This article was published as part of a special edition of the Community College Journal of Practice.
Online Technical Education in the Community College. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 41(6).
Overview of the Project
The overall purpose of this project is to expand the cybersecurity curriculum offered at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida and to increase the quantity and capacity of qualified cybersecurity technicians in the workforce. This project created six new courses which were embedded in two A.S. degrees (Networking System Technologies and Programming & Analysis) and three college credit certificates (Network Security, Network Server Administration and Network Infrastructure). All curriculum content is developed for delivery within an online learning management system (LMS) and is designed so it can be used in web-enhanced, hybrid, or fully online courses. By strategically creating common LMS environments for each course, we will ensure students receive a consistently high quality learning experience in all course delivery formats.
The six courses created during this project were designed to meet the needs of a variety of information technology professionals. CTS1120 Fundamentals of Information Security provides all of our IT students with a comprehensive overview of the essential concepts of information security including information security standards, education, professional certifications and compliance laws. CTS2142 IT Project Management provides comprehensive knowledge of the methods, tools and techniques related to successful management of an IT project. CTS2317 Advanced Information Security provides the practical experience necessary for a student to become proficient in the field of systems security as well as prepares our networking students to take the CompTIA Security+ exam. CTS2858 Internet Security teaches how to secure a home network from unauthorized activity. CIS2352 Ethical Hacking provides the fundamental knowledge necessary for a student to become proficient in understanding the techniques used in computer hacking and how to respond to hacking related incidents. CIS2619 Designing Secure Software is designed for our programming students to ensure they are involving security requirements in the planning and delivery of software systems.
Integration of Online Components
Instructure’s Canvas is the standard LMS used by Santa Fe College for all online and web-enhanced courses. Canvas provides the ability to host online content as well as a variety of tools and plugins for student interaction and collaboration. Some of the tools used for this project include NETLAB+ (cloud-based lab environment), Piazza (wiki style question & answer platform), TestOut (tutorials with simulations and assessment), ProctorU (online test proctoring), SmartThinking (online writing and math tutoring), as well as a variety of instructional videos. These tools were chosen to provide resources to students including: video-based instruction, hands-on labs, remote testing, writing tutoring with review, a course help system, and online collaboration.
Quality Matters Peer Review Process
The Quality Matters (QM) rubric and peer review process was used to guide the development of online courses. The QM process is extremely helpful for developing high quality course materials that are clear and concise, aligned to learning outcomes, and meet the needs of a wide variety of students (QM, 2013). The QM rubric focuses only on the presentation of the course; it does not address course content. Using the rubric helped ensure that students had information about support resources including technical support for embedded tools. It helped to ensure learning outcomes were aligned to course activities and assessments. It also highlighted universal design considerations for students with hearing, visual or other learning challenges that can affect their ability to successfully access learning materials in an online course.
Faculty Professional Development
Faculty began the project by participating in a series of professional development workshops. These included content level technical courses, which helped faculty bring their technical skills up-to-date, as well as professional development workshops to help faculty learn how to implement the selected learning environments. Some of these workshops were offered by other National Science Foundation Advanced Technical Education (NSF ATE) projects such as the National Center for Systems Security and Information Assurance (CSSIA). Several of the CSSIA workshops were taught online utilizing a video conferencing environment and the NETLAB+ system (CSSIA, 2016). This allowed faculty to experience an online learning environment and NETLAB+ system as a student before starting the process of developing curriculum utilizing these tools. Faculty also participated in workshops offered by the colleges Center for Teaching, Technology, and Training (CT3) (www.sfcollege.edu/ct3/). CT3 provides faculty workshops and certificates in Online Design and Instruction, Classroom Teaching and Learning as well as Quality Matters’ Applying the Quality Matters Rubric.
Opportunities & Challenges
For the most part, the curriculum development in this project went smoothly. There were a few challenges with the implementation of online tools and with the amount of resources and time it takes to learn these tools and to implement them for effective use in the curriculum.
Building an Online Virtual Lab Environment
NDG’s NETLAB+ virtual lab environment is one of the most beneficial components of this project. It provides the opportunity for our online students to complete the same high quality hands-on activities as those we’ve been offering in our face-to-face classes. The only requirement on the student side is a computer with a high-speed internet connection and a browser. A wide variety of labs have already been developed by the National Information Security and Geospatial Technologies Consortium, the Center for Systems Security and Information Assurance, Cisco Networking Academy, VMWare IT Academy, EMC Academic Alliance, and NDG which provide content in network security as well as a variety of network infrastructure and systems support curriculums (www.netdevgroup.com).
The challenges involved in this deploying this system include the high level of system implementation expertise required to complete the physical assembly, installation, and deployment of the VMWare vSphere server infrastructure and NETLAB+ appliance. In addition, the deployment and maintenance of the virtual machines and student lab pods, was time consuming for faculty. Because of the time required to setup each pod and replicate for the use of students, the overall implementation of this system has been slower than originally planned which has delayed the integration of the NETLAB+ labs into the curriculum.
Developing Online Video Components
Whenever possible, course content was designed using video, along with written text or closed captioning, to meet the requirements of universal design and to give students the cognitive benefit of multi-sensory learning. We also hoped that this would help students to gain more familiarity with their instructors and develop a greater sense of connection to the learning environment. Some content videos were freely available from repositories such as YouTube and TED Talks, while others were available via licensed curriculum such as those provided by TestOut. Faculty recorded additional videos as needed to complete the curriculum and to give overall course instruction.
The time involved in development of video curriculum is challenging for faculty. The technical development, editing and preparation of video, as well as the development of transcripts or captioning needed to meet universal design requirements, take significantly more time than would normally be devoted to a face-to-face instruction. This additional time requirement often creates a dilemma of whether or not to utilize less than desired quality video because sufficient time is not available to perfect the video quality.
Developing Collaborative learning environments
Canvas provides some great tools for group interaction, including group discussion, video conferencing, wiki editing, and shared resources. Using these tools provided the opportunity to design curriculum that could provide a similar interaction among students in the online environment as they experience in face-to-face classes. Collaborative learning assignments were designed using inclusive pedagogy which research shows is successful in appealing to a diverse group of students, and in helping students to develop practical work techniques (Barker & Cohoon, 2008a, 2008b).
One of the most challenging aspects of this project was the attempt to create collaborative online learning environments. Coordinating group collaboration proved to be difficult in an asynchronous environment where students had varying schedules and accessibility to connect with other students. When the groups worked well, the learning outcomes and experience greatly improved the overall outcomes of the course. However, it was difficult to consistently build productive groups, which functioned on a compatible level with both commitment and availability to the project. To date, we have worked with this course through three semesters of the collaborative group projects, continuing to refine the balance between individual work and group work, and scaffolding student skills required for group work. Our conclusion was that in order to be effective, we needed to spend more time helping to students build skills required to work effectively in online group projects.
Community college faculty are already overworked and do not have a lot of extra time to develop the skills needed to effectively deploy online curriculum & learning environments. The funding we received for this project allowed us to give faculty release time and provide travel funding for professional development. Without this funding, it is quite challenging to find the time or the resources for this type of course development. Developing a repository of support structures would be helpful. This could include workshops and webinars to develop technical skills for online curriculum development as well as effective pedagogy aligned to learning in an online environment. It could also include a repository of curriculum elements available for download and use in online courses. More research needs to be done in developing new teaching methods and best practices for collaborative/constructivist learning in an online environment. It is important we do not duplicate ineffective teacher-centered learning methodologies in our online courses just because it is difficult to implement more collaborative and constructivist learning methods.
Barker, L. & Cohoon, J.M (2008a). How do you recruit or retain women through inclusive pedagogy? Boulder, CO: NCWIT.
Barker, L. & Cohoon, J.M. (2008b). How do you retain women through collaborative learning? Boulder, CO: NCWIT.
Center for Systems Security and Information Assurance. Retrieved from http://cssia.org/ July 1, 2016.
Quality Matters. (2014). Quality Matters Higher Education Rubric. (5th ed.) Annapolis, MD: Author.