Self-Paced Online Courses: The reinvention of the Correspondence course

Author Information
Author(s): 
Len A. Bogner, Ed.D.
Author(s): 
Bucky J. Dodd, Ph.D.
Author(s): 
Laura Rash
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
University of Central Oklahoma
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

The idea of the Self-Paced Online Course at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) developed through the Blended Education Collaborative. The Blended Education Collaborative began in the fall semester of 2011 as a one-year project for the Academic Affairs Leadership Fellows (AALF) program at UCO. The original scope of the Blended Education Collaborative was to examine the effectiveness of courses offered through the Flex-Ed program at UCO, which was a reinvention of Interactive Video Education courses and Correspondence courses. The collaborative has since evolved into an innovative systems-based design process, cooperating with the Center for eLearning and Continuing Education (CeCE) at UCO. It explores how online courses and Flex-Ed courses, including correspondence, are intentionally designed to bring humanness, flexibility and availability to distance learning environments.

Self-Paced Online Courses (SPOC) have become an emerging technology and evolutionary innovation at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO), replacing paper-based correspondence courses. SPOCs are a component of Blended Education at UCO. Blended Education (BE) is the intentional design process of planning instructional components and connections in ways that enhance flexibility and “humanness” in the learning process (Dodd & Bogner, 2013). BE uses systems-based design thinking to leverage technology in ways that enhance the human-centered nature of learning while increasing learners’ flexibility to personalize their learning environment to how they learn best (Dodd & Bogner, 2013).

UCO faculty are currently conducting research in collaboration with CeCE to examine student satisfaction with SPOCs. The instrument being used in the SPOC research is similar to the instrument used for the research on Blended Education courses completed in the 2012-13 academic year. Changes were made to the instrument to reflect the individual nature of a SPOC.

The first UCO SPOC was developed and opened for enrollment in the spring semester of 2012. As of the fall 2013 semester there are 27 SPOCs being offered by 4 colleges at UCO. The research is being conducted on seven SPOCs that make up the core courses for the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program within the College of Education and Professional Studies at UCO. The research questions are focused mostly toward measuring student satisfaction and general experiences with the SPOC.

Although the research is ongoing, there has been a milestone reached with the SPOCs. In December of 2013 the 100th course grade was submitted for the seven CTE SPOCs in the research study. It was felt that this would be a good place to take a snapshot of what the data was revealing. Of the possible 100 completers, 23 students responded to the questionnaire.

Results from the research data are used throughout this document as evidence supporting the Sloan-C Five pillars: learning effectiveness, access, faculty satisfaction, and student satisfaction.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

A Self-Paced Online Course (SPOC) is an open enrollment online course, which means the student can enroll any day of the year and complete the course at a flexible pace. A SPOC is a university approved online course that as been slightly modified so that an individual student can work through the course at their own rate, therefore the student receives the same high-quality learning experience as found in all UCO online courses and the flexibility and availability that matches their needs.

In a SPOC, the student works independently under the facilitation of an UCO professor and submits coursework at their own pace. They use UCO's Learning Management System (Desire2Learn) to watch course videos, read course materials, ask questions, submit assignments, and check grades.

Students must be enrolled in a SPOC for a minimum of 30 days to receive a grade. The maximum time allowed to complete any course is 180 days from the date of enrollment. The time it takes to complete a SPOC is dependent on many factors such as grading timelines, university holidays, and course-specific requirements and activities (http://www.uco.edu/cece/elearning/SPOC/index.asp).

At the core of a SPOC is the Blended Education Framework (see http://www.uco.edu/cece/BlendedEducation/BlendedLearningFramework_4-10-0...). This framework identifies the components and connections that are frequently present in the higher education learning environments at UCO and outlines ways they may be connected together to add flexibility and personalization for learners and faculty. The BE framework is used as a visual guide to plan and design principles to develop online and distance learning environments. It is also used to create consistency in programs and repeatability in planning and designing other courses (http://sloanconsortium.org/effective_practices/blended-education-case-st...). While many instructional design models and technologies outline a process from the designer’s perspective (i.e. ADDIE), the BE framework reveals the holistic learning landscape based on components and connections. This supports the designer’s decision-making process instead of relying on procedural-focused practices.

The BE model was used to develop the seven SPOCs being studied for student satisfaction. The anticipated student populations were working adult students who needed flexibility, convenience, and availability.

One of the more notable differentiators between SPOCs and traditional on campus or even online courses is the open-entry, open exit format. The core classes for the CTE program are only offered once a year in the traditional semester setting. This can create scheduling problems for working adult students. Because of the open enrollment of SPOCs, the core courses are always available to the student when they need them. This not only enhances access to educational opportunity, but also supports adults’ need to be self-directed and assume ownership in their learning experiences. SPOCs provide an educational platform for enhancing access, flexibility, and choice in learning experiences.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

Research on student satisfaction with SPOCs was started in the fall 2013 semester. The research invites student who have completed one of the 7 CTE SPOCs to complete an online questionnaire. Note: these invitations included any student completing a SPOC since the first enrollment in the spring semester of 2012 and those students that did not complete the course in the allotted time.

One of the more notable indicators of effectiveness did not emerge from the research instrument but rather that only 4 of the first 100 completions submitted for the 7 SPOCs were due to exceeding the maximum allowed completion time for the course (180 days). This shows that 96 of the first 100 grades (96%) completed the course requirements. This piece of data shows how the emerging technology of SPOCs are greatly improving upon the paper-based correspondence course model, which only had a completion rate of approximately 50% at UCO. Improvements in this completion rate may also be due to revised program policies and institutional investments in professional development for quality design and teaching practices. This was essential in creating an environment where productive learning experiences could occur with self-paced courses.

The questionnaire used in this research study addressed demographic information and perceptions about the students’ experience with SPOCs. Students’ reported a high satisfaction and appreciation for the flexibility and availability of SPOCs.

Of the 100 completers 23 students (N=23) selected the informed consent release. The demographics for these students are:

Male: 12
Female: 10

17 and under: 0
18 to 22: 0
23 to 34: 7
34 to 44: 7
45 to 54: 6
55 to 64: 2
65 and over: 0
Decline to state: 0

Full-Time Student: 1
Part-Time Student: 21

Research Evidence of Effectiveness:

-100% of students either agreed or strongly agreed that a SPOC provided them the opportunities to learn about the course topics on their own.
-95% of students either agreed or strongly agreed that they felt connected to the professor in a SPOC.
-95% of students indicated that they were either hopeful or curious about a SPOC.
-95% of student either agreed or strongly agreed that a SPOC helped them understand why the course topics were important.
-95% of students either agreed or strongly agreed that a SPOC gave them the opportunity to apply what they had learned in the course.
-91% of students either agreed or strongly agreed that a SPOC provided opportunities to solve problems related to the course topic.
-91% of student either agreed or strongly agreed that a SPOC provided opportunities to relate the course topic to their past experiences.
-86% of student either agreed or strongly agreed that a SPOC motivated them to continue learning about the course topic.

When asked, “What was the most effective aspect of a SPOC?” answers include:

-Ability to do classwork on your own time.
-Access to the learning experience, course materials, etc. on my schedule.
-At my own pace
-Availability
-Being able to access courses whenever the opportunity arises
-Being able to do it at my leisure. All the instructions were clear, if there was any issues I just email the teacher and pretty simple
-Curriculum and Instructor communication-Ease of working at my own pace
-I could do it on my own time
-Interaction with the instructor
-It was convenient
-It was straight forward and to the point, no messing about with the things that didn’t apply to my situation.
-My pace.
-No time limited to learn course material.
-Rubrics and explanations by professor
-Self-paced timing with readily available materials to advance as far as I wanted without having to wait on lessons
-That I was able to do the class in my own time.
-That the online course is prepared well and functions properly for online usage.
-Time
-Works with my schedule

When asked, “How did this SPOC contribute to or hinder your learning experience?” student answers include:

-Availability of the class when time allows
-I am a self-motivated learner. The SPOC was a perfect compliment to my learning style.
-I needed to complete at an accelerated rate.
-I needed to learn the basic background of Career Tech Student Organizations for the Tech Center I am employed with. The SPOC courses have the necessary material to understand what I am learning.
-I was able to do everything on my own and complete the work with out issues.
-I was able to finish early which gave me time to move over the summer and I didn't have to wait to turn in assignments or do readings.
-It allowed me to work in a class with a busy work schedule and complete it in the time frame necessary for degree requirements.
-It contributed because it let me go at my own pace.
-It contributed to my learning experience because I was able to take my time and research my assignment.
-It contributes to my learning since this day and age we're on the brink of technology and it serves it's clients the necessary components needed in information technology.
-It helped me be able to learn on my time schedule
-It helped me learn when I had the time
-It is the only way I would be able obtain my credit hours.
-It made it very easy to work on the class and I had time
-SPOC allowed me to learn at my own pace, on my own time.
-SPOC contributed by making the course available on my time. Completing courses is challenging for adults who are working full time, raising children and juggling everything else. The SPOC allowed me to work at my own pace, which for me is fast as I am very motivated to complete a course.
-The SPOC contributed to my learning experience by providing links to learning that I was able to review any time I felt necessary. So, by being able to go back and reference something within my class I was able to reiterate any information that I needed to reference.
-Time management was easier

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

A SPOC is a rethinking of how to offer correspondence courses at UCO. From the five pillars perspectives, SPOCs aims to optimize access through increasing flexibility and availability of learning. Faculty satisfaction is addressed in the flexibility and availability of the SPOC. Learning effectiveness is increased by having a higher number of students complete and pass SPOCs compared to the paper correspondence model. Student satisfaction is achieved by allowing students needed flexibility, personalization, and availability of both enrollment and completion of a SPOC.

The research conducted shows quantitative and qualitative evidence of the 5 pillars within the Sloan-C Quality Framework.

Learning Effectiveness: Only 4 of the first 100 course grades submitted were due to students “timing out”. So 96% of students that enrolled in a SPOC completed the course with a passing grade. This far surpasses the old paper correspondence course model, and is higher then traditional semester based online courses.

Scale (Cost Effectiveness and Commitment): The cost to implement SPOCs at UCO is relatively low because of the existing technology infrastructure offered to the university by both the IT department and CeCE. The majority of SPOCs are made up of current UCO approved online courses that have been modified for individual instruction. The controlled growth of SPOCs offered at UCO is increasing every semester. This allows for a sustainable, long-range strategic growth of the SPOC program.

Access: SPOCs provide students with incredible access. Because SPOCs are open enrollment, students can enroll in them any day of the year and they have the flexibility of completing them within 180 days with no due dates. They also have the assurance of having a university approved quality online course.

When asked, “How did the SPOC course contribute to or hinder your learning experience?” student answers include:

-Availability of the class when time allows
-I needed to complete at an accelerated rate.
-I was able to do everything on my own and complete the work with out issues.
-I was able to finish early which gave me time to move over the summer and I didn't have to wait to turn in assignments or do readings.
-It allowed me to work in a class with a busy work schedule and complete it in the time frame necessary for degree requirements.
-It contributed because it let me go at my own pace.
-It contributed to my learning experience because I was able to take my time and research my assignment.
-It helped me be able to learn on my time schedule
-It helped me learn when I had the time
-It is the only way I would be able obtain my credit hours.
-It made it very easy to work on the class and I had time
-SPOC allowed me to learn at my own pace, on my own time.
-SPOC contributed by making the course available on my time. Completing courses is challenging for adults who are working full time, raising children and juggling everything else. The SPOC allowed me to work at my own pace, which for me is fast as I am very motivated to complete a course.
-Time management was easier

When asked, “Why did you choose to complete the course as a SPOC?” student answers include:

-Availability, I would not be able to attend courses otherwise.
-Availability/flexibility.
-Availability
-Because I was unable to attend on campus.
-Because of available time
-Convenience and flexibility
-I have a busy life, SPOC fit.
-I have a full time job and I have a 1 year old son
-I work two jobs and taking a course online works with my schedule. The instructor was available to answer any questions and I am not a traditional student.
-I would not be able to travel to UCO and if I had to attend on campus would have a hard time fitting in to my work and family schedule.
-It allowed me to work in a class with a busy work schedule and complete it in the time frame necessary for degree requirements.
-It was the class I needed.
-Scheduling issues.
-The distance and travel required to complete the course in person would have prevented me from even taking the course
-Time
-Worked with my schedule I work a full-time and a part-time job.

Faculty Satisfaction: From a faculty perspective SPOCs provided a great sense of satisfaction at many levels. I have taught the old paper model of correspondence courses, and the challenges of trying to relate information and knowledge through the mail was maddening, that alone the time it would take to receive, grade, and send back an assignment; it often seemed like a one and done type of arrangement. With SPOCs the feedback can be within hours, rather then days or even weeks, and the student has the opportunity to redo or add to an assignment to improve their grade.

The flexibility and availability of SPOCs allows the faculty a level of relief and contentment in the fact that if a program, like mine, can only offer core courses once a year in the traditional academic setting, students that may miss that offering can at any time enroll and complete the course as a SPOC. The fear of having a student have to enroll an extra semester to complete one course is reduced. In fact, SPOCs make scheduling summer course much easier, because in a sense all the core courses are offered in the summer as SPOCs.

Finally, I am often surprised when I have students that have completed a SPOC come up to me and talk to me about the class, and I do not know who they are or what course they completed until they tell me their name. I am thrilled that they have a relationship with me as the facilitator of the SPOC, but I would like to work on how I can have a better relationship to them while they are working on the course.

Student Satisfaction: From both the quantitative and qualitative data collected in the research, to this point, indicates that there is great student satisfaction with SPOCs.

-95% of the students stated that they were either Curious or Hopeful about their SPOC.

When asked to “Explain your current attitude related to the previous response.” Student answers include:

-Don't really understand the question. My current attitude is that it was a success and a great convenience to me.
-I am hopeful other class/course material will be made available for distance learners where attending campus classes is logistically difficult. As a part-time student managing a full time job, SPOC classes are the best solution for continuing education.
-I liked it
-I liked the on line class. Hopeful it survives and grows
-I thought it was very informative
-I thought the class was great for a mom of a 1 year old with a full time job
-It was a useful tool to help me keep my job last semester in career-tech
-It worked well for me and I am hopeful it will continue and improve over time. Overall, I thought it was the best for my schedule.
-It works with my schedule
-My course was well planned out and easy to access and understand. This gives me hope that more learning opportunities might be available for the busy adult.
-Self Paced Online Courses have been relatively accommodating for me. There's no pressure and whenever I may need help, the professor can be contacted through email or phone call.
-SPOC courses make it easier for me to complete the necessary courses. I work a full-time job and a part-time job. SPOC courses do not make feel rushed and able to do my best and have a better understanding of what I am learning.
-Thankful it was offered and available.
-The choices given were a poor assessment of my attitude. I am THANKFUL for the SPOC class and the instructor.
-They were helpful, meaningful, and I learned from the experience
-Very informational. I like that I am able to review all information at my leisure as well as ask questions. I always received a timely response/assistance.

When asked to “How many SPOC’s have you completed including this one?” over half of the respondents have completed multiple SPOCs. Student answers include:

-2
-3
-3 total
-4
-5
-8
-About 15 credit hours.
-I have only completed one, but I am planning to enroll in more of the courses.
-I think I completed 3-5 SPOC's.
-Just this one. I will be taking more soon.
-Not more than three.
-Two

When asked, “Would you recommend SPOC to a friend?”, all the respondents have replied positively. Student answers include:

-Absolutely
-Absolutely, and I would recommend that more courses are available.
-Absolutely.
-Definitely
-Yes
-Yes
-YES
-Yes and I already have.
-Yes, it works well with none traditional students. I don't recommend it someone that is not disciplined enough to study on their own.
-Yes

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

Implementation of SPOCs was and still is a rather simple process. At UCO we are fortunate to have the Center for eLearning and Continuing Education (CeCE), which assist faculty in planning and creating successful online courses. They also facilitate quality checks before online courses are open for enrollment. The Learning Management System used at UCO is Desire2Learn, and provides a stable format for SPOCs to be created and facilitated.

SPOCs can and are implemented within a short amount of time at UCO. Once the decision has been made by a faculty member and academic department to convert an online course to a SPOC it is given an addition review process by CeCE and then assigned an enrollment number. CeCE provides the customer service support for students to help them enroll and assist with any other questions that may arise.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

SPOCs leverages institutions existing distance education infrastructure; therefore, the costs associated with implementing a SPOC strategy are minimal above existing resource needs.

The equipment needed to offer SPOCs will continue to change as the technology to deliver the content continues to advance. It is envisioned that an organization wanting to start offering SPOCs can do so at a reasonable cost.

There may be a cost burden in finding resources to help with SPOC design. To build an online course by oneself, is not a preferred method. It is better to work as a team and to have a person whom is familiar with principles of teaching and course development. Perhaps this expertise can come from a school’s Teaching and Learning center, if there is one already in place. Regardless it will take time to develop, coordinate, and pilot test the systems to offer a successful SPOCs.

References, supporting documents: 

Self-Paced Online Courses Website at UCO
http://www.uco.edu/cece/elearning/SPOC

Basics of Blended Education https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=f9ojUzBE2Hk

Blended Education Framework https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=IKBy_vD8h6s

Humanness https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=gtJGl7qpKDU

Connection-Design Model https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=BRtBi4_Z0ro

Sloan-C Effective Practices
http://sloanconsortium.org/effective_practices/blended-education-case-st...

Dodd, B. J. & Bogner, L. A. (2013). Blended education: An innovation in transformative learning. Conversation session presented at the 2013 International Conference on Transformative Learning. Edmond, Oklahoma.

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Len A. Bogner, Ed.D.
Email this contact: 
lbogner@uco.edu
Effective Practice Contact 2: 
Bucky Dodd, Ph. D.
Email contact 2: 
bdodd1@uco.edu
Effective Practice Contact 3: 
Laura Rash
Email contact 3: 
lrash@uco.edu