Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Day Five in America - 6 February 2008

6 February 2008 - The System Office - Connecticut Community Colleges

Tobi Krutt: Manager, Tech Tools and Training

All the cross state community colleges of Connecticut have commonality in terms of systems. This is carried out at the Systems Office in Hartford. I visited Tobi Krutt at the systems office today. Tobi explained her role to me. She makes available common resources for teachers, and these are wide ranging from Camtasia videos for training on software applications, to common good practice guides on teaching.

Tobi and I started our discussion using the Shrewsbury College ILT strategy as a starting point. Tobi was interested in our minimum standards for staff skills. This is not as straightforward in the Connecticut Community Colleges, since lecturers are very unionised. Therefore, all minimum skills levels are negotiated very closely with the unions; it would appear that unionism is very strong here.

Tobi's role includes a significant input into faculty staff training. She develops, carries out and commissions training events for staff. Training, however, is voluntary, although it is well taken up. Tobi's target audience is all the faculty staff from all the 12 sister colleges in Connecticut, and there are approximately 3,000 staff. Tobi also develops new resources to help faculty staff with their roles and developing online resources is a significant part of her role.

Most of the colleges are operating using Windows XP, however, there are exceptions to this.

The VLE that the college uses is WEBCT Vista. The college's database system is linked up with this, and therefore all students can be automatically enrolled to basic courses which will help them with orientation of the system and basic IT literacy courses. Tobi is in the process of rationalising the common resources and she recognises that because most of the teaching staff are part time, there is a real need for good, accessible resources.

Faculty staff are using the Camtasia software in lots of different ways. For example, some will record work carried out as if on a blackboard; students can then revisit this lecture at times convenient to them. Some staff do Powerpoint presentations, and record these via Camtasia. This is very useful for students who wish to revisit their lecture. Tobi trains staff to do this.

All staff have access to Camtasia; Tobi has not experienced any issues with accessibility. Faculty staff are able to upload the movies recorded in Camtasia to their own WebCT area.

There is online training available to help staff to develop best practice. For example, "Integrating Best Practice in an Online Course".

There is good uptake in training, although not mandatory. Tobi believes in short, "quick hit" training movies, to get staff up and running fast. Staff are using Camtasia all the time now. Tobi's training catalogue includes how to utilise Second Life in education (and Manchester Community College have already leased part of an island for educational purposes!), Wikis, blogs, podcasting etc.

All students enrolled and staff at any of the 12 Connecticut Community Colleges have access to ''. On here there is a wealth of training materials and resources available to anyone with login access.

Tobi ensures a healthy training uptake using a variety of methods. Two tempters are giving out small gifts (like a pen drive) and ensuring that the delegates are fed!

Some teaching instructors will train students on how to access WebCT Vista and show them how to use certain features, e.g. bulletin boards. A 'student orientation course' is automatically generated for all learners who enrol. Students have access to their VLE from home. They have a 'single sign on' through

Tobi can track who has been in. If it's apparent that there are areas of non activity from staff, due to unionisation and the fact that this is not mandatory, Tobi puts out a general announcement to remind ALL staff that the facility is there and that training is available. Out of 3000 staff, about 400 have checked out the orientation, and this is increasing by about 3% per term.

When WebCT was launched about 3 years ago, there were approximately 671 faculty using the system initially; now, there are 1,175 faculty using it system-wide. Utilisation of WebCT tends to be growing as a result of positive word of mouth.

A mentoring programme was launched a while ago, this attracted release time for those who volunteered. Tobi believes that this would not have been successful without that release time.

In terms of the types of courses, Tobi explained that there were 3.

  • Fully online classes; students do not meet in a classroom
  • Class based or 'web enhanced' classes, where students have normal classroom classes, but this is enhanced by online resources
  • Hybrid classes; some in class but some online.

There has been a huge increase in fully online classes; Tobi showed me a graph showing a growth of 72% over 4 years of recording, for all the community colleges in the state. Some colleges had increased by nearly 400%!

All trainees that come for WebCT training receive a paper manual, and online resources, so that they can refer to lessons in a format of their choice.

Tobi works with a system-wide council, called the "Teaching and Learning", which is considering a new initiative, using SurveyMonkey. She is going to be asking the students to fill in a survey about what skills they'd like their teachers to have. She'll use this as a driver for increased training! She believes that this will be a real motivator!

Tobi is developing an online scheduler for staff training. As she manages the training for 3,000 staff, there does need to be a system to manage this. She's working with IT colleagues in order to complete this work. There is online registration for staff now and this is working very well.

Podcasts: There are probably about 52-100 staff making use of podcasts within their teaching and learning. Most of these are audio only at present. Podcasts are usually uploaded to WebCT Vista, thought they could be uploaded to other podcast delivery systems such as iTunes U.

Tobi is in the process of redesigning the faculty and staff training offer. She wants all resources to be linked to other related resources so that there is a clear pathway of training for staff, rather than lots of standalone products.

I asked Tobi how training was evaluated. This was difficult, and evaluation is a difficulty, due to unionisation. Tobi's training products are a resource only. Staff can get feedback if they wish, and many want this. If a member of staff wanted an assessment for their personnel file record, this can be done too. However, to define standards against which to evaluate is a sensitive issue.

Tobi and I talked about the courses that the students enrol on in the community colleges themselves. It was interesting to note that all courses are designed by faculty members; there is no national standard. In some areas, e.g. nursing, there are attempts afoot to ensure a common approach to the courses where these take place at different colleges.

Areas we can learn from:

  1. Wide use of Camtasia movies to enhance learning
  2. Orientation courses automatically loaded for new learners, including basic WebCT and IT training resources
  3. Student records system link with WebCT for auto enrolment on courses
  4. Extensive growth in fully online courses
  5. Blended 'hybrid' online courses (with some classroom contact) in operation
  6. Second Life presence
  7. Podcasting using Itunes U
  8. Rationalisation of all training offer, with clear progressions for all types of training from pedagogy linked training to ICT based training

Tobi's essential resources:

Essential Pre-Vista Skills for Faculty:
Technological Skills Comprehensive Guide Faculty
Desktop application tutorials
60 Second Vista tutorials
Current list of training classes available to faculty and staff systemwide (from IITT Course Cart)


Richard Booth said...

Hi Abi,

Thanks for this update and the list of useful resources that Tobi identified as useful in their development.


Caroline Thornton said...

Hi Abi,
Liked the idea of automatic student orientation course on the VLE, giving the student the confidence to use the system. Will check out your links when I've a minute.
Keep up the good work.
No problems on the home front.

Henry Keil said...

Hi Abi,

very interesting read. Some of your recommendations we have already implemented at Harper.

What I find particular eye-catching was the jump in the number of pure online courses. Have they been used in distance learning courses only and what was the student perception of this mode of learning, compared with a blended approach for example.


Len Tildsley said...

This is an interesting model for a shared service. I assume that all of the colleges contribute some sort of annual fee to maintain the service. How much do the colleges dictate the development direction? How independent is the centre? Are they hosted/controlled by one of the colleges?

Nick said...

Hi Abi
what sort of support is there for those who are finding difficulty with the work (study skills etc) rather than for disabilities and what sort of of support is available via software?