Optivation receives grant to launch InterCECT online education consortium

BEMIDJI, Minn. (Feb. 8, 2011) — Optivation, a joint venture of Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College, has secured a $75,000 grant to further develop a consortium among Minnesota colleges and universities to deliver non-credit online education.

The consortium, called InterCECT (Continuing Education and Customized Training), seeks to develop a shared catalog of non-credit courses that could be offered by participating schools. Development costs are funded by a Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system innovation fund.

“Schools in Minnesota were using national vendors to deliver online coursework instead of developing their own content,” said Kerry Ross, associate director of Optivation. “Those schools would hire a vendor; the vendor would hire people, create a curriculum and then turn around and serve as a wholesaler for that curriculum with no guarantees of quality.

“We tried to find out why institutions were so sold on national vendors,” Ross said. “It seemed that Minnesota was missing an opportunity. When we started looking into this, we found that schools felt they didn’t have staff comfortable teaching online or that the school lacked the technical expertise to deliver their content online. We saw an opportunity to build something that would keep the development of this kind of coursework at home in Minnesota.”

Establishing the Model
Optivation’s research into online course offerings in Minnesota showed that while students could take the courses from anywhere in the world, and did so, there was still a strong geographic relationship between the home of the students and the physical location of the school offering a  particular course.

Optivation initially identified a targeted group of six potential partner institutions, representing each of six geographical areas of Minnesota, to develop the program. Those schools selected existing non-credit professional development-oriented online courses they were willing to share, which were placed into a catalog viewable by any partner institution in the consortium. Partner schools could then select courses from that catalog and offer them through their existing online education operations.

By offering courses through the consortium, individual schools have the ability to identify courses as “theirs,” even if they are actually being taught by  another institution. This would allow a student to visit the website for a state system campus in their local area and sign up for a course being taught by a teacher across the street and another at a school on the opposite side of the state, without ever realizing the difference. The course would appear to simply be another of the school’s normal offerings.

“Each school can offer the courses as their own,” Ross said. “It’s important from a marketing standpoint that courses are ‘owned’ by individual campuses.”

Early Signs Point to Success
Optivation was not only able to get each of the six pre-selected potential partners to join the consortium, it was able to recruit a total of 12 schools from all over the state to join the effort. In addition, MNOnline Support Center has signed on to provide technical support for the consortium.

In addition to Bemidji State and Northwest Technical College, the partner schools are Rochester Community and Technical College, Central Lakes College, Minnesota West Community and Technical College, North Hennepin Community College, Alexandria Technical College, Northland Community and Technical College, Ridgewater College, Hibbing Community College, Minnesota State Community and Technical College, Winona State University and Minnesota State University – Moorhead.

The consortium allows schools to participate in delivering coursework, or simply to sign up as “selling schools” and offer coursework developed by other partners in the program.

“We had a model, we presented this model to the potential partners we had hand-picked to approach with this idea, and every one of them has signed on,” Ross said. “Our ultimate goal is to expand this system-wide, and so far, the response has been very encouraging.”

Contact Optivation for additional information at (218) 755-4900, toll free at (888) 738-3224, or optivation@bemidjistate.edu.

About Optivation
Optivation is an off-campus venture operated jointly by Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College designed to increase collaboration between the University, the college, and the business and technology sectors of the northwest Minnesota region. Staffed by veteran business and entrepreneurial professionals, Optivation delivers targeted training and education systems to help organizations succeed in a changing world. Through its affiliations with the University and the technical college, Optivation is able to tap into an unparalleled network of people and technology across the state of Minnesota.

For more information, visit Optivation at http://www.optivation.org.