Monday, November 26, 2007

National Distance Learning Week - A Look Ahead

After looking at our current numbers and services to students and faculty, you might be wondering where our distance education program is headed. If things continue as they are, the possibilities of continued success are high.

“The future for alternative delivery of education has never looked brighter for TWU. As technology improves and faculty continue to innovate, students will have opportunities to participate in quality educational programs that fit their lifestyle and academic needs,” said Assistant Vice President of Lifelong Learning, Mike Simmons.

Be on the lookout for more distance education degrees and courses, as well as services for our students and training opportunities for our instructors. TWU is a leader in the distance education realm, and that is a place we intend to stay. Thank you to all the administrators, staff and faculty who support, develop and teach distance education. Thank you to the students who give us the opportunity to do so.

National Distance Learning Week - Our Distance Educators

Did you know that teaching online is very different than teaching in a face-to-face (F2F) classroom? Online professors have a new set of challenges. Communication and interaction are carried out differently, and lectures and notes must be transmitted in new ways. Different, however, does not mean impossible.

Associate Provost, Dr. Victoria McGillin said, “Distance education poses new and exciting challenges for even the most experienced faculty. The very nature of how one structures courses, how one actively engages learners in a virtual environment and faculty role in balancing student online discussions call for the development of new pedagogical ‘muscles.’ Faculty at TWU are very fortunate to have a number of opportunities to stretch their own knowledge base and learn new skills through workshops and learning communities focusing on on-line teaching and learning. I encourage faculty to take advantage of these opportunities to further excel as academics.”

Instructors new to online teaching have many resources available to them to help them adjust to the new style. Even those professors who have been in the online environment a long time have many opportunities throughout the year to explore new online teaching techniques.

The Office of Lifelong Learning has offered seminars, instructional design support and training documents for faculty and adjuncts who teach online. The seminars and workshops are offered each semester to all the TWU campuses, ranging in subject from improved communication to promising practices. The Instructional Design Team of Lifelong Learning has created an online faculty course for those new to online teaching. Participants enrolled in the online course go through different modules of information illustrating promising practices for the online classroom. This course is also offered as a self-paced version for all faculty members each semester. Our distance educators also have opportunities to expand their pedagogical tools by attending technology and distance learning conferences such as Texas Blackboard Users Group, Educause, Texas Distance Learning Association, Blackboard World and Sloan-C to name a few.

This past spring semester, TWU distance educators had the opportunity to participate in an online training program called Quality Matters ™ or QM. QM is a peer-review process for online educators developed by MarylandOnline, Inc. It uses a rubric to assess the design of online courses to see if they meet certain criteria that promote quality, effectiveness and efficiency. To date, 37 TWU faculty members have participated in the QM Peer Reviewer Training.

Music and Drama Professor, Dr. Nancy Hadsell and QM certified instructor said, “Training in the use of the Quality Matters rubric and resources was extremely helpful in assisting me to upgrade my online course so that it meets what are being considered the highest standards for distance learning. The QM course was offered online, easy to complete, and invaluable in assisting me to achieve the Quality Matters approval for my distance learning course.”

TWU’s distance education faculty members have many, varied opportunities to learn the latest in online pedagogy. As technology advances and the popularity of DE continues to grow, our faculty are using the most promising online teaching strategies to create educational programs and courses of the highest quality.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

TBUG Preconference

Tracey and I are attending a Texas Blackboard User Group Preconference (T-BUG) called Frontier of Emerging Technology: How to incorporate social software in your courses. The presenter is Chris Bigenhoc.

Chris has given us some interesting information on tools. We have looked at many of them before, including blogger (what this blog is posted on!)

One to see is CiteULike, which is a place for "CiteULike is a free service to help you to store, organise and share the scholarly papers you are reading." Sort of a social peer review site for academic information.
You can see more if his resouces at

Distance Learner Demographics

Did you know that most students who take only distance education classes are female, live in the Metroplex area, are 31+ in age and are here to attend graduate school? Our distance learners are somewhat varied in regards to instructional method, location, age and academic level. *

“We are seeing two different types of students enrolling in TWU’s DE courses. The first group--students taking DE courses only--tend to be older, have jobs and family, and are seeking advanced degrees and skills. The second group consists of students who take a mixture of DE and face-to-face courses. These students are the traditional 18 to 20 year olds enrolled in undergraduate programs and take DE courses in order to gain some flexibility in their class schedules,” said Director of Distance Education, Dr. Lynda Murphy.

As noted Monday, students who are enrolled in DE Only account for the majority of the total DE enrollments. Fifty two percent of DE enrollments are students who are only taking distance education courses. The other 48 percent are students taking a mixture of distance education and face-to-face (F2F) courses.

Fifty-two percent of students enrolled in DE Only live in the Metroplex, followed by 22 percent who live in the Gulf Coast Region (Houston area), followed by our third largest group, out-of-state students, who account for 11 percent of the DE Only population. In the DE/ F2F combination group, the three largest populations live in the following regions: 79 percent live in the Metroplex, 12 percent live in the Gulf Coast region and two percent live in the Northwest Texas Region and Upper East Texas.

Age is another interesting trait to look at when studying our distance learner demographics. For students who are enrolled in DE Only, 948 of them are in the 31 to 40-year-old age bracket, followed by 937 who are 22 to 30 years of age. In the 41 to 50 age group there are 594, followed by 277 who are 51 and over. Students who are 21 years old and younger are not as highly represented in the DE Only category with only 26 enrolled.

The DE/F2F combo is a very different story. The 22 to 30 year old students are the ones who most prefer this combination of learning with 1,282 of them. They are followed by the 21 and under group with 635. There are 401 combination learners who are in the 31 to 40 year old age group, followed by 203 who are 41 to 50 years of age. Finally, the 51 and over group is moderately represented with 80 students.

Seventy-seven percent or 2,156 of students enrolled in DE Only are graduate students. In the DE/F2F combo, the majority of those students, 1,949 or 75 percent, are undergraduates.
Our distance learners come from a variety of backgrounds and locations, and they are here for different goals. Distance Education appeals to the more non-traditional group of students, probably because of its flexibility and the fact that it can be done at home. Our age statistics show that even as they get older, more people are willing and able to pursue their academic goals thanks to distance education.

* All data referring to TWU distance education was taken from the Fall 2007Distance Education Snapshot Report. To request a copy of this report, please email

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

National Distance Learning Week - How we Serve our Unseen Students

Did you know that students taking only distance education (DE) courses may not be required to come to campus? Some DE courses do require limited face-to-face meetings for orientations or tests, but others do not. For our students who rarely, if ever, have come to campus it is the University’s goal to provide as many student services to them as possible through alternative means. This is where departmental support comes in.

Bursar Kathy Woods said, “The TWU Bursar’s office is committed to providing accurate, easily accessible and comprehensive tuition, fee, and payment information for our Distance Learning (DL) students. We strive to assure our DL students that they will receive the best service and value for their educational dollars. Virtual technology is a magnificent and useful tool in today’s demanding world. While DL students typically do not utilize on-campus services, it is imperative that the remote service we provide is an acceptable equivalent to that received by our face-to-face students. It is vitally important that we embrace and acknowledge our Distance Learners, to make them feel as much a part of the TWU community as our traditional students.”

Thankfully, most of the departments at TWU have made that same commitment of service to our distance learners, another of them being the TWU Library.

“TWU Libraries continue to increase the number of full text online resources for students with full text databases, ebooks and ejournals to support the online degree programs. Students email research questions to the Ask A Librarian service and the Interlibrary Loan service delivers documents to students via email,” said Stephany Compton, Distance Learning Librarian.

Over the past few years, the list of services available to distance learners has grown and will hopefully continue to do so. Here is a simplified list of the departments and services they provide that help our off-campus distance learners.

  • Admissions – myTWU and an online application
  • Registrar’s Office – Online registration and an alternative process for drops and adds
  • Student Life – Alternative process for withdrawals
  • Bursar’s Office – Online payment
  • Financial Aid – Online application and partnership with Lifelong Learning for emergency loans
  • Bookstore – Online ordering for textbooks and commencement materials
  • Library – electronic books, articles, databases and a distance learning librarian
  • Counseling Center – Online pamphlets and articles
  • Career Services – Online articles and email critique services
  • The Lasso – Online edition
  • Commuter Services – Plan events and provide communications to help our distance learners feel like a part of the community
  • Instructional Support Services – Blackboard Support, student technology trainings, live chat for the Help Desk, Help Desk Blog and the Ask TWU knowledgebase
  • Office of Lifelong Learning – Communication through distance learner blog, live chat and website for general distance education inquiries.
It has been said that “Teamwork doesn't tolerate the inconvenience of distance,” (author unknown). This statement is definitely true of our departments who serve our students who may or may not come to campus. It takes every department and every person to help our students succeed no matter where the departments or students are located. So far, TWU seems to be doing this very well as seen by our continued growth in overall enrollment and in distance education. We will continue to strive for the best. Thank you to everyone who helps make distance education a success at TWU.

Monday, November 12, 2007

National Distance Learning Week - DE Numbers Continue to Climb

Did you know that students taking only distance education courses accounted for 23 percent of TWU’s total enrollment this fall? 1 That’s up from 20 percent last fall.

At TWU, a distance education course or degree is defined as one in which 50 percent or more of the content is delivered through electronic means (Internet, televideo, etc.). As illustrated by the figure above, distance education is becoming increasingly popular among the student body.

Assistant Vice President of Enrollment Services Teresa Mauk said, "TWU's DE programs have been a major component in our enrollment growth. Degree programs and courses provide our students with the flexibility and convenience they want, while still maintaining the curriculum rigor for which TWU is known."

TWU has experienced a steady increase in the number of students who take online courses, a trend that colleges around the country are experiencing as well. The Sloan Consortium is an organization focused on the development and continued improvement of quality online programs. For fall 2006, it reported that nationally nearly 3.5 million students took at least one online course. That is up 10 percent from 2005.2

The popularity of distance education is evident at TWU as well, seen by our enrollment and addition of new distance education courses. This fall, 5,383 TWU students enrolled in a distance education course. Of those, 2,782 took distance education courses only. Those numbers reflect a 15 and 18 percent increase, respectively, from fall 2006. Also this fall, TWU offered 279 different distance education courses, up from 244 last fall. Many of these current courses had multiple sections for a total of 647 course sections taught via distance education. That number also reflects an increase from 544 total sections of DE courses from last fall.

Why are we seeing this increase in DE enrollment and courses? Assistant Vice President of Lifelong Learning Mike Simmons offers an explanation. He said, “The growth in distance education at TWU results from a unique combination of faculty commitment and student demand. These factors, combined with the strong support of Chancellor Stuart and Provost Gunning, allow TWU to be among the leaders in providing quality distance education for students.”

TWU currently offers 15 degrees which are considered part of distance education. All of them are offered either fully or predominately online. These degrees include:

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing Science
  • Master of Library Science
  • Master of Science in Speech/Language Pathology
  • Master of Science in Nursing - Nursing Education
  • Executive Master of Business Administration
  • Master of Science in Family Studies
  • Master of Arts in Teaching
  • Master of Science in Food Systems Administration (Nutrition & Food Sciences)
  • Master of Science in Education of the Deaf
  • Master of Science in Kinesiology
  • Master of Science in Health Studies
  • COTA to Master of Occupational Therapy
  • Bachelor of Science in Health Studies Completion (upper division courses only)
  • Bachelor of General Studies Completion
  • RN-BS Online Program for Registered Nurses

Not only do students have the opportunity to enroll in one of these quality degrees, they can also utilize the same services that on-campus students do. Tomorrow’s article will focus on how distance learners who never come to campus are served so that they feel as much a part of the Pioneer community as every other student.

1 All data referring to TWU distance education was taken from the Fall 2007Distance Education Snapshot Report. To request a copy of this report, please email

2 Allen, I.E. and Seaman J. (2007) Online Nation; Five Years of Growth in Online Learning. The Sloan Consortium. Available online at

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Parking for distance learners

Distance education faculty, please remind your students in your online courses about the parking policy for distance learners who come to campus:

The Department of Public Safety wants to remind you that all students who park on campus during the week must have a TWU parking decal. Parking decals are enforced Monday thru Friday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday thru Friday 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. students may parking in gray, black, blue, or auburn curbs with a valid parking permit. Handicapped restrictions are enforced at all times.

In order to accommodate those students who are taking only distance education courses, DPS has agreed to issue a complimentary, one-time (once a semester) temporary pass upon request. So if you are taking all of your classes at a distance and do not have a parking permit, drop by the DPS Office on your next trip to campus (click here for a campus map). DPS staff will check your name from a list provided by Lifelong Learning and ask to see a photo ID before issuing the pass. Remember that this is a one-time (once a semester) complimentary pass for those students who are enrolled in distance education classes only.

If you have further questions about this policy, please contact the TWU DPS at (940) 898-2911. This information is also available on the DE website at

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Email: Who is in charge here?

Merlin Mann's "inbox zero" video (warning - the video is 59 minutes, but worth the watch) is an great watch for anyone who has struggled with an overflowing email inbox and tried various things to cope with it. In conjunction with the presentation, 43 Folders has a special series looking at the skills, tools, and attitude needed to empty your email inbox.

The basic approach is simple: always empty your inbox.

His list is simple:
Delete: get rid of it (or archive it)
Delegate: get someone else to deal with it
Respond: if it takes just a few minutes, do it right now
Defer: put it on a todo list, archive it, and deal with it later
Do: handle whatever the email actually needs you to do

There are also some related posts on the website 43 Folders that give additional helpful information. (via 43 folders)

43F Series: Inbox Zero [Introduction] - “Clearly, the problem of email overload is taking a toll on all our time, productivity, and sanity, mainly because most of us lack a cohesive system for processing our messages and converting them into appropriate actions as quickly as possible.”

Inbox Zero: Articles of faith - “When I first suggested the email DMZ and said there was a way to get your inbox to zero in 20 minutes, I wasn’t lying. But I was using a definition of “empty” that may not square with your current conception of the email world. So let’s start with a few of my own articles of faith to ensure we’re on the same page going forward.”

Inbox Zero: Five sneaky email cheats - “In the words of the great Lucas Jackson: ‘Yeah, well, sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand.’”

Inbox Zero: Where filters will and won’t help - “[F]ocus on creating filters and scripts for any noisy, frequent, and non-urgent items which can be dealt with all at a pass and later. ”

Inbox Zero: Delete, delete, delete (or, “Fail faster”) - “Just remember that every email you read, re-read, and re-re-re-re-re-read as it sits in that big dumb pile is actually incurring mental debt on your behalf. The interest you pay on email you’re reluctant to deal with is compounded every day and, in all likelihood, it’s what’s led you to feeling like such a useless slacker today.”

Inbox Zero: Schedule email dashes - “If you can get away from being driven by email’s motor and find a way to deal with your work mindfully and on your own terms, you may be startled to see how much easier it is to keep that inbox at zero.”

Inbox Zero: What’s the action here? - “Focus on finding the fastest and straightest path from discovery to completion, and your inbox fu will be strong.”

Inbox Zero: Processing to zero - “You’ll never stay ahead of this stuff if you don’t recalibrate starting today. Give each message as much attention as it needs and not one iota more. Remember the contextuality of triage: if you keep trying to care for dead and doomed patients, you’ll end up losing a lot of the ones who could have actually used your help.”

Inbox Zero: What have you learned? - “Try to learn from what you’ve just experienced, and reapply your new wisdom to the way you treat email every day — nay, every time that little “new mail” chime sounds. You’ve just come out the other side of productivity bankruptcy and have, perhaps for the first time, a clean record and a fresh start.”

Inbox Zero: Better Practices for staying (near) zero - “As a person who has done the near-impossible and managed to establish a temporary beachhead against the occupying email army, you are your own best expert in what needs to change to keep things together, but I’d like to share a few things that have helped me stay email-sane (most of the time).”

Friday, November 2, 2007

National Distance Learning Week Appreciation Reception

National Distance Learning Week
November 12 - 16

Please join the Office of Lifelong Learning for an Appreciation Reception, honoring YOU - all the faculty and staff who make Distance Education a success here at TWU.

Tuesday, November 13
2 – 3:30 p.m.
ACT 2 Lobby, Denton Campus

Please tell your staff members and graduate assistants who assist with online courses or students about this reception.

Also, be on the lookout for a daily article about distance education at our University during National Distance Learning Week.

National Distance Learning Week is sponsored by the United States Distance Learning Association. Click here to learn more