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22st Annual OLC International Conference
November 16-18, 2016 | Orlando, Florida | Walt Disney World Swan/Dolphin Resort

OLC Innovate 2016 - Innovations in Blended and Online Learning
April 20-22, 2016 | New Orleans, LA | Sheraton New Orleans Hotel

Leadership Academy: Building Community Through Blended Learning and Teaching

Erin Lasley (Rasmussen College, USA)
Kristine Urban (Rasmussen College, USA)
Session Information
July 8, 2014 - 1:00pm
Teaching & Learning Effectiveness
Areas of Special Interest: 
Institutional Initiatives
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Best Practices
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Plaza Court 2
Session Duration: 
50 Minutes
Information Session 1

Rasmussen College builds community through a blended extra-curricular strengths-based leadership program, assisting students to recognize their gifts, while creating connections with the campus.

Extended Abstract

The past few years have witnessed many shifts in the way that Rasmussen College reaches and teaches students. We have 24 campus locations in 6 states, plus a fully online campus, which has required us to find creative ways to access all of our students. Rasmussen has needed to continually find ways to connect students in all locations and modalities to a support system of "One College". We needed to reach our students with new engaging tools for them to learn, as well as to create and maintain a spirit of community.

Approximately four years ago, Rasmussen College created the Rasmussen Leadership Academy (RLA) solely with the online campus to develop the leadership skills for higher achieving students and start to building community for them as distance learners. The program was designed to target students who were high achievers in their courses and wanted to strengthen and utilize their own leadership strengths. Each group meets over the course of an eleven week quarter for six different meeting topics, ranging from Strengths Based Leadership, Diversity and Leadership, and Career Based Networking. The program utilizes the Strengths Finder 2.0 book, which has students complete an assessment identifying their areas of natural strength. The theme of natural strengths is weaved into all meetings during the quarter, reinforcing students' connection to their own confidence and leadership.

At the inception of RLA, we identified the need to engage online students in a meaningful way and generate opportunities for them to connect to each other and campus staff. The first year of the program proved so successful, it was clear that students in all modalities could benefit from the experience. The program was re-written with a broader audience in mind. Staff at ground campuses was trained using the same online tools that were used to interact with our students so that they could offer the program to their local students. Because many of these campuses had the opportunity to meet with students face to face, or more frequently, in within a truly "blended" classroom, we started to see shifts and adjustments to meet the needs of all students. This model of development is unique because RLA was a program founded to connect with fully online students, and was later adapted for on-ground use. A lot of blended methodology starts with techniques that instructors use in the physical classroom, and adjustments are made to allow for online learning. Instead, we flipped that model, and found ways to incorporate on-ground instruction and engagement within our online tools.

Rasmussen has found great success in creating online and blended connections through the Leadership Academy over the past four years. Upon participation in this session, the audience will identify the tenants of the Leadership Academy program to use as a model at their own institutions through the demonstration of our techniques and lesson plans. The data that we have collected indicates that providing learners with a program like RLA can enhance students' college experience. It is our goal to share our processes so that other students may benefit in this same way.

Best Practices for Blended Design:
Rasmussen Leadership Academy meetings are held simultaneously on campus and online. Students who attend the meetings online do so through AdobeConnect, with the online classroom projected onto a screen within the physical location. The online students are encouraged to use a webcam and microphone so they can be seen and heard by the rest of the class. In order to create a two-way connection, a webcam and microphone is placed at the front of the classroom so online students can see and hear what is occurring in the classroom. The chat box in the virtual room is monitored by one of the course facilitators.

RLA utilizes group work to further the conversation about the content being presented during each session. During the group work, students are divided at random, including the online students. The group with the online students is given a laptop so they can effectively communicate with their online counterparts. The webcam and microphone is moved closer to the group so the online students can see and hear their group members. The online students are just as engaged as the students in the classroom and contribute to the group work as if they were physically present. The group work builds more community by fostering the relationships of our RLA members regardless of location.

The Leadership Academy also utilizes guest speakers who come in to discuss different aspects of leadership. Guest speakers have presented to groups both in the classroom or virtually using AdobeConnect. The AdobeConnect classroom is projected in the same way for the class to see and the room is monitored on a laptop by one of the RLA facilitators. Presenters aim to engage all students in creative discussion using various methods including Prezis, PowerPoints, videos, and other assorted digital content to enhance the presentation. Students are engaged and really like having an assortment of presenters.

Best Practices in Blended Assessment:
During the last session of RLA, students present their Leadership Action Plans. These plans allow students to share what they have learned throughout their experience. They share their leadership strengths and how they will apply these strengths in the classroom, in the workforce, and in their personal lives. These Leadership Action Plans are a way for the facilitators to assess exactly what the students were able to take away from their experiences.

As another assessment method, students are also sent a survey to ask them about their RLA experience. They get to share their favorite session, the most important take away, sessions they would like to see more time spent on in the future, any topics they felt were unimportant, any improvements they would like to see, and the sense of community they felt before, during, and after RLA. Students generally respond favorably to this survey. The responses are used to gauge students' learning outcomes as well as to encourage any improvements to the course for future participants.