Report on the
Low-Residency M.S. in Information and Knowledge Strategy

(School of Continuing Education)

December 2, 2011


Six years ago, in anticipation of receiving new program proposals with significant distance learning activity, the Senate Education Committee developed a series of guidelines that we considered essential for such programs.

            The guidelines were presented to the Senate in 2006 and have been posted since that time on the Senate website. No proposals for distance learning programs were sent to the committee until this year when SCE submitted a proposal to convert an existing program, the M.S. in Information and Knowledge Strategy, to a low-residency model with a significant distance learning component. The committee met several times with the proponents and the entire committee attended two demonstrations to analyze in detail the capabilities of the platform.

            We determined that the proposal has successfully addressed the 2006 guidelines and we approved it unanimously and enthusiastically.

            A report on the new version of the program, submitted by Kristine Billmyer, Dean of the School of Continuing Education, is attached. Her account painstakingly measures the program against the Education Committee guidelines of 2006.

Letty Moss-Salentijn and James Applegate
Co-chairs, Senate Education Committee





The M.S. in Information and Knowledge Strategy program (IKnS) is an existing program that was approved by the Senate in 2005 and has been offered face to face on campus since that time. Its purpose is to teach established professionals the skills necessary in any industry where the need to create and leverage information and knowledge is a critical leadership requirement.

The online component of the program is a highly interactive experience that uses the School of Continuing Education’s innovative distance learning platform. Students and faculty communicate through a unique social networking function in ways that extend and enhance the impact of traditional learning experiences. Courses are flexible by design, and include a combination of live events, asynchronous community-driven activities and self-study.


Detailed Description of the IKnS Experience
The following description responds to distance learning guidelines drafted by the Senate Education Committee in February 2006.  
Guideline 1:

  1. The quality of the educational programs at Columbia University depends to a large extent on the intellectual interactions between faculty and students, as well as among students. Any new program, therefore, whether delivered traditionally on campus or in a distance learning mode, should show substantial evidence that such interactions will exist. One of the prime criteria to be assessed in proposals for new distance learning programs is whether the need for close interactions in fact precludes certain types of programs from being delivered in this mode. Any online course should provide mechanisms for interactions between students.

In addition, students in distance-learning courses might be required to spend time on campus for limited periods at the beginning and end of each semester. Such a “blended solution” is indeed preferable. If a blended solution cannot be arranged, a strong statement should be provided to explain why the absence of such face-to-face interactions does not compromise the program.

The M.S. in IKnS program is framed by three 40-hour residencies held on campus at Columbia University. Each day of the residency begins at 8 a.m. and includes a full schedule of instructional, networking and social activities, concluding with small-group dinners with faculty. The program’s first residency, held earlier this semester, included sessions led by leading experts in the field, many of whom are lecturers in the program.

Between the on-campus residencies, students take courses fully online through SCE’s innovative and highly interactive learning platform. Each course, as with a traditional on-ground course, is anchored by weekly “live” face-to-face lecture sessions hosted by the course instructors.

The live lecture sessions are delivered through Adobe Connect. Adobe Connect is a sophisticated web-conferencing tool that allows participants to connect through video and audio. The platform is rich with features that help to recreate a “real” classroom experience. Within the Connect classroom, everyone in attendance can ask and answer questions, as well as complete simulations and quizzes and interact with content at the same time the course instructor is lecturing, providing a truly student-responsive context for teaching and learning. The Connect classroom also allows for instant creation of “breakout rooms,” where small groups of students can speak to each other and collaborate on almost any software while the instructor and/or TA monitor progress and move between them answering questions or assisting with problems.

The live sessions for our courses generally include both interactive lectures given by program faculty as well as breakout groups for students to work collaboratively in real time on course projects and assignments.

In addition to the course’s live lecture sessions, each week students also meet live in small teams or study circles, again through Adobe Connect, to engage in collaborative learning activities, work on projects, etc.

All sessions are recorded in case one or more of our students cannot get to class for good reason. That said, attendance in these sessions, as with traditional on-ground programs, is mandatory and a critical component of the learning experience.

Between live sessions, students access all course content (course readings, videos, problem sets, software) and each other through SCE’s learning platform. Most courses are designed with a highly social asynchronous component to the learning experience, which includes participation in collaborative problem-solving, discussion forums, blog activities, team projects, and simulations. SCE’s platform is designed to support these activities and encourage “knowledge networking” through cutting-edge social technologies aimed at facilitating both formal and informal course communities.

Also of note, the platform itself allows us to track the number and nature of social interactions taking place in the asynchronous context of the course and relate these to learning outcomes and to grades. From this data, faculty can identify activities that seem to be promoting collaboration as well as those that are falling flat. The goal is continuous improvement of each course’s activity design.

  1. The faculty should have adequate hours available for student consultation, whether in the faculty office for an on-campus course or in a virtual mode for a distance-learning course. Virtual interactions should be with the faculty member him- or herself, similar to conditions in on-campus courses. 

Faculty hold live and asynchronous office hours each week. Students can connect with faculty “live” each week during designated hours by phone or Skype, or in person. Faculty also generally host asynchronous office hours each week in the format of a discussion forum area where students can ask questions, raise concerns, etc., and expect a response from the faculty and/or TA within 24 hours.

Guideline 2: 

  1. The content of the courses in distance learning programs should be at a level that is comparable to that of any on-campus course, and be appropriate for delivery on campus. Indeed a limited number of such courses might be offered as a parallel option for students on campus.

The academic standards and requirements of each course in the IKnS program align with requirements of our face-to-face (on-campus) program previously approved by the University Senate. All courses were developed by program faculty who drew upon their expertise and research and who worked with SCE’s expert instructional design team in a highly collaborative outcomes-driven instructional design process to create rigorous and interactive courses that blend best practices in disciplinary and online pedagogies.

Faculty select appropriate educational technologies to recreate and enhance the face-to-face version of each class through a collaborative design process with members of the SCE Instructional Design team, which includes the senior associate dean for curriculum and instruction, the director of instructional design and assessment, the director of online and social media technologies, an educational technologist, and an instructional designer. During the course design process, the team ensures that the tools and media selected support both the learning objectives of the course and student engagement. Prior to the launch of the course, the SCE Instructional Design team ensures that clear instructions are posted for the use of course tools and media, that navigation through the course is logical and efficient, and that help channels are easy to access.

  1. Programs and courses require approval by the appropriate committees, similar to on-campus programs and courses.

The IKnS program and all its courses have been approved by SCE’s Executive Committee and Committee on Instruction and the University Senate in exactly the same way that on-campus programs and courses are approved.

Guideline 3: 
The faculty should be adequately prepared to deliver distance learning instruction.

  1. Preparation of the course instructors.
  2. Electronic communication with students consumes more time than face-to-face communication, and course enrollment probably should be capped, or the faculty  given additional time for the course management.
  3. The faculty must have either adequate technical training or be given good technical support in the management of the online materials.

Before teaching their course, each faculty member engages in a rigorous 16-week course design, development and training process supported by SCE’s online team.  The process includes clarifying instructional objectives for the course, identifying engaging instructional paths appropriate for the online context, and developing all video content and supporting technologies. During this time faculty members participate in training sessions for all specific technologies planned as a component of their instruction.

During the course itself, SCE’s team supports all aspects of the faculty experience in the course site. Team members are available for in-flight changes to course design and/or content and provide technical hosting for all live lecture sessions offered through Adobe Connect.

Finally, Pearson/e-College, our platform host, provides 24/7/365 technical support for both students and faculty by phone, email, and Skype.

Guideline 4: 
A distance learning program should have a program manager, who provides suitable oversight and is capable of providing appropriate technical support to access online materials. The students in distance learning programs must be adequately prepared for the online environment, which must include access to the electronic library resources of the university.

The SCE Online team is experienced and well qualified to develop and manage state-of-the-art online programming and technical support. The team is led by:
Marni Baker Stein, Ph.D., Senior Associate Dean for Curriculum and Instruction. Dr. Baker Stein has over 20 years’ experience developing and deploying programs at the university level and has been a leader in launching online programs. She has previously worked at the University of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania State University and the University of California at Santa Barbara. She holds a Ph.D. in teaching, learning and curriculum from the University of Pennsylvania.

Lisa Minetti, M.A., Director of Instructional Design and Assessment. Minetti has over 10 years’ experience in developing online courses and has worked in similar roles at institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon University.

Erik Poole, M.S., Director of Online Learning and Social Media Technologies. Poole has 10 years of experience in educational technology integration and has managed large-scale online programs and the associated technologies for Drexel University and the New Jersey School of Medicine.

Pearson Learning Studio, our learning management system platform provider, creates, services and powers many of the most successful online programs globally. Our current design partnership with Pearson/eCollege is focused on the development of a new personalized social learning environment built on the most advanced, scalable and dependable software as a service learning platform available today. Pearson’s platforms have driven the development and support of sophisticated, fully online, on-ground, and blended learning environments since 1996. Pearson is the world’s leading education technology company, helping to educate more than 130 million learners worldwide.

As Columbia University students, participants in the IKnS program have complete access to the Columbia University Library collection, as well as all resources of the University. The library is fully integrated into the course management system and is available on the web.

Guideline 5: 
Student assessment: consideration must be given to what security is in place during examinations to prevent unauthorized individuals from taking the exams. On-campus examinations or examinations at testing centers where student identity is checked are acceptable solutions. Distance learning students should be required to complete the same work, assessed by the same standards, as their on-campus counterparts in the same courses.

The program is offered in a low-residency format, which means that students meet with the faculty in person three times a year during intensive residencies. Given the collaborative and highly social nature of the learning experience, students establish distinct and recognizable identities.
Programmatic learning outcomes, informed by our faculty, employer research, and student goals, are identified in a collaborative design process between the faculty, the SCE Senior Associate Dean for Curriculum, instructional design teams, the academic and administrative program directors, and in the case of IKnS, a professional advisory group.

The SCE Instructional Design team works with faculty members to select a variety of assessment tools which align with both the stated learning objectives and the course activities and resources. The team works to assure that the assessment instruments selected are sequenced, varied and appropriate to the content being assessed. Our online assessment instruments typically include opportunities for traditional faculty-driven assessment as well as student self-assessment and peer assessment, which can be delivered during live sessions, in the public asynchronous course spaces and through private Dropbox and email channels.
Several of the benchmark program assignments, including the program’s capstone assignment, are also presented during the residency sessions where students and faculty meet in person.

Course assessment strategies rely on the examination of student performance across a wide variety of activities. Our online course designs include an increased emphasis on collaborative activities, student portfolios, papers, and projects where students are asked to establish their intellectual capital as well as the personal and professional ties to their classmates. Our course designs center on developing the academic and social skills that working professionals need to succeed in emerging professional fields such as information and knowledge strategy: teamwork, analytical and cognitive capacity, collaboration skill, and the ability to apply and adapt learning to new contexts and toward the creation of new ideas or knowledge. We avoid the weighting of traditional objective assessments (e.g., multiple-choice exams) as a major component of the course grade.

Guideline 6: 
During the start-up phase of a distance learning program, a faculty monitoring committee should be appointed to evaluate whether the program is meeting its intended goals and objectives.

The startup of the low-residency online version of SCE’s M.S. in IKnS is steered by the program’s academic director, Linda Stoddart, program faculty, and an industry curriculum advisory panel that includes distinguished opinion leaders and professionals from a broad range of sectors, including Jim Neal and Frank Moretti.

This curriculum group is monitoring the program’s ability to meet intended goals and objectives. The startup process began with the development of a learning outcomes-based assessment plan for the program which clearly articulates the IKnS program mission; identifies a series of measurable outcomes or goals at the program level; identifies assessment measures for progress toward these goals through the collection of direct and indirect “evidence”; and finally outlines a plan for the regular review of progress toward these goals and for taking action based on findings.

With the IKnS outcomes-based assessment plan in place, faculty-identified performance benchmarks (milestone assignments) have been set for each core course in the program. Evidence of student progress toward these benchmarks is collected automatically through our Learning Outcomes Management (LOM) software and archived in a program-level “portfolio” that assists with the regular review of program effectiveness. These direct measures of student learning outcomes (which are “anonymized”) can be correlated through the system with grades, social maps of participation in the course site, and course evaluations. Data from the LOM is easily accessed by the program curriculum committee in the form of searchable reports, and we hope will lead to more thoughtful, evidence-based consideration of student, course, and instructor performance than has been possible in our face-to-face courses until now.

Guideline 7: 
A student evaluation system should be in place to provide feedback on the program. Such a system should have provisions for anonymity and it should incorporate evaluation of the specific features of the distance learning method that was employed.

Students are formally asked to provide feedback at the end of each residency, at the conclusion of each course, and upon completion of the program. In addition to asking SCE’s standard protocol of questions for in-person instruction, students enrolled in low-residency M.S. program are asked a set of questions specific to the online learning experience.

Additionally, in the spirit of open and adaptive curriculum leadership, each course offers spaces for student-generated asynchronous discussion of their reactions, concerns, and suggestions about all aspects of the course content and delivery.  

Kristine Billmyer
Dean, School of Continuing Education