Dianne Van Hook | COC Excels at Online Education

College of the Canyons Chancellor Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook. Courtesy
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Nearly 2,000 courses will be available to our students during the upcoming fall semester at College of the Canyons. As always, our offerings run the gamut from general education courses students need for transfer to four-year campuses, to skill-building career classes that lead students to new jobs and careers in growing, high-paying fields. 

What’s different this fall is that almost every course will be offered online to ensure the health and safety of students, staff and faculty as we continue to grapple with COVID-19. A few course sections – those in essential infrastructure disciplines that require hands-on instruction – will meet in-person, with faculty and students wearing masks and following strict social distancing protocols. 

With so many courses offered online, this semester promises to be like none other in the college’s more than 50 years of service to Santa Clarita. And while we have never offered so many classes online before, we are no strangers to remote teaching and learning. In fact, College of the Canyons is widely recognized as a leader in the innovative development of distance and online education, as well as zero-cost textbooks for our students. 

In 1999 we offered our first hybrid classes (which meet remotely and in-person), and fully online classes were first held in 2005. At the start of the spring 2020 semester before the pandemic’s safer-at-home orders ended in-person instruction, nearly 25% of our classes had been scheduled and offered online. And more importantly, half of all professors – both full-time and part-time faculty – were already fully certified to teach in this specialized format.

To ensure the quality of what we do, certification for online teaching has been a requirement for COC faculty members since 2005. The key skills developed during the 36-hour course include building community and encouraging interaction online, making content accessible to all students — including those with disabilities — and assessing student learning in a distance format.

Given our history of innovation and the fact that our dedicated faculty complete thorough, specialized training that serves as a model for community colleges in other states, our students do better in online classes than in other California community colleges. The success rates of our students in online classes is 71%, compared to 66% statewide; and 87% of our students complete their online classes, compared to 84% statewide.

Our support services that provide assistance to students outside of class are also delivered remotely, ensuring students get the help they need to achieve their goals. Since our move to distance education in the spring, we have been there for our students. What does that mean?

• Students have access to free 24/7 chat services with a librarian. 

• Students can receive free online tutoring for most subjects from the same qualified tutors who provided this on-campus service. And, during the coming fall semester, free tutoring will be available to students 46 hours per week. 

• Students can meet with counselors online. 

• Phone service is available to students who need help with Admissions and Records and Financial Aid. 

We have also ramped up our Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) program to make sure textbook affordability doesn’t become a roadblock to academic success. Students can select from hundreds of classes that use ZTC materials created by our faculty to support what our students need to learn. We have 14,000 e-books for students to check out and use for their classes. 

During 2019-20, we saved our students $5 million in textbook costs! Helping students save money has become more important than ever before, as many of them have lost their jobs during the pandemic. 

And, because some do not have the technology needed, we have loaned more than 800 laptops to students, with more coming available during the fall semester. We also have distributed $2.8 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act relief funds directly to students.

Things might be different than we’re used to this semester, but one thing remains constant: our commitment to leading the way in innovation and ensuring our students receive the highest-quality education possible in an online setting. 

Dianne Van Hook serves as chancellor of College of the Canyons. 

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