Blended and online learning is growing at a steady pace in all of higher education and especially in community colleges. New Over-The-Top Technologies (OTT), augmented by social media, increasingly enhance distance, blended and online learning.
Well-funded initiatives supported by legislation, such as the Online Educational Initiative (OEI) housed at the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, including Open Education Resources (OER), i.e., new ways of accessing information through California’s AB-798 College Textbook Affordability Act of 2015 and other OER strategies, are fostering frameworks to enhance online learning, thereby increasing student success in distance education.
Open Educational Resources are paving the way to free and low cost textbooks, affordable subscriptions and new ways of providing and accessing learning materials in college courses. New features in search engines and other resource methods increase affordability and access to learning materials by incorporating them directly into platform based learning systems. Another successful, innovative approach is concurrent enrollment whereby High school students are enrolled in online courses at community colleges. Students earn college credits while still in middle or high school. Enhancing these approaches, reducing the cost of increasingly expensive books is important. OER is designed to increase the use of digital learning and reduce the cost of traditional books in courses and programs.
An Online Educational Resources approach to textbooks as part of new Online Education Initiatives is a significant innovation in pilot stages in the current California Community College Online Education Initiative. The University of California and the California State University System each also have an Online Education Initiative and there are other OEI projects throughout the United States.
My purpose here is to further explain and define Over-the-Top-Technologies as vehicles for new offerings enhanced by the integration of Online Educational Resources in changing and reducing the cost of materials offered through new Online Educational Initiatives. My objective is to help administrators, staff and students more fully understand the exciting convergence of OTT, OER and OEI that is a harbinger of distance and online learning in our near future.
Over-The-Top Technologies (OTT) Explained
Recent innovations in how content can be accessed have changed the way we watch TV, video and film, the way we listen to audio and learn from other forms of media content. Every device is now a television equivalent, i.e., it is a human-centered and screen-deep learning environment.
Over-The-Top Technologies are transforming the nature of how we receive content. OTT channels are the emerging elephant in the field of opportunity in online learning.
OTT includes the streaming of audio, video and media content through open internet delivery, bypassing multiple system operators and being cable or satellite providers (Hall, 2010). This new content delivery is internet-based. However, the internet service provider is not responsible in any way for the content that is being distributed. The internet simply provides manageable access and distribution. This allows for content dissemination to bypass service providers making media delivery more affordable. OTT devices must be internet-connected. Examples include smartphones, TV set-top-boxes, gaming consoles and web-enabled TVs. Through these devices OTT may use applications, also known as apps, as third party interfaces to deliver content.
Examples of OTT social media channels are Facebook, YouTube and Twitter plus apps such as Hulu, Skype, WhatsApp, HBO Now, Showtime, Apple TV, Amazon Video, Roku, Sony Liv, Yupptv and Viber. These are vivid, successful demonstrations of thriving OTT apps (Hall, 2010).
The presence of OTT creates access for direct sharing of information at low cost. Many times it is in the form of a subscription-based purchase model. As courses and applications develop, they may be purchased or distributed with or without long-term contracts. The best platforms will have minimum barriers to buy-in and ease of use (transparency) will be a central concern. An educational example such as Lynda.com, a product of LinkedIn, is an example of an online learning platform for learning professional skills. It has a monthly subscription fee and can be accessed via a mobile app or website address. The courses offered on the Lynda.com site are organized into modules with streaming video instructions to lead users/students through the lesson. A better-known, more successful mass market example is Netflix. The application is especially successful due to high subscription rates and low turnover. OTT presents the capability to distribute content to larger audiences, on various devices at low costs making it promising technology for delivering future learning systems. In the formal education sector, learning management systems (LMS) such as Blackboard, Desire 2 Learn and Canvas are examples of OTT learning platforms presently being widely used.
Publishers, technology companies, educational institutions and software developers are working to figure out how to leverage these new access pathways. Intelecom Learning, Inc., is an example of a not-for-profit educational resources company serving community colleges by providing OER resources integrated into Over-the-Top Technologies for use in online learning courses and programs. A new online learning metaphor is definitely emerging.
Open Educational Resources (OER) and the Online Educational Initiative (OEI)
Widespread social acceptance and adoption of technology account for the changes we have experienced with technology. Education is transforming because of systemic trends in innovation, acceptance and adoption. Open Educational Resources (OER) is a current example of an important adaptation taking place.
OER may be defined as any educational material- textbooks, lectures, notes, assignments, projects, audio, video or animations that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2016). Online Education Resources have existed since the 1960s but are now more accessible because of innovations like OTT and fundamentally because of the global pervasiveness of the internet. The increasing cost of textbooks is now a major barrier to education and OER offers an alternative approach. For example, textbook prices have increased by 1041% over the past 30 years whereas the (CPI), Consumer Price Index, increased 308% during the same period
A study of 2039 students at 156 campuses across 33 states titled “How Students Respond to High Textbook Costs and Demand Alternatives,” found the following impacts:
Given the above statistics, the fundamental issue for faculty is how to provide every student access to the course textbook on the first day of class. OERs provide free online or low cost options and many of the OER sources allow the faculty to control the textbook content they want their students to view. Today, this is being done on a course by course basis.
OER are released under intellectual property licenses, such as a creative commons license, that ensures that commercial compensation is not sought in the use/distribution of the resource (VCCS Re-engineering Task Force, 2015). Khan Academy is another example of an OER strategy user. In this case, the organization provides free educational videos that can be seen anywhere by anyone from its website or social media postings. Khan academy videos posted on Facebook or YouTube are a primary example of OER made available on social media as an OTT application. Creative Commons, Inc. has built a vibrant, collaborative global sharing of knowledge. Its mission is universal access to research and education to drive a new era of development, growth and productivity and in 2015 Creative Commons licensed works from around the world.
This example illustrates the accessibility created by OTT and OER through social media. Colleges and universities can now offer quality courses and programs including the accreditation needed to validate and give credibility to a student’s knowledge. In short, online learning has now finally stepped from the shadows and into the spotlight to become a recognized, accepted, respected area of increasing interest and value to the sectors of publishing, technology and education for a significant number of emerging reasons.
Institutions are bridging the gap between OER and the traditional education system. Textbook Cost & Digital Learning Resources, a report done by the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) highlights higher education practices being piloted and integrated into their system. The report documents that the system has 16 colleges participating in the development of 70 OER courses. The colleges’ use of OER in courses has saved students’ money and generated new revenue for the colleges by drawing more students to OER courses. Interestingly, in the Virginia Community College study, students were more successful in OER pilot courses than in the equivalent textbook-based courses (VCCS Re-engineering Task Force, 2015).
California legislation has now been passed incentivizing the use of high-quality OER. The College Textbook Affordability Act of 2015 (AB-798) adds legislative force to the OER movement. OER is intended to “reduce cost for college students by encouraging faculty to accelerate the adoption of lower cost, high-quality open educational resources” (Bonilla, 2015). The Act outlined an incentive program and specifies funding for the act. $5 million in funding is allocated to the program through the year 2020. This OER approach is an example of another successful tool in providing suitable learning alternatives and materials for students.
Other sources of OER textbooks, digital libraries and multimedia instructional materials are OERCommons.org, Cool4Ed.org, Merlot.org, CollegeOpenTextbooks.org and OpenStax.org.
Distance Education and Online Learning
Distance education in its present format has been provided through the California Community College System since 1972 (California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, 2016). Distance education is defined as instruction in which the instructor and the student are separated by location/distance and interact through the assistance of communication technologies (Ventura College, 2016). Within the California Community College System, in 2011-12 distance education doubled to 41,354 sessions from 21,414 sessions in 2005-06. The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office is currently host for the initiative previously explained in this article as the Online Educational Initiative (OEI). The initiative places emphasis and support on developing online teaching and learning programs. This particular initiative also includes a Common Course Management System (CCMS) and resources needed to enable students and faculty to employ necessary technologies required of online education (California Community College Chancellor's Office, 2016).
The initiative includes a consortium of representatives from 24 colleges that are participating as pilot colleges. Starting in Spring 2017, eight of the 24 pilot colleges (including Ventura College in the Ventura County Community College District) will be participating in a new Course Exchange Program that allows students to register across the eight selected campuses in online courses without going through a separate application or matriculation process (California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, 2016). Funding for the initiative includes a $56.9 million grant given over five years to initiative sponsors Foothill De-Anza Community College District, Butte- Glen Community College District and the CCC Technology Center. The funds come from state legislation in support of college initiatives.
September 2016, OEI published an update including the announcement of an additional $20 million dollars granted in a budget revision to increase colleges’ ability to offer online courses and increase students’ access to the courses (James, 2016).
Social Media and Online Learning
Education is now heavily influenced by the popular, pervasive presence of social media platforms globally. Social media presents the opportunity for educators to use powerful new tools to reach students. In 2015 a Pew Research Report indicated that 90% of young adults (age 18-29) use social media (Perrin, 2015). The report defined social media users as those who said they use social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Examples of how social media-influenced platforms are infiltrating distance education can be seen in Common Content Management Systems (CCMS). As previously mentioned here, the California Community College OEI uses a course learning management system called Canvas. Canvas is a platform with robust features designed to engage students and support faculty. It includes user profiles, notifications, audio and video messaging, mobile capabilities and multimedia integration (California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative, 2016) and the system even provides the capability of receiving notifications via Facebook.
A US News and World Report article cited Bethany Smith, director of media and education technology resource center at North Carolina State University who explained they “mimic what Facebook is doing except in a learning environment” (Friedman, 2014). The same article mentions major benefits of social media as they create a sense of community among students and allow students and professors to quickly and easily share information with one another (Perrin, 2015).
In addition to Facebook, Twitter, Blogger and WordPress are platforms receiving traction in the education space. Twitter is used to garner brief, quick classroom participation via live tweets using hashtags. Blogs may be used for posting lengthier subject matter and receiving comments and feedback from classmates (BBC Active). Educators are increasingly experimenting and learning how social media effectively integrates with online learning. There is substantial agreement among many proponents of online learning that social media will be an important feature of the emerging blended and global online world of learning.
New technologies, new uses of older technologies, faculty development and sharing best practices are making quality distance education increasingly effective, reliable, and accessible and user friendly. Recognition of best practices is beginning to emerge. OTTs will become indispensable vehicles in online and distance learning. OER is here to stay, will continue to evolve in terms of sophistication and acceptance and will be transparently integrated into the learning experience of most students through the use of third party apps and/or social media platforms. OER will be more widely used when their power as revenue generating mechanisms, such as subscriptions and consortium, is fully understood and those financial models are perfected to increase learning or reduce the issues related to the cost of books. California’s OEI and AB-798 plus the Virginia Community College System’s widespread implementation of OER are examples of the promising future of OER in the OEI’s.
Individuals with the many component skills needed to advance online and distance education are increasing. In 1972, I participated in the founding of the Southern California Consortium for Community College Television, now Intelecom Learning, Inc. In 1976, I had the privilege of being founding president of Coastline Community College; then called “The College Without Walls.” In 1994, I had the privilege of becoming founding Chancellor of Jones International University, the first regionally accredited fully online university. In 2002, I launched the first M.A. and Ph.D. programs in Media Psychology at Fielding Graduate University and in 2006, as founding CEO of Touro University Worldwide, launched an accredited, fully-online division of the Touro College and University System. Each of these developments reflects a continuum of change and progress in online learning programs.
Distance education, blended and online learning has truly arrived. The critical obstacles to its development have been overcome to a point where the acceptance of online learning will rapidly increase. Individuals with the skills to take us forward are now available and immersed in new strategies such as OTT, OEI and OER. All of the initiatives are blending. We have all of the puzzle pieces and are putting them together. The way ahead is clear and filled with promise.
Dr. Bernard Luskin is Chancellor, Ventura County Community College District. He has been CEO of eight colleges and universities, CEO of Philips Interactive Media, Jones Education Networks and divisions of other Fortune 100 companies. He is a licensed psychotherapist, learning and media psychologist. Luskin is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and past president of A.P.A. Division 46, The Society for Media Psychology and Technology. Luskin was CEO of Coastline College, the first distance education based community college and Jones International University, the first regionally accredited, fully online university. Bernie Luskin has taught at UCLA, USC, Pepperdine, Claremont, Fielding, and Touro Universities. Email: BernieLuskin@gmail.com
Special thanks to: Dr. Toni Luskin, Rick Post, Alisa German, Beth Shephard, Janeene Nagaoka, Blair Gilbertson, Sherice Bellamy, Dina Pielaet and Patti Blair for your advice, editorial and technical assistance.
Personal interviews: Joe Moreau, Vice Chancellor, Educational Technology, Foothill-De Anza Community College District, Pat James, California Online Education Initiative, Dr. Allen Dooley, Intelecom Learning, Inc.
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