PCC online education steps up

By BRIANNA HERNANDEZ

In 2015, Pima Community College hired Michael Amick to serve as vice president of distance education in an effort to grow online education at PCC to combat competition from other institutions.

“When I started here at Pima, there were a lot of online classes that they offered but they did not have many programs or degrees you could complete all online if you wanted to do that,” Amick said.

Pima is approved to offer online college courses in 28 states as a participant in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements.

“Online, not surprisingly, provides access to college that many working adults and people with children may not have otherwise,” said Lisa Brosky, PCC vice chancellor of external education. “Online also helps on campus students supplement their schedules by giving them additional flexibility.”

Since his arrival, Amick has led a team of faculty, instructional designers and online learning staff to analyze areas in online education in which PCC needed to improve.

“We took a look at our programs that are high enrollment or nationwide were in high demand for online learning,” Amick said.

The team found that PCC lacked complete online degree and program offerings.

“Many of the programs needed just a couple more classes to be offered online, and then we just have a complete degree,” Amick said.

Another goal in mind was to create online curriculums that didn’t require students to purchase textbooks for their course.

During his time at Central Lakes College in Minnesota, Amick had prior experience with the open education resource textbook grant.

PCC was awarded a $100,000 grant to develop online degree programs that use open-source texts and resources. Pima was the only institution in Arizona, and one of 38 nationally, to receive the endowment.

“The commission there was that we would develop an entire two-year degree that could be completed without the cost of any textbook,” Amick said.

The new initiative can save students up to 30 percent of their degree cost.

Despite the new online two-year degree program still being in development, PCC was able to offer the first two no-charge textbook online course in Spring 2016.

“We saved students about $20,000 dollars in textbook costs,” Amick said.  “Now we have more offerings this fall, and we are estimating that we are going to save students about $150,000.”

The primary reasoning for searching for no-cost options is due to students often surveying that they either wait later into the semester to purchase textbooks or never purchase textbooks  because of the high costs.

“Our online programs are leading the way at PCC in exploring the application of open-sourced and free text materials to help eliminate the cost of textbooks, which is sometimes a huge barrier to students,” Brosky said.

Or sometimes they will report they get really frustrated that they purchased a really high-cost textbook but never used it or used it infrequently.

In May, there will be an update that significantly will alter the way desire to learn looks like to students and faculty.

The main aspect of the update is to improve device responsiveness.

“If you go on to your phone and are on a device-responsive website, it looks nice and works well,” Amick said. “If you try going onto D2L right now, it doesn’t look nice. I think it’s horrible.”

The change isn’t due to requests or complaints from students but an overall national demand.

“It’s just a national topic that the educational experience needs to be mobile device friendly,” Amick said. “Right now we get data about how D2L is accessed —  like do people access it through Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.”

“It’s very low on a mobile device, and it should be because it’s not very functional,” he said. “I mean, I think it’s terrible.”

Part of the establishment of Amick’s position was to work on increasing Pima’s decreasing enrollment.

“Depending upon what data point you look like our enrollment is up 15 percent from last fall,” Amick said. “That is higher than it’s been in three to four years. So we didn’t just do a little bit of enrollment growth.”

According to Brosky, further potential for enrollment growth is seen in online courses.

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