As the chief administrator responsible for leadership of SHSU Online, I would like to offer some perspectives on our current and planned efforts on behalf of Sam Houston State University’s online response to the current COVID-19 challenge.
Fortunately, Sam Houston State University has taken a systems approach to online learning, meaning that distance education is fully integrated into all operations of the university. In the distance education literature, SHSU functions as a “dual–mode” institution, in which a unique and separate organization is created to support academic departments that deliver instruction online. These online organizations include administration, instructional designers, graphic designers, video producers, writers, trainers, and technical support staff whose sole responsibility is to develop and support online courses and degree programs across campus (Moore & Kearsley, 2012).
SHSU Online (DELTA Center) is organized in the Division of Academic Affairs and reports directly to the Provost, Dr. Richard Eglsaer, who had the foresight to institute mandatory course redesign and certification training for all faculty members teaching online. We work closely with the academic deans, department chairs, and faculty to coordinate all aspects of online education. The systems approach to online learning includes having strong partnerships with the Graduate School, Enrollment Management, and MARCOM (Marketing and Communications).
A critical factor of this systems approach to online learning is managing organizational change. Beaudoin (2015) suggested that distance education leaders must help to create the conditions for innovative change. The challenge is not one of managing the technology, but of managing organizational change. Distance education leaders engage key stakeholders in a university to systematically change numerous administrative procedures, and develop a culture of continuous improvement, with the least amount of disruption to the existing administrative process.
The systems approach SHSU Online implemented includes both centralized and decentralized organizational structures. For example, we intentionally decentralized the instructional designers’ work by assigning them to each individual college, while simultaneously creating a centralized 24/7 support desk.
These organizational structures, combined with the use of enterprise applications and technologies, have created one of the strongest distance education departments in American higher education. Consequently, we are well prepared to help transition courses to online delivery during crisis situations such as Hurricane Harvey and COVID-19. Because we utilized a systems approach to online learning in the current crisis, our organizational structure enabled us to move 3,000 courses, hundreds of instructors, and over 16,000 students to remote instruction in one week. Even more remarkable, in my view, is that there were over 625,000 logins to Blackboard during the first week of the transition… with fewer than 500 support desk calls. This was accomplished with no additional staff, and with little disruption to instructional continuity.
In my role as Chief Online Officer of the Texas State University System, we have used the systems approach to online learning very effectively. SHSU Online has a Memorandum of Understanding with both Lamar Institute of Technology and Sul Ross State University to provide full support of their online and on-campus courses by integrating our suite of enterprise technologies, leveraging the expertise of our staff, and negotiating system-wide licensing agreements for Blackboard, proctoring software, ADA compliance software and more. This type of “systems thinking” and implementation has enabled our TSUS sister institutions to continue operating during the COVID-19 crisis.
I am pleased to see how seamlessly we have worked together with the three university communities to help facilitate the transition to remote instruction during this difficult time.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the SHSU Online staff, whose talent and experience have proven to be invaluable during this crisis. I also appreciate the dedication and patience of our faculty for adapting quickly to remote instruction during the middle of the semester.
Thank you all and stay safe!
Beaudoin, M. F. (2015). Distance Education Leadership in the Context of Digital Change. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 16(2), 33–44.
Moore, Michael G., and Greg Kearsley, (2012). Distance Education: A Systems View of Online Learning. Wadsworth Cengage Learning.