Center for Excellence in Distance Learning at Wiley College invites historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to increase online offerings with open educational resources


Copyright: Billy Hathorn, Wikimedia Commons

Hoping to address a long-standing issue at historically black colleges and universities, Wiley College has teamed up with Lumen Learning to create a center entirely devoted to the use of open educational resources in distance learning.

The new Center for Excellence in Distance Learning at Wiley College won’t just be for the benefit of students at Wiley. Two other HBCUs, Oakwood University and Florida Memorial University, have already joined the program.

“We felt the timing was right to look at a real collaboration among HBCUs and that building a critical mass of colleges and universities would be more appropriate and get better results than working alone,” said Kim Long, the center’s director.

Other colleges and universities are also in talks to join the center, said Kim Thanos, CEO of Lumen Learning.

“It’s an open invitation,” Thanos said. “But they really have to have a deep commitment to developing effective online learning programs that keep that personal relationship in which these types of campuses really pride themselves.”

HBCUs, particularly private ones, have lagged behind other institutions in building online learning programs and embracing distance education.

According to a study released in June 2013 by Howard University’s Digital Learning Lab, only six of the 55 private universities that are designated as HBCUs offer blended and online degree programs. That number hasn’t changed since 2010.

Howard attempted to create an expansive online program last year through a partnership with Pearson. As there are about about 120 online programs offered by both public and private HBCUs, Howard’s offerings would have accounted for more than 20 percent of online HBCU programs in the United States.

(Next page: Why have HBCUs lagged behind in online learning?)

Amid financial woes, the timeline Pearson and Howard originally envisioned proved too ambitious, and the experiment was scrapped a few days after the university began laying off 200 employees — including members of the Digital Learning Lab.

Long said HBCUs have struggled going online due to a variety of factors, including shortage of funds, competing priorities, and a lack of knowledge.

“In my professional experience, there seems to be an issue of having the expertise,” she said. “And I think we often operate in an silo where we are we trying to invent these materials, resources, and courses so it gets backlogged and stymied. Then before long the administration becomes frustrated, there’s turnover in personnel, and the changes just never happen.”

But Wiley realized, Long said, that by using open educational resources, the faculty would not have to create new learning materials. It would just be a matter of locating existing resources and customizing them to fit the needs of the student body.

That’s where Lumen Learning came in. Lumen had already worked with several institutions, including the Open High School of Utah and Tidewater Community College, to implement fully open courses and programs.

“As we are able to engage with the center, we’re really able to target and focus the open resources for the specific needs of this group of students,” Thanos said. “The resources gives us the freedom and flexibility to focus on specific teaching styles and learning outcomes.”

Long said the most difficult part of the initiative was changing faculty perceptions, as instructors had grown so “comfortable” with commercial products.

But once the faculty was able to work with the materials, and weigh the pros and cons of both options, many came to prefer the new resources.

“OER allows faculty members to custom tailor the courses to their teaching preferences and that has been the most relevant aspect of why this initiative is working for us and is exciting other HBCUs,” Long said. “It’s lowering student costs but also giving more access. And the central core mission at HBCUs is access for students that otherwise would not have a college education.”

Follow Jake New on Twitter at @eCN_Jake.

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