Hello! My name is Cathy Gunn and I'm honored to participate in the Virtual Guest Lecturer Series for the Illinois OnLine Network.

Introduction to Cathy Gunn

My topic for this lecture is the Faculty Role in IVC's Student Support Centers, but let me introduce myself as Cathy, the teacher, first! I haven't always been in higher education, but I have been a teacher forever [it seems]. My first year of teaching was in a Department of Defense School in Goeppingen, Germany, during the early 1970's, where my husband, Harry, was stationed during the Vietnam War. From there I taught in Jacksonville and Waverly, IL, first in special education and then in a 3rd grade classroom.

I got started in integrating technology into my classroom in the early 1980's, when I had one Apple IIe computer on a rolling cart. The rest, as they as, 'is history.” Because I used one computer successfully as a learning tool for demonstrating the writing process, I hit upon an important strategy that has led me to the Illinois Virtual Campus. I intuitively asked myself '...And how does this computer application (the word processor) help the learner learn in a different way?' I became a consultant for the Illinois State Board of Education and conducted workshops for 9 counties of K-12 schools and asked the question, 'How can technology help teachers teach better?'

In 1988 we moved to the University of Oregon, where I got my doctorate in Curriculum & Instruction. I began asking the question, 'How can technology improve teaching and learning?' I was a professor of educational technology at Northern Arizona University for 8 years where I first asked the question 'How can university faculty integrate technology successfully in their courses?' It then evolved to 'Where does the Internet fit in curriculum and instruction?”

In September, 1998, I read a position announcement in an online journal that mentioned the Illinois Virtual Campus and what I saw as an exciting idea: the creation of Student Support Centers for online students – to be located in community colleges in Illinois. Underlying all of the previous questions has been the question, 'and what does this mean for the learner?'Illinois was heading in a direction that was important to me personally, and I wanted to be involved in this important initiative. I knew that the Illinois Community College system would go a long way towards making this student support center concept a success.

Within 3 weeks, I was living in Champaign and began preparing for this guest lecture! In 1 years, we have taken an idea found on paper (the original HECA proposal) to a living and viable virtual entity. Let me describe the IVC:

IVC Background

The Illinois Virtual Campus was established in September 1998 by a HECA (Higher Education Cooperation Act) grant from the Illinois Board of Higher Education. It was funded for a second year September 1999. The IVC uses a broad definition for distributed education similar to that of Gladieux and Swail (1998): 'an educational process that separates in time or place, the student and instructor and includes courses offered by computer transmission, television, electronic conferencing, videocassettes or discs, or correspondence.'The primary focus of the IVC is with online courses and programs, but a regional flavor is evident in the online catalog (http://www.ivc.illinois.edu/ is no longer a working site) (with approximately 42% of the courses listed falling into categories other than online delivery.)

Currently there are over 1800 courses and 46 certificate or degree programs listed in the IVC catalog. Thousands of students are taking online courses as well as interactive TV or video courses that can be found in the IVC online catalog.With approximately 2/3 of IVC's providing institutions responding, almost 15,000 students were reported enrolled in fall 1999 courses listed in the IVC catalog.

Student Support Centers

The one thing that sets the IVC apart from other virtual universities is the student support center concept. Thirty-nine community college districts and the East St. Louis Community College Center began the 1999/2000 school year evaluating their ability to provide distributed learning students with computer/Internet access, technical support, library access, initial advising, and testing services. Twenty-three community colleges submitted grant proposals vying for up to $15,000 each for 10 special initiative grant projects. Project plans center around developing online student readiness strategies or programs to ensure student success once they are in an online course. Products developed through this special initiative funding will be completed for distribution to all Student Support Centers by fall 2000 and will be available to students from the IVC website. In the future, centers may be found in community centers, libraries, K-12 schools, places of business, and in prisons.

So now I am asking the question: 'What does the IVC and its Student Support Centers mean for students and online faculty?

For students, we intend for the Centers to support students as they ready themselves for online learning, in your classes, and for support that will keep them in your online classes.

Let me expand on the 5 basic services that students should be able to find locally, within a short drive or a local phone call.

1. Access to computers and Internet

Any Illinois resident can access a computer with web capabilities to take an online course, at little-to-no cost.

2. Access to technical support

Contact information is provided at each center, giving an online student local resources for technical support. This might consist of help in uploading a homework assignment to the instructor, either by phone consultation or in person at the college's computer lab. This function is developing as centers determine the extent of student requests.

3. Access to libraries

While it remains the responsibility of providing institutions to support their online students' library needs, community college libraries may serve students in their district with general library support. For example, a student might request help in how to search for research references.

4. Testing services

Each center provides test-proctoring services to residents of their district, some at no charge or at minimal cost.

5. Advisement

Centers are not asked to serve as advisors for participating institutions, but online students may arrange to meet with an academic advisor or career counselor for general advising help to get started.

A map on the IVC website showed where the Student Support Centers are located throughout the state. Each center provides contact information for a general contact, library, advising center, technical support, and for testing information as an example.

What does this mean to you?

If students know about support services for online learners at their local community college, they can be assured that the online experience with your course has a safety net. If you know about these services and can refer students to resources within a close geographical proximity to their home or place of work, you can concentrate on what you do best--facilitating learning.

How might your student use an IVC Student Support Center?

Let's assume that you have an online student who lives geographically at the farthest point in Illinois from your traditional campus. The student has a computer with modem and an Internet Service Provider. During the first week of class, a critical time to be corresponding with her instructor and accessing the course website, her computer crashes and the student is unable to access the course. She can call the IVC Student Support Center technical contact at her local community college and make arrangements to use a computer lab on campus to access your course. Computers are set aside specifically for IVC students at all 40 centers.

How will the student know whom to call?

Hopefully, you will have directed students to the IVC website with its map of 40 centers and contact information in the course introduction. The IVC has created a graphic with the IVC Logo and the words 'Student Support Centers.' You can get a graphic from our website in several different sizes and include it as a link from your course homepage. If the student has no access to the web to locate the phone numbers, and they call you for information you will be able to link from your course page directly to the center contact information. You can pass the information on to the student to get them back into the course pronto, without losing too much time.

How might a student use technical support from a Support Center?

We have not asked community colleges to provide complete technical support for any student who asks for it. But having taught online courses myself, I understand how frustrating it is to not have enough technical knowledge to answer even the simplest question. I would guess you all are very similar to me, in that we got to this place of online learning because we are risk takers, or innovators, and definitely because we're good teachers! I bet it wasn't because we are technical experts. Did you learn what you know about the world of online learning because you are self-taught? If so, you probably have gaps in your technical knowledge base! For me, if I haven't encountered the technical problem myself, I probably won't understand the conditions enough to get past basic troubleshooting (e.g., is it plugged in?)! And if it happened to me anytime before yesterday, I've moved on and won't likely be able to remember the solution anyway!

A technical expert at a Student Support Center can be the first point of contact in troubleshooting. Sometimes a quick phone call can solve a problem. A technical expert can often tell when a problem is a hardware/software issue or related to the ISP.

Finally, I can remember how much handholding I needed to send my first email attachment or to post my first discussion item on a web board. If someone else can provide that first support when a student is stressed by getting an assignment to you, you can spend your time with content instead of mechanics.

What can we expect from a Support Center library?

College librarians are used to students asking for help in getting started on research. Online resources are just one of many library resources available to a student. Student Support Centers can help students find resources, both print and electronic. They can provide a point of contact for interlibrary loan. It is the providing university or college who has the responsibility for providing their students with adequate library resources, but the Student Support Centers can help students with access to those resources.

Will Support Center advisors advise students about your programs?

Probably not. But they are available to get a student started. Center advisors can direct a student to the right office or phone number at another institution. They can help a student begin thinking about career choices. They will know about the evolving online resources the IVC is developing or sponsoring to help students become good online learners. These resources will be linked from the IVC website. You might find some of the resources as complements to your courses.

For example, you might require your student to go through a self-assessment survey as part of a course routine. Or you may find it helpful to direct students to a specific online resource when you notice that they are floundering in an online discussion. This resource section should continue to develop, and your contributions to new resources or refinement of existing resources will strengthen the effectiveness of the IVC and online learning.

Finally, you can count on IVC's Student Support Centers to support the testing needs of your student. No matter where your students live in Illinois, they are probably within a close driving distance of a community college center. Each center will provide testing services, including test proctoring with minimal or no charge. The IVC website lists a Testing Service Contact, who can assist your students. You can find their fax number on the IVC site, students can make arrangements for taking their tests, and proctored tests can be included in your course syllabus.

What about your online students who are not residents of Illinois?

Well, since the IVC is funded by the IBHE in support of Illinois students, it is unlikely that online students who live outside Illinois boundaries will have the same access to face-to-face support. We hope to create as many online resources as possible that can mirror face-to-face activities, but I know that some services can never be replicated online.

How can you participate in the future development of Student Support Centers?

The centers have evolved through pilot testing by a group of 15 community colleges, with further testing by 40 community college districts this past year. We want to gain access to students in the future who might be using the centers. Typically, a student asking for help from someone at the community college isn't identified as an 'IVC student.' Community colleges serve their residents in multiple ways, whether the user is a student or not. One way to find out more about the usefulness of the centers is to ask the students, and the only way the IVC can do that is to go through online course instructors. We hope to use surveys in the future that will help us describe online students and the support services they need and use to be successful online students. My hope is that you will help us do this by linking your students to the IVC and to targeted survey instruments as they are developed and administered. In the meantime, we also invite feedback and suggestions from you as you and your students make use of the IVC and its Student Support Centers.

I started this lecture by presenting a series of evolving questions that have guided my path from my first classroom to the IVC. There is one last question that I ask every day and with every decision that I make as director of the IVC. That is: 'How will this decision affect the student?' You have a role to play in the IVC, because when I ask this question, it is obvious to me that you truly are the closest we can get to those students that we are trying to serve.


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