Interview with Amit Schitai, Director of Instructional Technology & Distance Learning in Long Beach City College (LBCC)
Distance-Educator.com: What is the role of your office in supporting distance learning at LBCC?
Mr. Schitai:My areas include the Instructional Technology Development Center (ITDC, http://itdc.lbcc.edu), the Distance Learning (DL) program http://de.lbcc.edu) and the Faculty Resource Center (http://lrtt.lbcc.edu/frc). These areas work closely with both faculty who teach e-courses and with students who attend these classes. On the faculty side, these areas work closely with instructors of all e-course offerings to provide instructional technology solutions for educational challenges and needs encountered in on-campus and distance learning courses. These solutions may include content processors (practices, self-assessments and interactive tutorials), collaboration and communication activities, as well as informational and administrative material needed for the classes. The ITDC conducts workshops and provides one-on-one training sessions to teach faculty how to use the technology and integrate it to their curriculum. ITDC teams also work with faculty to ensure that they are comfortable working with the technology independently. For example, faculty who teach any type of e-course offered at LBCC, learn to use a Web authoring system to work with our e-zteach; e-learning environment, and basic server communication. This way, faculty are responsible for updating all their static pages, and uploading them to the server anytime and from anywhere. Any interactive activity required for dynamic pages is scripted by the faculty, and forwarded to the ITDC team who design, produce, and make it ready for integration.
On the student side, all communication is coordinated by the Distance Learning program, which includes phone, email and asynchronous communication on the program Web site, Projected and existing students may call the program or email their DL related questions. Student also access the DL Website to confirm their registration, and the main gateway to all e-courses at LBCC: The e-Courses Directory. Students may also use the DL Web site to read the program’s FAQ, communicate with the DL program Specialist, access friendly and practical resources and tools, experience an online course before they enroll in a real one, read other students’ comments and access the DL helpline site. Finally, the Distance Learning program also works closely with other areas at the college to ensure friendly access to distance learning services via the DL Web site. These areas include the Library department to provide access to the online catalog and electronic databases, the counseling department for online counseling and orientation, the Learning and Academic Resources for online supplemental instruction and on-campus support, the online bookstore, and our own HelpLine (phone and Internet) operation. In the near future we hope to implement online registration (currently the student may download an application and mail it in) and online tutoring.
Distance-Educator.com:Why did you decide to develop an online student support program?
Mr. Schitai: Distance learning students are faced with various challenges before and during their online experience. These challenges may include difficulties in following written text/media generated directions, procrastination, short concentration span, or insufficient Internet or technology skills. In order to succeed in their classes, distance learning students need to overcome these challenges by developing skills necessary for this mode of learning. The most significant skills that need to be acquired are (1) learning skills: tools and behaviors that keep the students motivated, disciplined, and in charge of their own learning, (2) basic Internet skills: working with computers and browsers to access the Internet. This includes the ability to identify resources both on campus and online that would help students handling academic and administrative issues throughout their distance learning experience, and (3) communication and collaboration skills: interacting with other students in the course, the course instructor, and other course resources.
I believe all students could be a “good fit” for distance learning if they take the time to acquire the necessary skills mentioned above. From my program’s perspective, I wanted to ensure we provide students with the opportunity to develop the competencies they need and that no student is left behind due to not already possessing the necessary skills. While we, like many other programs, offer links on our Web site that allow students to assess earning based on their existing skills and the type of learners they are, we also offer a variety of tools for students to expand their repertoire of learning preferences and acquire the necessary skills that they will use to become successful in this type of learning. Students are encouraged to access and use these tools before they begin their distance learning experience and revisit them whenever necessary throughout the course. Finally, since most adults learn best from their own experiences, our Web site highlights success stories of students who completed distance learning courses at LBCC by providing student testimonials (movies) which projected students view to make the experience more personable and as a means to increase their motivation in acquiring skills they may lack.
Distance-Educator.com:How long did it take you to develop the program? Could you please comment on the complexity of developing such a program?
Mr. Schitai: The program is and always will be a “work in progress”. The main force that drives the design and inclusion of activities, tools and resources in the program are the needs and demands as communicated by students and faculty. Distance learning students have ample opportunities to vocalize their needs whether through their instructors, or on the Distance Education Web site. Also, the HelpLine communication database provides information on the types of assistance distance learning students request on an on-going basis. The program is based on a system approach to learning and teaching with technology, and a team based methodology for the development and integration of instructional technology applications for both on-campus and off-campus classes. Instructional Technology professionals are joined by faculty to form development teams for specific purposes/products. Working with the rest of the team, faculty are responsible for content rationale, content development, interactive scripting, and pilot evaluation. The rest of the team produces the activity/product using instructional design principles by which the content is treated and the necessary standardized software solutions. This model, which was awarded a Technology Foucs Award from the California Community College Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO), has proven most valuable and productive and we implement it (or variations of it) for all our development efforts. An additional aspect necessary for the development of such a program is the need to keep the program cost-effective and affordable for the college. For that purposes, there is a constant need to seek and be awarded special grants from governmental and private funding sources to support the program and ensure the feasibility of developing the sought after projects and applications. This way, the college budget is saved for daily operation and maintenance of activities that were initiated and developed through grant funds.
How has the program been received among students, and faculty?
Mr. Schitai: Students access the various resources and tools available to them either through a recommendation from their instructors, or independently by browsing the Distance Learning Web site. While we are planning to survey both our faculty and student population in the near future to obtain specific information directly from the students, our main student feedback is currently received through evaluation conducted by instructors, anecdotal data initiated by the students in communicating with both their instructor and our staff, or through direct feedback requests emailed to all registered students. Some of our students comments are gathered and presented on the Web site at http://de.lbcc.edu (see Student Comments).
One advantage of developing projects through grants funds is that sufficient funds are allocated for evaluation in various stages of the project including after initial implementation. This way, program activities can be piloted, evaluated, and consequently modified or improved as necessary. For example, our last year grant project, “S.I.D.E. Road: Success in Distance Education” which was funded by the CCCCO Fund for Student Success, was initially tested by 260 students before it was disseminated to the entire distance learning and Web enhanced population through links available on the specific courses’ Web sites.
Faculty input is received on an going basis through individual dialogue, workshops and training session at the Faculty Resource Center, as well as during other college events in which distance learning issues are discussed (e.g. Flex Days). For example, LBCC faculty have become instrumental in the process of upgrading our original e-learning environment (e- zteach™;)). While the basic structure of this environment consists of three zones (information, learning and communication), faculty work with our team to customize each zone to fit the needs of their students as well as their own needs. As they try each addition for a semester or two, they report back on the usefulness of the features they tried and suggest new ways to improve it.
Are you involved in a new development program? Could you comment on that please?
Mr. Schitai: Yes. Starting January 2003 I have been involved in the development of an exciting three year project funded in part by the DOE Fund for Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE). This project is an interactive e-training (CD & Website) aimed at training the entire full and part time LBCC faculty population (over 1000 member) to identify and handle disabled students issues in their on- and off-campus classes. The overall project objective is to provide appropriate solutions to disabled students via faculty implementation of reasonable accommodations and strategies in the face-to-face and distance-learning classroom, resulting in greater success for students with disability in accessing and participating in all aspects of the college’s instructional environment. The project includes the development of an interactive multimedia CD and a Web site to as the core training material. Actual training sessions will be conducted in groups at the Faculty Resource Center, or individually on the project Web site. A sophisticated tracking system will be implemented and provide faculty with self-assessment opportunities and progress report. The interactive courseware includes seven case studies in a simulated environment in which faculty take the role of the Instructor and are asked to identify a disabled student who needs attention, then select the appropriate method to provide accommodation for that student. Additionally, instructors will assess fictional instructors who have some thoughts about similar situations and learn about legal implications associated with each of these thoughts. The project’s work name is “Successful Disabled Students: The Faculty Perspective”; for more information please access the project Web site at http://itdc.lbcc.edu/sds
Amit Schitai is the Director of Instructional Technology & Distance Learning in Long Beach City College (LBCC) and an award winning instructional designer. He designed and developed over fifty educational interactive multimedia courseware for both college and university levels aimed at enhancing and supporting the curricula of a variety of academic disciplines. Mr. Schitai runs the Distance Learning program and the Instructional Technology Development Center/Faculty Resource Center at LBCC. He has an ABD and an M.A. from The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, a B.A. and a Teacher Certificate from The Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Additionally, Mr. Schitai completed a certificate of Distance Learning from the State University of West Georgia, and the Special Institute for the Management of Distance Education at the California Virtual College (CVC), where he also serves on the Advisory Board (CVC Region 2). Mr. Schitai has published and presented his work in various publications and conferences including EDUCOM, TechEd, CVC Annual Conferences, The League for Innovations in The Community College, ADEC, the California Community Colleges annual conferences, and many others. For more information, access http://itdc.lbcc.edu/amit.html or email firstname.lastname@example.org