege
Works Cited:

Berry, R.W. (2009). Meeting the challenges of teaching large online classes: shifting to a learner-
focus. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 5(1), Retrieved from

Dennen, V.P., Darabi, A., Aubteen, , & Smith, L.J. (2007). Instructor-learner interaction in online courses: the relative perceived importance of particular instructor actions on performance and satisfaction. Distance Education, 28(1), 65-79.

World Airlines Review -


Global Perspective | Spotlight on Trends: USA & Brazil

Last month, I had the amazing opportunity of delivering a workshop course on Online Learning Best Practices in Foz do Iguaçu, Paraná, Brazil. The event, hosted by the Brazilian Association for Distance Education (ABED), is an annual gathering that calls for educational professionals from all over the nation of Brazil in what is esteemed to be one of the most critical events in the online and distance education arena for the nation.

The focus of my workshop was to engage a dialogue around what practitioners were facing today and then seek to facilitate sharing around their issues and experiences in order that we might bring to corporate attention those things we could observe as mistakes, successes and best practices.

To start this off, I gave a short presentation on trends in online education, featuring both U.S. and Brazil-based statistics. My original curiosity in putting the stats together was to identify some of what these two nations are seeing in their online learning & distance education landscape in order to draw an analysis of how the two landscapes might differ or cohere.

Through this presentation and our group dialogue, it became clear that both similarities and variances did exist. In such areas as student, teacher and institutional access to technology and the overall use of technology in education, for example, participants noted the U.S. is in a position of greater years of access to and practice with technology applied to educational contexts. We also dialogued about the impact of this reality on instructors, specifically in the case of wanting to find and incorporate online resources into their courses, including Web 2.0 tools and applications. Whereas we know that for an English-speaking audience, social giants such as Facebook now have 200+ apps that can be applied to education, the number of sources available for use in other languages, in this case Portuguese, can be dramatically fewer and thereby pose a greater challenge to instructors desiring to incorporate such tools in their courses and work.  Though we did identify these noteworthy differences in our dialogue, at least one solid point of coherence did emerge in our continued dialogue and exploration of the statistics.

Inasmuch as it seems evident the years of practice with certain technologies in education, as well as with eLearning in general can differ greatly between the U.S. and Brazil, it became clear that both nations are in seasons where the promise for the future of online education seems to be one of increased growth. For instance:

  • Brazil- “The offer of new distance courses in 2008 grew 89.9% in comparison with the previous year (ABED, 2009).”
  • U.S.A.- “The economic impact has been greatest on demand for online courses, with 66 percent of institutions reporting increased demand for new courses and programs (Allen & Seaman, 2009).”

For sure, this growth potential appears to reflect in both enrollment of students into online course offerings and in student-demand for increased online course & program offerings. In either case, the trend appears to point to a growing demand from students for opportunities through which to engage their education through technology.

Though both of these potential growth areas are vast topics for rich discussion, the one I chose to highlight to the group was the second (the expected & potential for growth in demand for new online course offerings). Moreover, I chose to focus less on the demand itself and more on the impact or implications of this demand on the online education landscape. My question to the group then and I pose this for your consideration now as well is to reflect on: “What does this mean for online course development?”

If we are to understand that the trend-signs point to great and seemingly rising demands for new online course offerings/programs, we can conclude that those institutions who desire to engage with this growth potential will need to:

  • discover their position in terms of current online offerings and
  • determine the extent to which their institutional strategy calls for (and will support) the development of new online courses and programs.

Bearing current offerings and strategic positioning for the future, new development would need to begin by an active discovery of those subject areas, courses and programs that represent the rising demands of online/potential online students. With this, we can observe the potential for a rising need for new course development across disciplines and levels. And a critical scenario for institutions offering online courses/programs to consider is whether the demand is rising at speeds that could soon (or have already) outpaced current systems for development.

Obviously, this apparent demand for course development is a larger reality than this short blog can fully address and there is indeed still much we need to discover. As such, I’d like to pose the following questions to you that might help you spark or continue this discussion in your institution:

  • What demand for online courses, including new courses and program offerings, is my institution facing?
  • What is our strategy concerning online education and how does growth in new course and program development fit into it?
  • How will any new initiatives for development affect our current system and capacity to support new online course development?

L. Rachel Cubas, M.Sc.
International Academic Trainer & Consultant
Pearson eCollege



ABED. (2010). Sao Paulo: Camara Brasileira do Livro.

Allen & Seaman. (2009). Learning on Demand. Newburyport: Sloan-C.


Momentum Building for Competency Based Learning

Most of us have heard of the European Union along with the establishment of the Euro as a common currency across the continent. Fewer have heard of the Bologna Process which began in June, 1999 with the goal of creating a more standardized higher education system in EU member nations. One initiative has been a tuning project where academics work to define a common set of learning outcomes by discipline and degree level.

The dialogue continues worldwide today about whether a focus on competencies versus assignment grading leads to an improved student learning experience but most would agree there is a difference. Many students are able to memorize processes or to cram for an exam but the ability to apply knowledge, skills, and concepts to new situations requires a deeper level of learning which is better suited for competency based assessment.

A June 4, 2009 blog post on The Chronicle for Higher Education website summarized a recent report commissioned by the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute calling for institutions to focus on competencies instead of courses as a way to improve curriculum for pre-med and medical schools. The report convened a group of educators, practitioners, and researchers to define a set of competencies both for entrance into and graduation from medical school. NCATE has already defined similar competencies for educators and other accreditation bodies are coming on board as well with efforts to agree on a core set of competencies by discipline.

The Lumina Foundation for Education also recently announced a three state Tuning USA project that seeks to define “the subject-specific knowledge and transferable skills that students in six fields must demonstrate upon completion of a degree program”. This is a bottom up effort involving faculty, students, and employers. Representatives from Indiana, Minnesota, and Utah will each define student learning outcomes for two disciplines while striving to preserve the ability for individual institutions and faculty to retain their academic freedom to teach to a common set of outcomes in the manner of their own choosing.

Pearson eCollege will continue to monitor this trend and seeks input from our partner institutions for best practices in outcome management and competency based learning.


Benelux Bologna Secretariat (n.d.). About the Bologna Process. Retrieved June 12, 2009 from Web site:

Lumina Foundation for Education (2009, April 8). News Release. Retrieved June 12, 2009 from , Web site:

Mangan, K. (2009, June 4). 'Competencies,' Not Courses, Should Be Focus of Medical-School Curricula, Report Says. Retrieved June12, 2009 from The Chronicle of Higher Education, Web site: