Pioneering a dual enrollment program at a distance.
Since 1968, Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBA) has been preparing students to go out and make a difference in the world around them. According to its website (2011), the mission of PBA is "to be a premier Christian university, whose graduates are intellectually prepared, possess high moral character, demonstrate outstanding citizenship and are servant leaders in their communities, the nation and the world." There are several characteristics of PBA that set this university apart from other venues of higher learning. These characteristics include learning philosophy, focus on faith, community service, supportive community, tropical location, and preparation for life. PBA, located in West Palm Beach, Florida, is a comprehensive Christian university with a core emphasis in the liberal arts. Its purpose is to offer a curriculum of studies and a program of student activities dedicated to the development of moral character, the enrichment of spiritual lives and the continuation of growth in Christian ideals.
PBA has 155 faculty members serves more than 3,500 students. The Office of Online Learning provides the infrastructure, training, and technical support to implement and maintain effective use of technology in the delivery of high quality curriculum to its students to enhance their learning experience. At PBA, this is done primarily through partnerships with eCollege and Class Live Pro, in conjunction with other software packages. eCollege is a provider of learning management and hosting, and Class Live Pro provides a virtual classroom on the web that operates in real time. The Office of Online Learning provides administrative support and student services for three different types of distance education opportunities. A program in organizational leadership is the only completely online degree program at PBA and is available through the McArthur School of Leadership. Most departments offer eCourses in which the entire instruction of selected courses is online, and many courses at PBA include an eCompanion component in which faculty offer some of the course materials or activities online in conjunction with face to face instruction.
The struggling economy and high unemployment rates have forced private schools and universities, including PBA, to take a long, hard look at the programs they are offering to parents and students at their school. As enrollment at private schools decreases, school officials must make changes or face closing the school for good. Some schools have lowered tuition and cut costs while others have increased scholarship offerings and fund-raising efforts (Pilon, 2009). Many schools are forced to offer more programs with fewer resources. Leaders at PBA believe that dual enrollment is part of the future of higher education, and that an increasing number of students will qualify in high school to take college-level courses. Students will enter college with anywhere from 3 to 45 hours of college credit. To reach out to high school students and potentially raise enrollment at PBA, school officials began to explore the possibility of expanding their course offerings to include high school students in other parts of Florida and possibly other states as well. As a result, the Office of Online Learning expanded its responsibilities to include services and support to distance high schools and their students.
DUAL ENROLLMENT AT A DISTANCE
In the fall of 2010, PBA implemented a Dual Enrollment Program (DEP) in connection with eight different high schools, some of which are located hundreds of miles away from PBA's main campus. The majority of the participating high schools are located in Florida; however, one of the schools with the largest number of students enrolled in the program is located in South Carolina. These schools were involved in this pilot program and are all planning on continuing with this program next year as well. Five additional high schools are also planning to participate beginning in the 2011-2012 school year. The DEP students use college level textbooks, but the courses are taught by their high school instructors. These instructors must all have the credentials to teach at the collegiate level according to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools requirements.
PBA developed this DEP in an effort to increase enrollment and provide high school students with exposure to programs and resources available at PBA. Participating students are exposed to many aspects of the collegiate learning environment. Each DEP student is given a PBA e-mail address and student identification number, and is able to access the Warren Library at PBA, either on site or online. In addition, all DE courses have an eCollege component, which gives students experience with online learning. Participating high school students are able to experience the PBA sense of community at a distance that college students experience when they step on to the PBA campus.
Once the university determined that this was the route it wanted to take, a team was put in place and a leader selected. The main objective of this team was to oversee the implementation of this new distance education program. This team was faced with many challenges. One of the challenges being that no one was hired specifically to oversee this project. All of the team members had additional responsibilities that took them away from working on the DEP. As they came to discover, the implementation of a program of this magnitude took hard work and many long hours. They tried their best with the amount of time they had to work on the program. Another challenge that they were faced with was the fact that it was now summer, and many of the school personnel were away from the university for a variety of different reasons. The DEP team was also faced with the challenge of getting the entire PBA on-campus faculty excited about this new program. They were asking professors, some of whom had been teaching the same way for a number of years, to participate in a new program without really knowing if it was going to be beneficial to the college or not. Despite these challenges, the DEP begin offering its first courses at all eight schools in the fall of 2010.
PBA felt very strongly that each course offered through the university must include an intentional integration of faith. The university was founded by Baptist pastors and lay persons with a very strong commitment to the central role of the teachings of Christ in all affairs of the university. The Christian character is evidenced in a faculty of committed Christians, and a curriculum that incorporates Christian teachings throughout all disciplines. Leaders at PBA were not willing to compromise on these core values. As a result, PBA made the decision to include only Christian high schools in its Dual Enrollment Program so that the integration of faith will continue even at a distance. Additionally, this program is only open to high school juniors and seniors who have at least a 3.0 grade point average. Since these dual enrollment courses require more work of the students than the typical high school course, participating students must be diligent, hard-working students who are willing and able to put forth that extra effort.
All DEP instructors, the administration at each school, and any support staff who would be working closely with PBA were trained to utilize the resources that PBA has available to its faculty and students. This training took place prior to the start of the 2010 school year. The team from PBA traveled to each DEP school and met with the necessary personnel at each individual school site. The DEP instructors and administrators met with representatives from the registrar's office, campus information services, office for online learning, Warren Library, office of institutional research and effectiveness, career development, and the assistant vice president for academic operations. This training lasted four hours, and gave the DEP personnel an overview of the tools and resources that are available at PBA.
The first way that PBA was able to ensure consistency in the different courses being offered at various schools was to require DEP instructors to meet certain criteria before teaching a DEP course. DEP instructors are considered adjunct professors according to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and must meet the same qualifications as adjunct professors who teach on-campus courses at PBA. For example, they must currently hold at least a master's degree in the field they are teaching or a master's degree in another field with at least 18 graduate credit hours in their field. In addition, they must complete the DEP Instructor Questionnaire as well as submit their curriculum vitae and/ or resume. Official transcripts must be sent directly to the office of academic operations from the granting institutions before the potential instructor is cleared to teach a particular course.
Another way to ensure consistency among the courses is to require the DEP instructors to submit a course syllabus to the office of academic operations prior to the start of each course. Each DEP professor will have access to a master syllabus that was created by the lead instructor for their course. They are encouraged to add content or make changes as they see fit; however, PBA insists that some of the elements on the master syllabus remain constant. The course name and number must not change for any of the DEP courses. Each DEP school must use the same name and number that PBA uses to refer to a particular course. The DEP school is able to include their course name and number in addition to the PBA information if they choose, but the PBA course name, number, and description must be displayed on the syllabus. Each master syllabus contains student learning outcomes that were also determined by the lead instructor for the course. These student learning outcomes must remain unchanged on the course syllabus as well. At the end of each course a common assessment will be administered that will determine if these student learning outcomes had been met. The common assessment may be a test, project, or written assignment depending on individual course content, but it will be based on the student learning outcomes that are outlined in the course syllabus each course. The common assessment for each course will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the DEP. The final copy of their official syllabus with the required information and any additional information must be submitted to PBA and posted in eCollege for the DEP students to view as necessary.
The course management system that is utilized by the students and faculty at PBA is eCollege. eCollege is maintained and updated by the office for online learning at PBA. The lead instructor for each course will deposit content for the online and DEP courses. The amount of content that is deposited for each course will vary depending on the course; however, the master syllabus will always be deposited in eCollege for each DEP course. The common assessment will be administered via eCollege as well. Some courses require that the students access eCollege multiple times to complete the common assessment, while students in other courses can complete the common assessment during one class session. The common assessment is an extremely important element of the DEP, since it is used to evaluate the overall quality of the program so that changes can be made if necessary. DEP instructors are encouraged to add their own content to their course shell as well. DEP instructor use of eCollege varies greatly. Some instructors add notes to eCollege, administer tests and quizzes via eCollege, and have students submit papers through eCollege enabling them to utilize the Turnitin feature. Turnitin checks student papers for plagiarism to ensure that all work that a student submits is their own original thoughts. Other DEP instructors only utilize eCollege for the purpose of the common assessment at the end of their course.
The announcement that PBA was going to offer dual enrollment courses at a distance was met with mixed feelings by the faculty at PBA. While they understood the need to increase enrollment and were looking forward to the potential college students that would be exposed to the university, many of the college professors were concerned about the quality of teaching that these DE students would receive. The professors had never met the DEP instructors and were not sure that they had the appropriate background to teach these college level courses the way that they should be taught. Since these dual enrollment courses were entry level or general education courses, the college professors were concerned that the students would not get the information that they would need to continue on to the next level of learning. They were concerned that this would reflect badly on PBA and tarnish its reputation. The on-campus professors were also concerned that the DEP instructors would teach the test. Since the common assessment was available to all of the participating instructors toward the beginning of the course, some university professors were concerned that the DEP instructors would only teach the content that was included on the common assessment and, in some cases, give the students the answers. Many of these concerns have dissipated as the program continued on, but some of the department heads still want a little more control over who is teaching the various courses.
The DEP professors also had mixed feelings about this new program. For the most part, they were excited about teaching at the college level; however, some were concerned that the students were not ready to meet this new challenge. Although the students were only allowed to participate in the program if their grade point average was 3.0 or higher, some of those students were still not really ready for college level work. In fact, at the beginning of the 2011 school year, at least one of the DEP schools is increasing the requirements for its students to participate in the program. These students will be facing requirements in addition to those specified by PBA. On the other hand, the DEP instructors and their administrators enjoy the flexibility that this program affords its students by allowing the DEP schools to offer courses for either one semester or the entire year based on their own individual scheduling concerns. As this pilot program draws to a close, the perception of the overall program by both on-campus professors and DEP instructors is positive; however, there is room for improvement in the future.
For the most part, DEP student perceptions are extremely positive. Students are excited about the sense of community that they feel as part of the PBA family. They are excited about the opportunity to take college courses and get a head start on their degree program, and their parents are excited that they do not have to spend extra money for these courses. These DEP courses are included in the cost of tuition. At the beginning of the program, many students did not really understand the amount of effort that would be required in a college level course. This perception is slowly changing. Some students are still struggling, but many are beginning to understand what is expected of them. The DEP courses are challenging for even the best high school students; however, those hard working students are thoroughly enjoying this learning experience.
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
As the first year of this DEP draws to a close, all of the relevant data have not yet been collected, the common assessments have not all been completed, and the data that have been collected have not yet been completely analyzed. The DEP project team has spent time reflecting on their own perceptions of the success of the program. Some changes have been made for the future of the program based on these reflections. One of the changes that this team hopes to implement before the beginning of the next school year is for the DEP instructors to meet with the other PBA faculty in their individual departments. Hopefully, this will enable the PBA professors to feel more confident about the ability of the DEP professors to teach these courses, and therefore, have a more positive attitude about the program as a whole. The goal is to establish a sense of community among the faculty as well, and to open the lines of communication within the specific departments. Another change that will be made is that the DEP personnel will be more thoroughly trained to use the online resources, especially eCollege. The training prior to the start of the 2010 school year was just an overview of the resources that were available, and the DEP instructors were left struggling to learn how to use these resources. This training took place at the beginning of the school year when the DEP instructors were inundated with an enormous amount of information, and they were unable to absorb everything that was discussed. There was just not enough time to get everything done. The team plans to change the training procedures for next school year. In addition, the DEP project team at PBA will be analyzing all of the data throughout the summer to determine if any additional changes need to be made.
The initial perception of this first year of the DEP is that this program is a huge success. Most students and faculty members alike are excited about this new program, and high school students are inquiring about attending PBA after graduation. Since the data from the Common Assessments have not been thoroughly analyzed, it is too soon to determine if the DEP students achieved the same learning outcomes as their college counterparts. However, once the data have been analyzed, decisions will be made about what the future holds for the DEP at PBA.
Pilon, M. (2009, January 27). Private schools feel the pinch amid recession. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online .wsj.com/article/SB123301904801417967.html
Palm Beach Atlantic University. (2011). Statement of purpose. Retrieved from http:// www.pba.edu/statement-purpose
Judy Enyart, Dual Enrollment Adjunct Professor, Palm Beach Atlantic University, and K-12 Computer Teacher, Morningside Academy, 2180 SE Morningside Blvd., Port St. Lucie, FL 34952. Telephone: (772) 335-3231. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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|Date:||Dec 1, 2011|
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