We Got This: How CNM Used 20+ Years of Experience to Increase Online Classes for Fall Term

The college has been teaching distance/online classes for a long time, providing a strong foundation for responding to the challenges of COVID-19
August 25, 2020

Twenty-three years. That’s how long CNM has been teaching online classes. Way back in the 1997-98 school year the college—which at that time was called TVI—started offering a series of distance learning courses that were conducted online or even over the television. Students communicated with their instructors via email, or sometimes by phone.

To find out more about how distance and online education has evolved, we called up Dr. Xeturah Woodley who was the college’s Distance Learning Director from 2006-2009 and is now an Associate Professor in Learning Design and Technology at New Mexico State.

“Back then CNM was a leader in distance education and I strongly believe the college continues to be out front,” she says.

When she was at CNM (the college changed names in 2006), Xeturah says distance classes were conducted in various ways. There were classes that took place mostly online, but some students still had to check out CDs for their classes and even mailed in papers. As that was evolving, so too were the standards.

More specifically, Xeturah says her team helped lead the implementation of the Quality Matters program, which is still in use at CNM and set national guidelines for how online classes should be designed and taught. All online instructors at CNM back then were also required to take a class that taught them how to design online curriculum and another class that taught them how to teach online—requirements that are still in place.

As online offerings increased, Xeturah says the college quickly saw how distance learning could increase access and engagement for the diverse group of students the college has always served.

“Not all students want to sit in a classroom and that’s why CNM’s distance and online enrollment has always been strong,” she says. “At CNM there are a lot of students who have full-time jobs and families but still want to get their education and online is the perfect solution.” 

Jumping to the present, the numbers are impressive. In Fall 2019, the college had 1,016 course sections offered online, which made up about 33 percent of all offerings at CNM. To help students learn and stay safe during COVID-19, CNM will be offering an astounding 2,675 course sections online for the Fall Term, which makes up about 90 percent of course sections. Some 475 CNM instructors have been certified to teach online in the past six months, bringing the total number of online CNM instructors to 1,145.

“Moving almost the entire college online was a challenge during the Spring and Summer Terms, but it was possible because the entire CNM community came together,” says Christine Goshorn, the current Director of CNM Online. 

Christine, who oversees CNM’s Distance Learning Department and the CNM Online college (which has its own, separate, accelerated online learning courses), says everyone at CNM understands the power of online learning to either conduct or augment education.

“We’ve come to understand that there can still be a modified face-to-face environment, instructors can still provide strong, engaging lectures, and students can still have a place to ask questions and meet with their instructor privately through virtual classroom and video conferencing tools,” she says. 

Christine credits the instructors for their smart course work, the students for their flexibility, and the Distance Learning department for pulling together a quick and easy-to-use support system. Today, the department offers everything from instructional consultants who assist faculty with course design to technicians who assist faculty and students who need to troubleshoot and resolve technical issues within the learning management system. 

Both Christine and Xeturah see the potential for even more online growth. Christine says she’s excited about CNM’s new Learning Management System called Brightspace, which will be implemented in the 2021 Spring Term and offer a host of user-friendly tools for students and instructors.

Xeturah says some institutions are bouncing around the idea of asking all higher education instructors to now get their online teaching certification. She also thinks institutions should explore the idea of including some online learning in all in-person classes, creating a hybrid model across the board. Online tools, she says, allow for more learning at home and always increase access. 

“Right now I think we have an opportunity for every institution in our nation to really see the impact of online education and the ways it can create quality instruction for our students,” she says.