Skip to Main Content

California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative Online Counseling Network ProjectAfter eight months of hard work and planning, the California Community Colleges (CCC) Online Education Initiative (OEI) has selected a meeting and collaboration platform on which to build its Online Counselors’ Network Project.

On behalf of the OEI, The Foundation for California Community Colleges announced its intent to award the contract to Cranium Café, Salt Lake City, Utah. Cranium Café software will serve as the technological anchor and foundation of the OEI Online Counselors’ Network, which is planned to launch in mid-Spring 2016.

As CCC online course offerings became online “programs,” and as regulations were developed for such programs, it became clear that online students would need access to not only high-quality courses, but to high-quality support services as well. Some student support services that were difficult to provide to online students were tutoring and counseling. Issues around connecting local college (on-ground) tutors and counselors to online students included privacy assurance and effective access.

Equity Of Student Support Services

Those of us who were trying to connect our local college staff to our students were often frustrated with the inability to create, develop and maintain connection solutions. We tried web conferencing, email and phone ideas but all fell short in one way or another, most because of privacy concerns, and all because creating effective access points was quite difficult and costly.

We kept trying because students needed these services, and because the Federal Department of Education (DOE) and the Accrediting Commission (ACCJC) made it very clear that we must provide equity of services regardless of the delivery mode! ACCJC Policy, which stems from the DOE mandates, is as follows:

Commission policy specifies that all learning opportunities provided by accredited institutions must have equivalent quality, accountability, and focus on student outcomes, regardless of mode of delivery. (ACCJC DE Policies page 46)

Furthermore, the ASCCC Distance Education Guide to Evaluating DE and Correspondence Education asks in Standard II.B1: Are counseling and other student support services available for DE/CE students? Regarding counseling, the commission actually requires the following:

  • Evidence that the institution develops, implements and evaluates counseling and/or academic advising that takes into account the needs of students enrolled in DE/CE Programs
  • Evidence that those responsible for counseling/advising are trained to address the needs of students enrolled in DE/CE programs and address these needs in a timely manner

(The policy document can be found here.)

Doing What’s Best For Students

Regardless of DOE and ACCJC requirements, the philosophy of the OEI is to do what is best for students and providing student services of tutoring and counseling is absolutely right thing to do. As we have more students accessing their educational opportunities online, these services will become more necessary to their success, and to our own.

Early in the initiative, resources for students became a major priority. We were able to contract with Link Systems International for a systemwide solution to connecting local college tutors to students online via the LSI World Wide Whiteboard at no cost to any of our system colleges. We were also able to secure negotiated pricing for the system to NetTutor’s 24/7 online tutors. (For more information about how to access these services visit

Another student services-related goal was to find something that would work for online counseling, as well. In October 2015, a work group formed around this goal, through the efforts of the OEI Steering Committee and led by Bonnie Peters, OEI’s Chief Student Services Officer and former Chair of Counseling and Coordinator/Developer of Online Counseling at San Diego City College. The work group completed an RFP process to identify Cranium Café as that solution. This spring, the Cranium Café services will be implemented by the OEI pilot colleges, and after some testing and implementation strategy development, will be available to colleges in the system.

Cranium Cafe logoCranium Café Platform Features

The appeal of the Cranium Café platform is that it is designed specially with online student services in mind, and replicates on-campus style counseling services. Students have direct access to counseling support in very much the same way they would on campus.

Cranium Café, which is FERPA and ADA compliant, is accessible entirely online with no downloads or software installations. It features a virtual lobby for walk-in sessions, as well as opportunities for virtual counseling appointments and interactive workshops. Because it is allows for single-sign-on authentication, the platform can be utilized for all areas of counseling offered at the colleges, including mental health counseling.

OEI Online Counseling Network

The OEI is aware that we needed more than a technology solution for providing quality online counseling, and as such began work on developing the Online Counseling Network (OCN). Through the OCN, CCC counselors will receive training on how to effectively counsel online students, and learn the relevant techniques and practices for working with students in a virtual environment. The network offers counselors the opportunity to connect with each other and provide those counselors with resources such as student readiness assessment tools, which are helpful when identifying the support needs of online students.

Also in compliance with the training requirements set forth by the ACCJC, the OEI is designing an online counselor training course, which adheres to the National Board of Certified Counselors standards and practices of promoting quality assurance and professionalism in distance counseling services.

Components of the OCN

Educational Technology Platform

  • Partnership with Cranium Café online meeting and collaboration platform

Network Structure and Approach

  • Partner with participating OEI pilot colleges to establish a uniform approach to online counseling
  • Create a community of online counselors trained in working with online students utilizing the same platform

Professional Development and Standards

  • Develop, deliver and standardize professional development training and materials aligned to the National Board of Certified Counselors standards for distance counseling professionals

For more information about the resources offered to all 113 California Community Colleges, please visit the OEI website at

Bonnie Peters is Chief Student Services Officer of the
California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative

Pat James is Executive Director of the
California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative