Distance Education Accrediting Commission Member Schools Offer Partnerships to Keep Students on Track
Interview with Leah Matthews, Executive Director, Distance Education Accrediting Commission
Numerous postsecondary schools have closed or are moving online because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Not all schools have online learning capability that is readily available. For schools that are seeking a way to launch online learning, creating a partnership with a DEAC member school might be a viable, cost-effective option.
Read my interview with Leah Matthews below for more information. And please feel free to share this information with your peers who might find it valuable.
CER: How should postsecondary schools prepare to remain operational in view of the spread of COVID-19?
Leah Matthews: In the coming weeks and months, I anticipate that there will be increased conversations about the effectiveness of distance education, the role online learning plays in continuity planning, and how to effectively transition face-to-face courses into a distance education format while dealing with other factors related to the COVID-19 crisis. These are critical conversations that all schools must address if they are to effectively support their instructors and students who unexpectedly need to navigate to online teaching and learning. These conversations need to be happening now.
CER: Many higher education institutions are having to close due to Coronavirus (COVID-19). How can Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) member schools help these institutions and their students?
Matthews: Many DEAC-accredited school presidents and owners have reached out to me about how they can support continuity of instruction during this incredibly disruptive and challenging time – particularly for schools that do not have online learning established at their facility. DEAC-accredited schools are well equipped to help other schools by offering the use of their distance learning platforms, online program management systems, and technology-enhanced learning models. There is plenty of bandwidth available to share! A critical part of continuity planning involves careful and deliberate development of courses that are specifically designed to be offered online. This takes a great deal of time and resources. DEAC-accredited schools already have a vast reservoir of online instructional material to offer students and share through articulation agreements.
CER: If a school wanted to partner with a DEAC member school, how would it work?
Matthews: A first step would be to review the list of DEAC-accredited schools that have expressed their willingness to be a partner. Select a few schools and request a list of their courses. A DEAC-accredited school may already have a course fully designed, implemented and ready to offer students. After reviewing the curriculum and instructional materials, the school seeking to partner with a DEAC-accredited school will need to determine whether the online course and level of instruction will satisfy their credential requirements and any requirements of their accreditor. If this is determined, the next step would involve establishing an articulation agreement to document the pathway that is available to the student. Hopefully, this can be done quickly so that students can enroll before there is a major disruption to their studies. Another alternative is to work with a DEAC-accredited school to transition classes designed for face-to-face instruction into an online format. This is a more time-consuming approach, but several DEAC schools are offering to provide their learning management systems to schools seeking to quickly implement distance education.
CER: How might schools address technology access concerns for their students?
Matthews: This could be a major challenge and deterrent to offering online courses. Not all students have the same access to the technology needed to navigate from face-to-face coursework to an online learning environment. Some students may not have access to stable or sufficiently robust internet connections. Another challenge is access to technology hardware. For example, I am aware of one school that is seeking loaner laptops for students who usually use campus-based computer labs. Some students may depend upon mobile devices to access instructional materials. If the online content is not properly designed, this could limit their ability to access functional distance education coursework. Most DEAC-accredited schools offer content that is designed for accessing through a mobile device.
Another solution could be to work with a DEAC-accredited school that offers correspondence courses. There are a number of DEAC-accredited schools that provide instruction to students who have no access to the internet or technology-based equipment.
CER: Are there other factors that schools should consider if they are seeking to implement distance education, even for the short term?
Matthews: Every effort should be made to find ways to provide academic support to students transitioning to an online environment, to include library and tutorial services, advising, online study groups, and instructor availability. Students accustomed to face-to-face courses who suddenly transition to distance education will need these support services. Even if another entity is providing the distance education coursework and instruction, the on-ground campus can devote its available resources to support services for students.
CER: Do you have any final words to offer CER readers?
Matthews: DEAC recognizes that everyone involved in postsecondary education is doing all that they can to minimize disruption for students. Transitioning coursework designed for face-to-face instruction to a distance education format in the middle of an enrollment period is exceptionally challenging, time-consuming and costly. Please know that DEAC schools are committed to working with others to offer well-designed, low-cost alternatives that keep students enrolled and moving forward in their studies. If there is anything that I, or another member of the DEAC organization can provide, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. It’s important that, even at a distance, we maintain a strong community of educators, learners and leaders.