Making Education Affordable: Building a Sustainable Adult Education Program

Interview with Kevin Corcoran, Executive Director, Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium

Key takeaways:

  • Using Saylor courses as a content base, CT AHVS has developed supplementary open courses that allow adult students expanded learning opportunities to earn credit toward a high school diploma.
  • Use of OER has allowed a consistent learning experience among students, assuring equity in material availability to each student regardless of local adult education program budget.
  • OER has helped the CT AHVS program build a flexible and sustainable curriculum while greatly reducing overhead cost to the program, adult education centers and to student users.

Using Saylor Academy Open Educational Resources (OER), the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium (CTDLC) enhanced the efficacy of its online supplementary adult education program, the Connecticut Adult Virtual High School (CT AVHS). CT AVHS helps former high school dropouts take credit-bearing classes toward earning a high school diploma. The program has maximized use of OER by creating a credit bearing and workforce-ready curriculum of online courses with flexible enrollment focused on helping adult students. We interviewed CTDLC’s Executive Director, Kevin Corcoran, to learn more about CT AHVS, using customized OER, and how Saylor Academy resources have impacted the program.

SA: Tell us a bit about the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium (CTDLC)?

Kevin Corcoran: [CTDLC was established in 1998.] [CTDLC]’s original intent was to help higher education institutions promote and support online initiatives. The late nineties was really the birth of the Internet and [offered] a different format from video and correspondence based courses before. Instead of each institution investing their own time and resources and money into their own test beds, [the state] thought it would be best to create a central hub for innovation. Over the years, we have tried to establish best practices, provide training and provide ancillary support services around instructional design, support, and development. As time went on, we branched off into K-12 and the government sector in supporting those training and learning initiatives. In the early 2000s, there was an opportunity to create a supplemental high school program to support the local adult education community.

In the 2003-2004 school year [we] launched a pilot of the CT Adult Virtual High School (CT AVHS) program. CT AVHS a supplemental program to support credit diploma programs in the existing adult education community. Not all adult education centers were built similarly or had the same resources available.

So there was an equity issue: Could a student get the same access, the same content, the same course, the same experience etc. from one town to the other? Also, would they have enough courses available to meet their graduation requirements?

The basis of the program was to provide equity of access to courses/credits. One additional barrier that the program addressed was time restrictions for adults who were working or had other barriers to being onsite in a classroom. Our program offered anytime, anywhere type access, with minimal physical presence needed by the local adult education center.

SA: How has OER helped your program?

KC: [When] new initiatives and new requirements whether it be Common Core or College and Career Readiness Standards or Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) applied certain criteria to the program, we have had the need to either align existing curriculum to new standards, expand in preparation of expanding graduation requirements or to meet new workforce and readiness [guidelines].

What everyone has struggled with is: How do you meet these ever-changing requirements and how do you expand on a limited budget? Open Education OER has been a great answer.

As a consortium, we have been promoting awareness of OER throughout the region for the last 3-4 years. It was a natural evolution to incorporate and evaluate resources into our adult education program. When we looked [for resources that were] closely aligned with what we needed, there were a number of titles readily available in the K-12 space. We then looked at what resources could be best aligned but still may have needed some revision. When we explored what resources were out there, the Saylor Academy catalog really provided a lot opportunity for us.

When we needed to expand our English Language Arts course into a writing requirement and we also wanted to have workforce-centric [content], we looked at some of the titles in the Saylor Academy professional development catalog. We were able to take a professional writing course, marry it with a word processing course and a resume writing course and remix those three elements into a new course that is a half credit writing course inside of our program.

We had commercial courseware that didn’t seem to facilitate the student outcomes we had expected. We also felt that we didn’t have remedial or refresher options for adults returning to school after a number of years. Some adults may have completed Algebra 1 years prior but needed a refresher course like College Algebra before they attempted a placement exam like Accuplacer.

SA: Does CTDLC also administer the CT Adult Virtual High School?

KC: Specifically with AVHS, CTDLC is running the program in conjunction with the state Department of Education. Federal money is allocated to the state department of education to support different initiatives. The state of Connecticut has oversight and works with us to set program goals and outcomes. For the day to day operations, we are tasked to set up infrastructure, [develop] the curriculum, the teachers, and then work in concert with local adult education department directors to address needs. We have a working group of directors that participate in the program to address curricular needs, system needs, and student support needs. Whatever the burning issue of the day is, we have a bi-monthly forum to address them and set goals for the academic year.

SA: What is the population that the CT AVHS serves?

KC: Students are high school dropouts ranging in age 17-70. People from all walks of life participate in the program.

SA : Has providing open course enrollment affected the number of students graduating from the program?

KC: The program is equivalent to someone going back to night school and taking courses toward earning a high school diploma. There is a GED preparatory course as an ancillary service. However, the core service [of the program] is credit bearing courses toward a high school diploma. Open course enrollment has to have a positive impact because we’re able to extend the catalog [of options available]. Where at a local adult education center you are somewhat restricted by class, size time of day, etc.

Having an online delivery with a virtual teacher allows extra learning opportunities for these adults to get those needed credits. Also by expanding the number of credits or courses in the catalog, [students have] more opportunities to graduate at a quicker pace.

One of the challenges that some of the students have is that some adult education centers work on quarters, some work on trimesters or other various terms [timelines]. We have really started to focus on rolling courses or flexible enrollment classes allow to students to start at any point in time during the academic year and have a set time where they could finish, allowing students that would have these rigid [deadline restrictions] for credits to jump on board where they may have missed a deadline before.

SA: Is CT AVHS solely a supplemental program or could a student take all of their credits online?

KC: There is some assumption that students dropped out of high school and have some high school credit [toward their diplomas]. Everybody is coming from a different starting point of how many credits they have and how many they need. In theory, a student with some credit needing “x” number of credits in the areas we provide could finish up their high school diploma online. Most adult education programs [however], usually have a requirement where the student has to take in person classes for at least one quarter, term, or trimester, so local educators can really assess that student’s writing, reading, mathematical skills, technical competencies and persistence. It’s not required, but it is really a best practice that the adult education centers have been doing. [Online classes are] a delivery format that provides a great deal of flexibility, but may not be for all students.

SA : How else has using OER helped sustainability of the program?

KC: It’s twofold, there’s a cost to the program in and of itself and a cost to adult ed centers. These adult education programs don’t have a lot of spare funding. It’s very difficult if we expand or make a change in the curriculum that requires the adult education center to purchase any type course materials. Therefore, if we are going to expand curriculum we have to be very mindful that there aren’t any additional textbook costs to the education centers and that the students can readily get the resources. So from the students’ perspective there is no additional cost to them, [also] for the adult education centers, there’s no cost burden because the [OER]materials are embedded.

Also, we have what we consider to be a unique population. When we have historically used commercial courseware, we’ve had to invest time and energy into modifying the curriculum to meet our needs. While many courseware publishers have moved to cloud-based delivery via LTI connectors, it’s been very difficult to work inside of those environments. [Working with commercial solutions] cost us internal staff time to work through technical integrations, curriculum structure, forced updates and vendor management.

With Saylor [content], we’re able to repurpose [open] content into our learning management system. We don’t necessarily have to worry about technology integrations or forced updates to content. We have a lot more control over the course structure and technology. It has reduced quite a bit of overhead for us from semester to semester, quarter to quarter or course maintenance and setup, but [Saylor content] also allows the students and the adult education centers to not incur any additional costs.

SA: What initially drew you to using Saylor Academy’s resources?

KC: I had the opportunity to work [with a] college in New Jersey with a former employee of Saylor Academy. He spoke quite highly of his experience there. Also, through regional collaboration with a northeast region OER consortium, I also met another colleague associated with Saylor who had been a part of our founding conversation. Between the former and current employee, there was a depth and breadth of experience. Once I started looking through the Saylor Academy catalog of courses there was a wide range of options to choose from. We’re going to continue to mine the Saylor catalog including the current and legacy [courses] to see how we can expand our catalog.

SA: How exactly do you use Saylor Academy resources?

KC: We have certified teachers in a subject discipline that are state certified we pair up with instructional designers or course [designer]. We’ll have them start with course materials on the Saylor website and do a “first pass” assessment of how aligned the content is versus what their outcomes are. If it’s a go, we port over content into our LMS environment, then teacher and course designer will work hand and hand to make the necessary modifications.

Kevin Corcoran Bio

Image of Kevin Corcoran, Executive Director, Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium, beside logos of the Connecticut Virtual Adult High School and the CTDLC.
Kevin Corcoran has been the Executive Director of the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium (CTDLC) since 2011. He joined the CTDLC in 1999 and has been responsible for developing and growing the services offered to support eLearning initiatives.

Kevin also runs Connecticut’s Adult Education Virtual High School that supports the Adult Credit Diploma Program statewide. He currently co-chairs Connecticut’s legislative OER Task Force and the WCET e-Learning Consortia Group as well as the NENY Blackboard Users Group and Northeast OER organizations.

Kevin received his B.A. in English from the University of Connecticut and his M.B.A. with a specialization in Technology Management from Walden University.

See the slides for Kevin’s presentation on CT AVHS from the 2016 Open Education Conference here:
Moving Towards An Open Credit Diploma Program” (PDF)

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