Higher Learning Commission

Online Instruction Initiative

Lake Area Technical Institute

Overview of the Quality Initiative

Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI) recognizes the need for a prolonged, sustained, and concerted effort to raise the level of excellence and availability of online, hybrid educational programs. Begun in February of 2012, this Online Instruction Initiative will advance the online, hybrid offerings at LATI through improvement of current offerings and addition of other online, hybrid courses. The initiative will be ongoing but we will target certain objectives (milestones) to meet within the timeframe of the Quality Initiative period.

Sufficiency of Initiative’s Scope and Significance

Impact of Communities to be Served

South Dakota’s four technical institutes are responsible for workforce development for the entire state of South Dakota by providing technically skilled future employees. Lake Area Technical Institute’s proposed initiative will provide opportunities for education throughout our vast (77,353 square miles) and largely rural state.

According to the most recent (2010) U.S. Census Bureau data, South Dakota has a total population of 814,180. More than 50% of South Dakotans live in what the Bureau classifies as a “rural” area – open country and/or settlements with fewer than 2,500 people. Most South Dakotans are located outside of urbanized centers, and the population density is low (the U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows that in 2010, South Dakota had an average of just 10.7 persons per square mile).

Currently in South Dakota, access to technical skill education is a significant challenge for the target population, as distance and present job/family commitments prevent rural citizens from receiving the training that would enable them to pursue emerging, highly skilled careers.

Lake Area Technical Institute has partnered with industry employers who have agreed to (among other things) “provide opportunities work experiences, internships, and employment”. These employers and others have assisted with our community outreach efforts by providing information on industry trends, entry-level employee requirements, and workforce issues.

Therefore, this proposed initiative is relevant and significant for LATI and aligns with the institution’s mission of preparing people to enter the regional workforce. LATI’s Mission statement is: Lake Area Technical Institute offers superior, comprehensive technical education, creating a foundation for success in an ever-changing world.

In fall of 2012, 8.8% of LATI students were online students and we anticipate this number will increase. Eleven of the 29 programs offered at LATI have an online option (Dental Assisting, Practical Nursing, Computer Information Systems, Financial Services, Business Associate, Agriculture, Medical Laboratory Technician, Drafting, Precision Machining, Robotics, and Welding).

Clarity of Purpose

We will target six programs for the quality initiative time period: Agriculture, Precision Machining, Business, Nursing, Robotics, and Medical Laboratory Technician. This represents at least one program from each division (Health, Trade and Industry, Business, and Agriculture) at LATI. These programs will increase and/or improve upon the online courses that they offer. Assessment will involve monitoring direct measures such as standardized test scores where available (comparing online cohort with on campus cohort) and retention in online courses; and indirect measures, such as job placement figures, employer satisfaction surveys, and student satisfaction surveys.

Potential Challenges and Issues in Implementing the Initiative

The South Dakota Department of Education (SD DOE), the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation (SD DLR), and Lake Area Technical Institute’s Administration, in dialogue with industry and various community outreach partners, worked together to investigate the gaps in existing education and career training opportunities for the state. Our efforts identified the following areas of need:

1. Improving teaching methods to better connect with the targeted community.
Because the majority of the target population is non-traditionally aged students, we need to comprehensively assess “familiarity” with current technology, and find ways to reacquaint individuals with the academic environment after a (potentially) long absence – including “refreshing” crucial study skills and building a sense of belonging.

2. Providing accessible distance-training, including required “hands-on” skills.
To reach the widely dispersed target population, we need to address significant gaps in the accessibility and flexibility of career-path training. Unlike suburban community colleges covering much smaller geographic areas, our potential students are often location- or time-bound and unable to relocate for education. For example, students in Lake Area Technical Institute’s (LATI) primary area of responsibility might live more than 300 miles away from Watertown. If that person is married or already employed, relocating may not be a viable option. Therefore, LATI needs to vastly expand and improve the ability to offer viable distance education. This includes developing and including ways to provide the “hands-on” portion of the training at a distance. This barrier also includes education of faculty and employers to move from thinking about student’s “time in a seat” to student’s “competency” paradigms. In the past, students spent a certain number of hours in hands-on laboratory sessions gaining competency and practicing skills. In the hybrid, online courses, the students will need to practice skills off campus using prepared virtual sessions or in regional partner labs sessions and come to campus to demonstrate competency. The student is held accountable for competency, not a set number of hours.

3. Having funds available for newest technology without placing the financial burden on the overburdened student.
LATI is fortunate to have funds available to begin this initiative through funding from two grants (TAA1 and TAA2), money received from the Aspen Award of which LATI was a top-five winner, and support of several partners, including industry and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED). The TAA grants provide over one million dollars each and the top five winners of the Aspen award were awarded $100,000 each. LATI leadership has committed $2,000,000 of these funds plus internal resources toward the Online Initiative.

4. Giving the instructors time to make these changes.
LATI administration and faculty recognize the value of online education given South Dakota’s rural setting and the demographics of our population base. We also recognize the importance of quality in these online programs. An online technology specialist (Dennis Newman) has been hired who will help build new online programs and restructure some of the older online courses. Instructors can apply for curriculum hours (stipends) to assist in modifying or writing new courses.

Work Plan and Project Management

Evidence-Based Design and Overview of Proposed Strategy

In addition to maintaining a valuable dialogue with our industry partners who have provided information on industry trends, entry-level employee requirements, and workforce issues, this initiative intends to use the following evidence-based design to bridge the gaps currently found in South Dakota education and career-training opportunities. Specifically, the initiative will address the following:

1. Maintaining and improving our legacy graduation rates in the online, hybrid environment
South Dakota technical schools are currently number one in the nation for timely graduation rates. This is thanks, in part, to our “graduation plan” process – a recognized acceleration scheme.

Students are required to be in an identified program with a graduation plan from the first day of their enrollment. The graduation plan sets expectations and prescribes the courses needed, the course sequences, and attendance requirements. No student is allowed to meander through general courses seeking a path. Students are assisted in their graduation plans by academic and non-academic techniques and supportive services such as career exploration and guidance, logistical support for enrollment and financial aid, intrusive advising, early warning systems, and student success courses. Again, these measures have all contributed to our current outstanding retention and graduation success rates. Our goal is to continue to expand and improve these measures in direct relation to the online population.

We have observed that the online retention rate is lower than our traditional student retention rate. Retention rates for online, hybrid students in the fall of 2011 and spring of 2012 were 65.7% and 61.4% respectively. This initiative will aim to raise the current online student retention rate. This fall a retention advisor was hired and a committee (Student Retention and Student Success) began discussing how to increase retention, especially with the online cohort. The committee has identified the main reasons for student attrition: financial, program not a good fit, attendance, work schedule, and working/single parents/childcare. Several of these reasons overlap. The committee has recommended monthly reports from course instructors (especially adjunct faculty) to the at-risk student’s advisor to attempt remediation as soon as possible before the student withdraws or fails. Our initiative will focus on continuously improving our kinesthetic learning strategies as another means of ensuring successful retention and graduation rates for the target population. Through experience, we believe “learning by doing” is a crucial aspect of keeping students engaged. All core classes in new and expanded programs will seek to implement a variety of kinesthetic learning strategies no later than the third week of the semester.

2. Expanding and strengthening online and technology-enabled learning
The strategy is to expand and enhance Information Technology infrastructure, technical expertise, and identify existing technology that can be readily adopted or adapted to enable hands-on experience at a distance. As the Internet continues to evolve into a personal learning tool and resource-access vehicle, learning is becoming more student-centric and less institutional-centric. Advances made under this priority are crucial to the population of South Dakota, as workers are prevented from getting traditional campus-based education by distance and work/family commitments. Moving courses that provide industry-recognized credentials to online formats will enable our target population to access training at convenient times and from any location. In addition, this initiative will take advantage of real-time online interactions, as well as the power of multi-media technology to enhance the learning experience for our target population.

Our proposed initiative recognizes the current difficulties associated with moving hands-on technical training online, namely feasibility and effectiveness. Our strategy is to adopt or adapt the technology to provide the target population with realistic, hands-on training via a virtual or simulated environment. A key component will be the development of virtual simulation capabilities using augmented reality and “connect” gaming technology.

The promise and value of technologies like these are being lauded by such education giants as Mark Milliron who says online learning, mobile learning and game-based learning “hold the promise of expanding, improving, and deepening learning for our students.” In other words, not only does virtual simulation have the potential to equal traditional class-time, in some ways it may be even more effective. The potential for this technology was demonstrated to us by regional healthcare provider Sanford’s use of simulated experience to replace hands-on lab/clinical experience. Through the development of a simulation training center, this large regional healthcare provider found that one hour of simulation is equal to eight hours of clinical experience. LATI will leverage gaming, augmented reality, and other emerging interactive technology to provide realistic, hands-on training in virtual and simulated learning environments. We expect our efforts to include:

  • the further identification of potential technology in use today that can be imported, adopted, oradapted to the technical institute learning environment;
  • the modification of existing curriculum to capitalize on the virtual and simulated environments of hands-on technical learning;
  • the development of new procedures, programs, and techniques to better address the diverse targeted learner population;
  • cooperation with instructional designers and subject matter experts to meet content and skill objectives for the learning goals; and,
  • ultimately, the creation of scalable learning modules, resulting in the production of scenariobased virtual exercises that rival and in some ways surpass real hands-on learning of technical skills/tasks.

Building on technology already developed by Virtual Video Incorporated, LATI will leverage gaming and augmented reality to provide realistic, hands-on, motor-skill based education and training in a virtual environment. As the new technology enables South Dakota’s technical institutes to reach more potential students in the state, expansion of networks and infrastructure will be required. The initiative will use a foundation provided by already successful online and hybrid programs currently offered at South
Dakota’s technical institutes.

Key Groups and Individuals Involved

  • Online retention: Lee Quale (Retention Advisor), Student Success Committee, Administration, Program Department Heads
  • Expanding and strengthening online and technology-enabled learning: Kim Bellum (Dean of Instruction), Dennis Newman, Brad Heesch (Assistant Dean of Instruction), Mona Gleysteen (Assessment Coordinator), Program Instructors, the Innovation Center staff (Jason Goette, Shawn Kulla)


Year 2012-2013

  1. Increasing Student Retention in Online Programs:
    1. Online Success Course: When data indicated that online retention/graduation was falling short of our on-campus rates, we investigated potential causes. Detailed analysis highlighted that unfamiliarity and discomfort with the e-learning environment was a contributing factor. This semester we deployed an Online Success Course, which identified students who need additional assistance with e-learning tools. Required of all online students, the course allows those with a higher comfort level to demonstrate competency, while others can receive online and personal assistance. Assigned to: Dennis Newman, Kim Bellum We will assess this activity through monitoring online retention and conducting an end of the year survey of instructors in the selected online programs asking about the success of the online success course.

    2. Focus Group to Address Student Retention/Success:
      Student retention and graduation rates are tracked for each program. Several activities stem from this and other information. The Department Supervisor from each program studies the data, specifically looking for anomalies and trends that need to be addressed. Retention is a standing agenda item each semester when each program’s faculty meets with the Dean of Instruction or LATI Vice President. In this manner, the administration is able to look for cross program trends that need to be remediated as quickly as possible. Additionally, if a student withdraws, a report goes to the President, who also tracks the data for concerning trends.

      Enrollment is one of six items followed on the LATI Quarterly Dashboard (Institutional Assessment). The dashboard allows LATI’s Strategic Advisory Council and oversight bodies to identify and address student retention and completion concerns at the institutional level in a timely manner. Additionally, the Dashboard is the basis for LATI’s Strategic Plan, which is developed and maintained through our Continuous Planning process.

      For the 2012-2013 year, LATI created a full time Retention Advisor position. This person provides another layer of support to help students stay in school while identifying areas where improvements can be made. Although we retain over 80% of our students, that means there are 20% more opportunities for success.

      On the state level, retention and graduation rate reports are submitted annually to the South Dakota Department of Education and the South Dakota Board of Education. Through these reports retention efforts, issues and resolution methods are factored into decisions involving program continuation. We will assess this activity through monitoring online retention.

    3. Enhancement of Current Online Offerings and Online Offerings Under Development:
      We will develop a set of criteria/standards to measure online/hybrid learning environments (rubric).

      Assigned to: Dennis Newman, Kim Bellum, Brad Heesch

      The assigned individuals will assess the online courses in the six selected programs using the rubric and also look at the content of the online courses. Courses that do not follow the criteria will be strongly encouraged to modify the course to adhere to the criteria or justify why the course cannot adhere to the criteria. Courses will be asked to include kinesthetic activities by the third week of class.

    4. Online Instructor In-service
      Prior to the start of the spring semester, an online instructor in-service will be held with examples of best-practice in online courses provided for online instructors. The Anatomy/Physiology instructor (Jensi Kellog-Andrus) has been recognized by Carnegie Mellon University for her student’s success rates (over 80%). Jensi will be the first presenter. Assigned to: Kim Bellum, Brad Heesch

Year 2013-2014

  1. Implement additional kinesthetic activities in online courses
    Assigned to: Dennis Newman, Kim Bellum, Brad Heesch, program faculty
  2. Increase online course offerings in Precision Machining and Agriculture
    Assigned to: Dennis Newman, Kim Bellum, Brad Heesch, program faculty
  3. Increase enrollment in online course offerings
    Assigned to: Dennis Newman, Kim Bellum, Brad Heesch, program faculty, LuAnn Strait and LATI
    Marketing staff
  4. Implement Online Student Retention Best Practices
    The rubric and criteria/standards used in year 2012-2013 will be shared with the other South Dakota Technical Institutes. A collaborative plan will be developed that will be implemented by the four SD Technical Institutes.

Year 2014-2015

  1. Analysis of Data
  2. Revision of Plan based on the Data


Online education is not a fad. In South Dakota, online education holds the promise of education for a vast number of individuals that were unable to travel to the regional educational facilities. Lake Area Technical Institute is committed to finding a way to train these students through online, hybrid courses and programs. LATI online courses were initially developed by taking the didactic content delivered on campus and placing this content online. We are evolving from that model to one of innovation in the online arena. The LATI mission statement is: Lake Area Technical Institute offers superior, comprehensive technical education, creating a foundation for success in an ever-changing world.

Our quality initiative will focus efforts toward creating new superior, comprehensive technical online, hybrid courses and converting current online, hybrid courses into superior online, hybrid courses. The quality initiative will also focus on student success and retention in these online, hybrid courses.


Institution Contact

Mona Gleysteen, Assessment Coordinator

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