NCCCS specializes in high quality education and training for the workforce, including college transfer, high-tech career preparation and basic skills literacy. When 2020 restrictions came into play, the college system was equipped with learning management systems and services to pivot to online delivery. Many faculty and staff had been using online learning for a number of years, and each college was familiar with the resources available to help other faculty newer to eLearning tools.
The NCCCS Virtual Learning Community (VLC) stepped up to provide more training webinars and research, helplines, and on-demand resources. Faculty and learners additionally have access to an integrated library system and a newly launched open educational resource (OER) platform openNCCC containing digital resources and research which can also be accessed through Moodle, Blackboard Learn and Canvas learning management systems.
A New Bundled Services Package to Better Serve Faculty and Students
While NCCCS uses multiple LMSs across its colleges, 32 of them use Open LMS with 230,000 current active faculty and student users. The move to Open LMS began in 2018, when the college migrated 30 colleges within the first year of adoption. NCCCS tried something new when they selected a vendor through a Request for Proposal (RFP) process, making an award for a bundled contract of services. The contract with Open LMS includes hosting and support, storage, web-conferencing, plagiarism software, accessibility software, analytics, and a large faculty training package. “Bundled services included with a learning management system provide colleges with the necessary tools that faculty and students require for online instruction”, explains Katherine Davis, Director of Distance Learning Technologies in the Technology Solutions and Distance Learning division at NCCCS.
Included in the bundled services package, the teams take advantage of integrated tools such as Blackboard Ally for Moodle™ accessibility software, Blackboard SafeAssign for Moodle™ plagiarism software, Blackboard Collaborate for Moodle™ web conferencing solution, and IntelliBoard analytics.
In order to integrate course data quickly and efficiently, Open LMS connects with the NCCCS ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system, using Open LMS’ integration tool—Conduit—a scalable information system integration tool for administrators. With Conduit, data and information on courses can easily flow back and forth between systems, ensuring efficacy and efficiency.
When courses had to be migrated online very quickly during the pandemic, the bundled services model proved to be an effective way to offer faculty everything they would need to teach online. “Having this bundled package was just wonderful because it offered the structure and tools faculty need to teach a course online. This LMS package was especially helpful for faculty who were new to delivering online instruction”, shared Davis.
Doubling Down on Faculty Training and Receiving Support from Open LMS
Many instructors knew the basics of their college’s Moodle LMS, but they were not familiar with how to use tools available to provide engagement for students. To bridge the gap, Open LMS staff provided additional training to get faculty up to speed with LMS capabilities and features and to provide best practices with user and storage management.
“Open LMS was very instrumental in providing training to the colleges either one-on-one or as a group. Our VLC also provided training in the different services included in the LMS. Additionally, we had training helplines that allowed faculty to call in at any time. We recorded our webinar sessions and added them to our VLC on-demand training making all sessions accessible to faculty and staff in our system 24/7”, explained Davis.
Faculty feedback on training has been very positive, according to Davis. “Teaching fully online can be stressful for instructors who are used to the face-to-face classroom experience. However, many faculty members learned to teach using this new modality and discovered they can interact well with students through web-conferencing solutions, discussion boards and other video tools”, says Davis.
In 2019, Davis began facilitating monthly Open LMS Community meetings in order to go deeper on topics, share information, and collaborate with the System’s Open LMS Client Engagement Manager. Davis continues: “Our System Office Distance Learning Team worked with the Open LMS Client Engagement Manager during the migration of 32 colleges to Open LMS. Our CEM continues to provide support and information to our distance learning administrators and college staff members. Together we create a monthly agenda around updates from Open LMS and our System Office. We also designate a portion of the meeting to our college participants who collaborate on finding solutions for needs and sharing new discoveries of digital tools to enhance online learning. We have excellent attendance from our college community”.
Open NCCC, A New Open Educational Resource for All Colleges
In December 2020, the college system launched a new open educational resource (OER) platform called openNCCC o to house digital content. This platform connects to NCCCS learning management systems through an LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability) integration. OpenNCCC is integrated with an artificial intelligence brain to assist with advanced searches by faculty and staff. The NC Brain resulted from a machine learning project of the VLC and System Office Distance Learning Team to provide faculty with highly relevant responses to their search requests for learning content to support online courses.
The NC Brain ingests and analyzes all current and newly authored content in the openNCCC platform every 24 hours in order to recommend targeted searching results across the OER platform. The content can then be embedded into online courses in various different formats which include videos, ebooks, activity/labs, assessments, and downloadable materials. Instructors may choose to use a portion or all of the resource, or remix the resource based on the Creative Commons license assigned to each OER content item.
“Since launching openNCCC, we’ve enhanced support for the inherent desire for collaboration among our teaching and learning communities in our System. We are now in the process of setting up hubs and individual groups where our different faculty and staff communities can collaborate, share and publish content”, shared Davis.
Producing Quality and Effective Course Design
All 58 colleges have their own internal processes for developing courses but they can also use the courses that the VLC produces, which are created with accessibility and quality standards in mind. Creating effective and engaging courses is something that the NCCCS has been working on for 23 years.
Online courses are developed using Quality Matters best practices, accessibility standards, good instructional design, review by technical editors, and a final review and piloting process by community college instructors.
Providing the right technology and ensuring it all works well has been central to the success of eLearning practices at NCCCS, especially during the past year. In Davis’ words: “I’m really proud of our college faculty and staff who stepped up under stressful conditions and continued to provide quality instruction to students.”