District Town Hall plans future for online courses

The meeting focused on satisfying student needs with quality instruction.


Contra Costa Community College District

This chart is from a Contra Costa Community College District PowerPoint presentation at the Nov. 18 Town Hall on Distance Education and shows a comparison of fall semester success rates across the district from 2018 to 2020.

Chase Wheeler, Staff Writer

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the sudden move to remote online instruction, the Contra Costa Community College District has been dedicated to helping students and faculty succeed. And although the district has reopened college campuses for some face-to-face classes, it is also continuing to increase its investment in online classes that began before the pandemic. 

In a district-wide online Town Hall Nov. 18, faculty and staff discussed how to progress with more online courses post-pandemic and ensure that all students have access to an effective college education whether or not they are available for in-person classes. The discussion also focused on professional development opportunities to help faculty learn how to improve the online course experience. 

One of the goals of the remote meeting was to brainstorm ideas for the district’s next strategic plan for distance education. 

“Members of our colleges and our college community provided feedback that resulted in the existing district-wide distance education plan,” said Vice Chancellor Mojdeh Mehzidadeh. 

Our task is to begin the process of developing a plan for 4CD that is innovative, inclusive, equitable, accessible and forward-thinking to facilitate success for the online segment of our students’ journey”

— Joanna Miller

The current strategic plan’s mission is to, “empower students to achieve their educational goals through a commitment to providing access to innovative, equitable and high-quality online learning opportunities and student support services.” 

“Our task,” said Joanna Miller, the district dean of Distance Education, “is to begin the process of developing a plan for 4CD that is innovative, inclusive, equitable, accessible and forward-thinking to facilitate success for the online segment of our students’ journey.”

The district began planning for more online instruction back in 2017 and was working on ways to more effectively incorporate online classes into the college offerings when COVID-19 made them a necessity. Luckily, much of the plan had already been formulated so the district was at least prepared in some ways for the mass move to online classes. 

The current draft, which will succeed the 2017 plan, was in need of revision and input from more faculty and staff. 

That draft was “very breadthy,” said Mehzidadeh.

Participants broke into workgroups during part of the Town Hall meeting to refine the plan by adding depth to the breadth.

Their work was done based on data presented before the Zoom breakout rooms were opened. Senior Dean of Research and Planning Emma Blackthorne reported that, across all ethnic groups, the overall success and retention rates are increasing.

“The whole crew and faculty have done a fantastic job at making sure that students are having successful outcomes,” she said.

The district average for success rates across the board for all classes is 74.5% with the highest average for a specific mode of instruction being hybrid — partially in-person, partially online — with 75.6%. Other modes analyzed include in-person and fully online, both asynchronous and synchronous. 

Los Medanos College’s highest success rate was found in face-to-face instruction with 77%, and the lowest was online at 70%.

The pandemic caused an abrupt stop to in-person classes on March 13, 2020, so many members of the faculty and staff were wondering about the impact it had on the rest of the semester. 

“Spring 2020 has been of great interest and lots of questions surrounding spring 2020,” said Blackthorne. “Have we recovered from that and what does that look like?”

Spring of 2020 saw an overall decrease in district success rates at 69.2% compared with the semesters before the pandemic, with LMC’s success rate being 68%. Yet it is apparent that even in the semester immediately following, students were more likely to succeed. 

Two semesters after the pandemic first struck, district success rates for spring of 2021 are 76.5% while LMC’s success rate was an average of 78.3%.

The district’s recovery was rather quick given all that occurred and will likely continue to grow as a stronger plan is created. 

Mehzidadeh explained at the Town Hall that the data presented was “at a flyover” as the district has much more data that has yet to be processed but said that the additional data will be used to inform future revisions to the new draft. 

Work on the strategic plan will continue in the spring, with a finalized plan expected to be presented to the 4CD Governing Board on May 11, 2022.

The new strategic plan is being designed to ensure online education further improves so that more people are able to get a college education no matter their schedule.