An Accelerating Future


Over the past couple of weeks, I have been exploring the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, which looked at the challenges ahead for businesses and HR professionals.  The report is based on analysis of a survey of more than 10,400 business and HR leaders globally, and noted ten trends.  Over a series of posts, I have been looking at this report from a faculty development perspective, but folding in thoughts generated from reading Tom Friedman’s new book, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.

The last two trends involved Diversity/Inclusion and the Future of Work, which again tie in nicely to the accelerating technological changes of the past decade noted in Friedman’s book.  Taking them in reverse order, the report noted that the future of work is being driven by the acceleration of connectivity and cognitive technology.  Friedman noted that between 2000 and 2007, we had a phase shift where “…connectivity was fast, free, easy for you and ubiquitous and handling complexity became fast, free, easy for you and invisible.”

Think about that statement.  When the world went flat, all corners of the world were connected and connected with high bandwidth.  At the same time…and due in large part to those connections and the continued advances of Moore’s Law, machine learning made the potential for handling complexity effortless.  With the huge data available on the cloud, Google can now translate English into any language (and vice versa)…not by programming grammar…but by letting the program compare examples of translated text and look for statistical patterns.  Friedman pointed out that when Google got rid of linguists and brought in statisticians, accuracy of language translation went up.  Now the same thing is happening with speech recognition, and we are approaching the old Star Trek standard of a universal translator.

This use of the cloud has allowed for some amazing transformations in what is “normal.”  Friedman quoted Tom Goodwin in a TechCrunch article as stating:

“Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles.  Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content.  Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has not inventory.  And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.  Something interesting is happening.”

Now, conceptualize how that “something interesting” will play out in higher education.

The Deloitte report noted that automation, cognitive computing, and crowdsourcing are paradigm-shifting forces that will reshape the workforce.  With AI impacting almost every field, every field will have to identify those “essential human skills” that will differentiate their business and make them competitive.  This obviously will also impact what higher education is doing to prepare the workforce of the future…which in turn impacts what faculty need to do.  The report suggested that the essentially human parts of work – empathy, communication, persuasion, personal service, problem solving, and strategic decision making – are becoming more important, which raises the importance of a diverse workforce.  The report noted that when one considers organizations as networks, it becomes clear that diversity and inclusion can enhance organizational performance.  And diversity is not just gender or ethnic considerations, but diversity of thought as well.

Now consider faculty development in this accelerating future.

The gold standard regarding faculty used to be tenure-track processes.  But in an accelerating future, tenure is simply a waypoint towards an undefined future.  The half-life of the skills and expertise one brings in to tenure will erode rapidly.  More importantly, thanks to cognitive computing, some aspects of “teaching, research and service” could easily be automated.  This is not bad.  Friedman points out that the future will involve teaming of humans with machines.  Rather than a TA, we might have Siri or Alexa or some other cognitive device to help us … and learn with us.

That suggests that faculty – and faculty developers – should be asking:

  • What parts of teaching, research, and service can be automated, and what parts do faculty provide added value?
  • How do faculty reskill … and help students reskill as technology evolves?
  • What learning needs to take place in a classroom and with students physically present and what could be done online?  Synchronous, asynchronous, small group, simulations…
  • What new learning can be (or should be) crowdsourced?  What does this mean for curriculum design?
  • With all this change, time becomes a precious commodity.  How do we redesign faculty (and student) work to be open, collaborative, digital…and yet leave time for exploration and discovery?
  • Will new roles emerge beyond tenure-track, term, and adjunct faculty?  How will faculty development evolve to meet these new roles?  With the world moving to more personalized experiences, will we now have personalized faculty development?

No easy answers…but complacency could be our biggest barrier.  We have to assume that the faculty development model of the past will not fit an accelerating future.

{Graphics: Deloitte Press}

Faculty Development Experience

Last week, I began exploring the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, which looked at the challenges ahead for businesses and HR professionals. I have been looking at it from a faculty development perspective.  The report is based on analysis of a survey of more than 10,400 business and HR leaders globally, and noted ten trends.  I discussed the first three trends last week.

The fourth trend was “The Employee Experience: Culture, Engagement and Beyond.”  The underlying theme for this trend was “How we design the employee experience for engagement, productivity, and growth.”  This theme lies at the heart of most mission statements for centers for teaching and learning (CTLs).  For instance, the mission at the VCU Center for Teaching Excellence where I previously worked (and which has since been disbanded by the university) was:

“…the Center for Teaching Excellence at VCU continues to promote, enhance, and assess teaching effectiveness and student learning through faculty development.”

At Northeastern University’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning through Research where I last worked, the mission statement read:

“Our mission is to inspire, equip, and connect educators to create and integrate transformative learning experiences using evidence-based practice.”

I see engagement, productivity and growth in both of those statements.

The Deloitte report noted that in a digital world with increasing transparency, employees expect a productive, engaging, enjoyable work experience.  The report goes on to note gaps that exist in helping employees balance work and life, align personal goals with corporate goals, provide programs that span generations, and use design thinking as part of the employee experience.

One can easily substitute the word “faculty” for the word “employee.”

The report noted that organizations typically have addressed issues such as engagement, culture, rewards, and learning development as separate and siloed approaches.  Yet, employees (faculty) tend to look at what happens to them as an integrated experience.  CTLs in the past have been one place where faculty could turn for engagement…and CTLs are uniquely positioned within universities to cross boundaries and provide more holistic services.  The report noted that models such as the one shown here begin to address the issues of meaningful work, alignment of purposes, growth and development, rewards and wellness, fairness, inclusion, and authenticity among leadership.

CTLs tend to focus on the column on growth opportunity, but CTLs are positioned to also impact the other columns as well.  The report quoted a retail executive as noting:

“We used to prioritize our stakeholders as shareholders first, customers second, and employees third.  We now realize we had it backwards.  If we put employees first, they in turn take care of customers, and they in turn take care of our shareholders.”

Now take that statement and substitute students for customers and faculty for employees.  Strategically, it makes sense to holistically care for faculty, who in turn take care of students, who in turn care for the community (local and global).

At your CTL, how does the faculty experience impact the future of your institution?

{Graphics: Deloitte Press}

Attracting FacDev Talent

I have been exploring the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, which looked at the challenges ahead for businesses and HR professionals, but I have been looking at it from a faculty development perspective.  The report is based on analysis of a survey of more than 10,400 business and HR leaders globally, and noted ten trends.  I discussed the second of these – careers and learning – yesterday.

The third trend involves talent acquisition…which at first glance does not have much to do with centers for teaching and learning and faculty development…or does it?  The report noted that in…

“…today’s transparent digital world, a company’s employment brand must be both highly visible and highly attractive because candidates now find the employer, not the reverse.” (Emphasis mine)

In ten years in faculty development, I have been involved in many search committees for members of CTLs.  I am sure many of you have as well.  The time honored process of crafting and posting a job description, forming a committee, screening a large number of applications…many of which do not fit the requirements, phone and maybe web interviews, campus visits, and the hope that through all of this, a candidate that actually is a good fit will be found.

The Deloitte report suggests this model may be changing … that tech solutions may disrupt this process.  AI systems like IBM’s Watson can now sort through cloud networks like LinkedIn and quickly identify good fits based on career experiences, endorsed skills, and analysis of social media dialogue.  Organizations are already employing simulations and gaming into the interview process to analyze potential performance on the job.  The report noted that “…a consensus is emerging that traditional interviewing – subjective and unstandardized – may be an unreliable method for predicting a potential employee’s success.”

Joel Osteen has been quoted as saying “See, when you drive home today, you’ve got a big windshield on the front of your car. And you’ve got a little bitty rearview mirror. And the reason the windshield is so large and the rearview mirror is so small is because what’s happened in your past is not near as important as what’s in your future.”

Perhaps the way we have staffed CTLs in the past is our rear-view mirror, and the future staffing of CTLs might involve leveraging technology, focusing on the center’s brand to attract new talent to desire to come to the center, and thinking outside the box to find the right talent that can help faculty enhance student learning.  We tend to think that the past is crystal clear and that the future is fuzzy…just like the picture below.  True…but the future is also always not what we expect…so staffing for what we expect seems out of sync.

If you were starting a CTL from scratch now, what are the talents you would want with you as you look to this future?

{Graphics: Deloitte Press, Bill Frymire}

UPDATE:  After hitting publish yesterday, FastCompany published “The War For Talent is Over, And Everyone Lost.”  It took a slightly different tack than I did, but it illustrated that organizations seem better able at waging war on talent as opposed to attracting talent.  This article noted that talent is largely personality in the right place…which brings me back around to the idea of making CTLs attractive and the right talent will find you…as opposed to the other way around.

 

Half-Life of Skills

Earlier this week, I noted that I was beginning to dive into the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, which looked at the challenges ahead for businesses and HR professionals.  Based on analysis of a survey of more than 10,400 business and HR leaders globally, the report noted ten trends.  I discussed the first of these – the organization of the future – in yesterday’s post.

The second trend in the Deloitte report was “Careers and Learning: Real Time, All the Time.”  The report began by noting – again, for businesses and HR professionals – that the concept of “career” is in flux.  The beautiful question asked is what does “career” mean in a world of 100-year lifespans, 60-year careers, and half-lives of skills that continue to fall to only about 5 years.  While this report is for businesses, one can easily see the overlap with faculty development.  A tenure-track position is a life-time commitment, yet the concomitant development of teaching and research skills can be problematic.  In the world of business, the report noted that organizations with dynamic career models outperform their peers by providing continuous learning opportunities and a deeply embedded culture of development.  Institutions of higher education, particularly those with centers for teaching and learning (CTLs), provide the continuous learning opportunities, but as one who has been in faculty development for a decade…and considering the numbers of faculty I did not see versus those I did, I question whether institutions of learning have cultures of development?

The report goes on to explore the explosion of high-quality, free or low-cost content available through such platforms as Youtube, edX, Coursera, Udacity and Khan Academy, as well as micro-masters offered at some universities.  The commoditization of content raises the question of for CTLs – develop content in-house or link to these resources outside the institution?  A parallel question is whether CTLs should even develop content…the report highlights General Electric’s Brilliant You – an online learning platform in which GE employees develop and share learning content with peers.

The report suggested that for businesses – and I would suggest for higher education as well – that “learning” is a highly strategic business area.  A decade ago, businesses were interested in building out some content in an online directory.  Now, they are moving towards agile learning opportunities, promoting true lifelong learning, and retraining for multifunctional teams.

“…Forward thinking L&D departments are facilitating this growth in interdisciplinary thinking by viewing the corporate university as a commons instead of a training center…”

This suggests new roles for the leaders of CTLs.  As catalysts for change, they have to become curators and facilitators more than trainers.  The culture of the faculty development within the university – ironically – has to shift from teaching to collaborative learning.

To illustrate new approaches, the report highlights the University of Southern California.  One example was the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and STEM Cell Research, which teamed science faculty with cinematography faculty to develop new approaches to problem solving using digital imaging and virtual reality.  Another example was the Iovine and Young Academy for the Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation, which used interdisciplinary teams of faculty for breakthrough design thinking for audio headsets.  The lesson learned is that CTLs have to move beyond interdisciplinary and focus on convergence.  What are the problems that if solved would have high impact…and what groups could make this happen?  CTLs are in a unique position to leverage university assets to quickly form faculty learning communities that could address these problems.

As was done with the first theme, the report provided a series of old and new rules.  Once again building off their work to focus on faculty development:

Old Rules New Rules
No requirement for skill development for teaching or learning
Faculty decide what new skills are needed and have the resources to learn these skills
Tenure track is “up or out”
Tenure track is one of many options, careers can go in multiple directions
CTLs exist to train faculty
CTLs curate learning opportunities and create useful learning experiences
Faculty learn in workshops and sometimes online
Faculty learn all the time, in micro-learning, in physical and virtual workshops, and across disciplines
CTLs are considered the one-stop for training
CTLs are the learning commons, bringing together faculty and cross-functional learning communities
Offerings are based on compliance and technology
Offerings are always on, collaboratively developed and shared, and curated from multiple sources
Learning is provided by experts
Learning is provided by everyone
Credentials come from the university
Credentials are loosely bundled from multiple sources

.

Such an approach requires some fundamental rethinking of the core mission of CTLs…but these are disruptive times, and the time is ripe to begin this rethinking.

What rules would you add or change?

Faculty Development of the Future

Yesterday, I noted that I was beginning to dive into the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, which looked at the challenges ahead for businesses and HR professionals.  Based on analysis of a survey of more than 10,400 business and HR leaders globally, the report noted ten trends, the first of which is the organization of the future.

The chapter in the Deloitte report on “The Organization of the Future: Arriving Now” was authored by Josh Bersin, Tiffany McDowell, Amir Rahnema, and Yves van Durme…a global team which in itself models what follows.  The report noted that organizational design was top of the trend list because high-performing companies today operate radically different than they did 10 years ago (which is when I first moved in to faculty development).  I would suggest that – as in business – the trend in faculty development is to move faster, adapt quicker, and facilitate rapid learning.  This may suggest a different organizational structure for centers for teaching and learning (CTLs).

Organizations …including CTLs… were designed in the past for efficiency and effectiveness, which led to a typically hierarchical structure.  Yet, as Harold Jarche has noted often, networks are the new companies…and in today’s environment, networks can be both on site and digital.  The Deloitte report suggested that high-performing organizations are shifting from hierarchies to team-based (and project-based) nodes.

networks of teams

In the past decade, we have seen CTLs grow nationally.  Two years ago, I looked at the trends across 42 public and state institutions.  There was no one pattern to center design.  Nationally, there were 8 megacenters that covered both teaching/learning and edtech, 28 centers that focused just on teaching and learning, and 15 centers that focused just on edtech/online.  Seven institutions had no centers of any kind.  Center staffing ranged from one part-time member to 90+. The average CTL had a staff of 5.7, the average edtech center had a staff of 25.9, and the average megacenter had a staff of 30.3.  Those that split the duties tended to staff the edtech side better, and there generally was duplication of services when centers were split.

Whether staffed with 6 people or 60, it would seem that the CTL of the future would involve teams that would form, deliver and disband…potentially using faculty in temporary CTL roles (such as Northeastern’s CATLR Faculty Scholars program).  The Deloitte report suggested an intriguing concept (at least intriguing when it comes to faculty development) of using organizational network analysis (ONA) software to study who is talking to who, allowing an organization to tap into existing networks.  The report also suggested that the leaders of these networked teams would need skills in negotiation, resilience, and systems thinking.  The past skills that allowed leaders to rise to the top might be the wrong skills for agile networked teams!  These new networked teams would not necessarily be co-located, and would use a variety of social collaboration tools such as Slack, Trello, Facebook’s Workplace and/or Google Team Drives.

Building off this chapter’s “rewriting the rules” …the title of the report… the following emerges:

Old Rules New Rules
Organized for efficiency and effectiveness
Organized for learning, innovation, and faculty impact
CTL viewed as hierarchy, with chain of command decision process
CTL viewed as agile network, empowered by team leaders and fueled by
collaboration and knowledge-sharing
Structure based on academic functions
Structure based on work and projects
Advancement based on longevity
Advancement based on accomplishments through multiple assignments
People become leaders through promotion
People create followers to grow in influence
Culture ruled by fear of failure
Culture of safety, risk-taking, and learning through innovation
Rules-based
Playbook-based
Roles and job titles clearly defined
Teams and responsibilities clearly defined, but roles and job titles change frequently
Process-based
Project-based
Lead by direction
Lead by orchestration

.

Would higher education embrace such a model?  It is difficult to say.  In some respects, higher education continues to look forward by looking in the rear-view mirror.  Yet, there are calls for change…and CTLs have been innovators in the past.  Quickly evolving times call for new approaches.

I would be interested in your thoughts?  Is this realistic or a pipe-dream?

{Graphics: Deloitte Press}

 

 

A Philosophy of Faculty Development

In my Theory of eLearning class last night, the subject of working with clients came up.  This class is for the Educational Technology track for a Masters in Education in Adult Learning.  This program is designed for individuals who

“…want to gain in-depth knowledge and understanding of adult learning theory and practice, specifically in the fields of Human Resource Development and Adult Literacy, and through exploring technology in learning in today’s digital environment. Our graduates and current students work in business and industry, healthcare, government, non-profit, higher education, and community and human service agencies.”

NMC_HzSo, a program that attracts a diverse group of students … and my class is no different.  Last night, we explored emerging trends in technology for learning, using the 2014 NMC Horizon Report as a launch point.  As one might suspect, this track attracts students who are comfortable with digital technology.  During the class session, laptops, tablets, and smartphones were in constant use.  One student texted a resource to another student with his phone as we discussed it…and no one batted an eye.  So while we discussed the cost/benefit of staying with older technologies versus shifting to the new thing that is out … and facilitating those discussions with clients … their questions had less to do with their own ability to stay current and explore technologies as it did with working with clients who might not share their passion for digital technology.

Using Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation, we discussed backwards translation of their early adoption terminology and practice to the early and late majority clients with whom they might be working.  We also began to discuss general philosophies of instructional designer relationships with clients.

DiffusionOfInnovation

This brought back to my mind an earlier conversation I had with Enoch Hale.  Enoch noted that he had a Philosophy of Teaching, and that he intended to work on a Philosophy of Faculty Development.  It struck me as a great idea … and one I had never personally articulated.

My Philosophy of Teaching notes that teaching occurs in a distributed networked environment.  Per my beliefs regarding teaching and learning, I see my role as:

  • Promoting positive learning, modeling what I teach and learn;
  • Sparking learner enthusiasm for learning and peer-teaching;
  • And providing a strong foundation for lifelong reflective practice.

My role in faculty development is similar, but nuanced due to the collegial nature of the relationship one has (or should have) with fellow colleagues.  In my role as faculty developer, I hope to both inspire and empower faculty.  To do this, I like how Dakin Burdick framed his philosophy around three goals, and I will adopt them for my philosophical statement.

Digital StudentsFirst, our work in faculty development is a means to an end, and that end should impact student learning.  There is little empirical evidence that can directly correlate faculty development with improvements in student learning, and yet, that goal should be at the heart of what we do.  My first priority is to effectively coach the fellow faculty with whom I work to experiment with new practice informed by what we know about how people learn, evolving theories of learning in distributed networks, and the selection of digital tools that lead to active and authentic learning.  I also wish to partner with them to observe the impact and learn from it.

Happy ClientSecond, what we do should enhance faculty satisfaction.  For me, faculty development is all about the relationships I build with my colleagues.  Jeffrey Nugent suggested a mindset with the term “Consultant for Life” that really resonated with me.  Tom Peters noted once that in any organization, we are “all in sales” … but as faculty developers, I believe that we are all in the Human Capital business.  In working with colleagues, I have my passions … but it is equally important to understand the passions of my colleagues … and look for ways to align the two.  I need to see linkages between the digital affordances of the web and the learning goals of each discipline.  By building relationships, I am also able to bring an interdisciplinary lens to these discussions.  If I can help raise the faculty comfort level with digital processes, while keeping true to their disciplinary passions, I will facilitate faculty satisfaction … and perhaps spark some creative juices!

Social ReputationThird, our work should enhance the reputation of our institution.  In a networked world, we have an amazing opportunity to share our celebrations and share our missteps … learning from each other.  The web has evolved in the past decade to be one that is participatory – what danah boyd in It’s Complicated calls “networked publics.”  Through blogs, through Twitter, through LinkedIn … name your social media … we have an obligation to share … and to build community with our faculty colleagues.  My LinkedIn network map below shows five separate nodes … and I have an opportunity to add to our reputation by interacting across each of these nodes… and to enhance my institution’s reputation by learning from my network.  It is a two-way street!

LinkedIn network map

So, inspire, empower, impact student learning, enhance faculty satisfaction, and enhance institutional reputation.  Am I off base?  How would you add to or modify this for your role in faculty development?  If you have published your philosophy, link to it in the comments.  In this remix world of ours, I am looking for additional models from which to draw inspiration and learn.

{Graphic:  NMC, Natebailey, Louisa Goulimaki, BusinessOfDesign, ColumbiaTeachingCenter, LinkedIn Labs}

 

 

Call Me Hammerhand

I am still buzzing from all the ideas percolating from SLOAN International Conference on Online Learning, but today my buzz was from two totally unrelated (and yet totally related) blog posts from my PLN.

At the conference, there were many of us who cautioned people to not fixate on the latest digital tools, because the tools come and go, and what is important is teaching and learning.  After all, Jane Hart noted in her 2013 Top 100 Tools for Learning that the Number One tool of 2007 (Firefox) is now #97, and the Number One tool of 2008 (Delicious) has slid to #60 (and one I have abandoned for Diigo).  Things like WordPress or Pinterest or Poll Everywhere are “just a tool.”

How many of YOU have said similar words!?!

So, this morning I am reading a post from Gardner Campbell entitled “Doug Engelbart, transcontextualist.”  Gardner writes:

hammerhand

“There is no such thing as “just a tool.” McLuhan wisely notes that tools are not inert things to be used by human beings, but extensions of human capabilities that redefine both the tool and the user. A “tooler” results … The way I used to explain this is my new media classes was to ask students to imagine a hammer lying on the ground and a person standing above the hammer. The person picks up the hammer. What results? The usual answers are something like “a person with a hammer in his or her hand.” I don’t hold much with the elicit-a-wrong-answer-then-spring-the-right-one-on-them school of “Socratic” instruction, but in this case it was irresistible and I tried to make a game of it so folks would feel excited, not tricked. “No!” I would cry. “The result is a HammerHand!” …

So no “just a tool,” since a HammerHand is something quite different from a hammer or a hand, or a hammer in a hand. It’s one of those small but powerful points that can make one see the designed built world, a world full of builders and designers (i.e., human beings), as something much less inert and “external” than it might otherwise appear. It can also make one feel slightly deranged, perhaps usefully so, when one proceeds through the quotidian details (so-called) of a life full of tasks and taskings…”

Let me repeat, a HammerHand is something quite different from a hammer or a hand, or a hammer in a hand.

Which brings me to the second post I read this morning, from Jane Hart entitled “The Social Learning Revolution and What It Means for Higher Education.”  Jane provides the Slideshare below which she used for her closing keynote at the WCET Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado last week.

Jane discusses her latest findings for the Top 100 Tools for Learning, where free online social tools dominate the top of the list.  She also notes that  learning, working and personal tools are merging, and that personal and professional learning is under the control of the individual.  She suggests that in the workplace learning revolution, individuals now have the tools to solve their own learning and performance problems.  The connected workplace with its wired workers – what Harold Jarche and Jon Husband call a “wirearchy” – increasingly demands new skills and practices.

Jane then suggests that what this means for higher education is that it is not enough to just add social tools to instructional practices.  Our students need to build social competence within a Personal Knowledge Management framework to prepare them for the new world of work.  They need to learn how to leverage social tools to solve their own learning and performance problems, as they will be expected to do when they enter the world of work.  Their “school work” should not be done in isolation, but integrated with a professional external network.  Working with this external network, our role as faculty is to help students make sense of what they find in the confusing world of the web – learning how to filter, synthesize and analyze, then encouraging them to share their learning back with their network.  In other words, our role as educators is to help students develop their digital identity.

She asks “How are you preparing your students for this new world of work and learning?”  Which begs the question, how are we in Centers preparing faculty to help them prepare these students?

Gardner’s post has me considering that whether working with faculty or students, when we begin to use a digital tool in our instruction, a HammerHand is something quite different from a hammer or a hand, or a hammer in a hand.

How does our use of a digital tool change us, our students, and the teaching moments?

As I said, my brain is buzzing.  Would love to hear your thoughts….

Graphics: {Recon Construction}

 

 

 

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Rethinking Fundamentals

These are exciting times at our Center for Teaching Excellence at VCUGardner Campbell is reporting next week as our new Vice Provost for Learning Innovation and Student Success.  Jon Becker started yesterday as our interim Director of Online Education.  We are saying goodbye to Phillip Edwards as he leaves for the Ohio State University Center for the Advancement of Teaching, but we will be welcoming a new member to our Center next month.  With Jeffrey Nugent continuing to lead our Center and our eLearning Team, we have a dream team positioned for …
disruption.

Disruption seems an appropriate word…as online education has been both a disruptive force in the past decade…and has itself been disrupted in the past year with the rise of MOOCS.  As we gear up for the start of our new academic year, particularly with such thought leaders in place, it seems a good time to revisit some of the fundamentals that have shaped my work for the past few years.

cover_thumbIn May 2009, Jeff Nugent, Bud Deihl and I published a White Paper entitled Building from Content to Community: [Re]Thinking the Transition to Online Teaching and Learning.  Only four years ago, and yet it seems somewhat dated now.  So I wanted to review it and see what still resonates with me and what needs rethinking.

We noted in the introduction:

“In our work with faculty members interested in teaching online, we have experienced the common perspective that moving a course online is primarily about designing and sequencing course content. While quality course content is a significant factor, we also believe that recent changes on the web – toward a more social and interconnected space – have necessitated the rethinking of what it means to make the transition to online teaching and learning.”

This still resonates with me, yet I have to recognize that much of the “new” and emerging elearning products seem geared towards designing and sequencing content.  In many ways, that describes many MOOCs, though Lisa Lane makes a good point that lumping all MOOCs into one pile is no better than lumping all online education into one pile.  There is also a move by some institutions to shift to self-paced compentency-based programs.  There are positives and negatives to this approach, but it does illustrate a use of digital technology that is worth exploring.  At some level, one could argue that self-paced compentency-based courses are about “learning” rather than teaching.

MOOCs aside, the state of elearning in higher education has continued to grow.  When we published the White Paper, four million students nationally were enrolled in online courses – 20% of all higher education students.  In the latest Babson Survey from 2012, the number had passed 6.7 million, or 32% of students.  Few other education processes (other than maybe the adoption of iPhones and tablets) could boast a 70% increase in four years.  With a 70% growth, there are obviously more faculty than ever involved in teaching online.

We stated in our White Paper that :

“…content alone does not make a course, nor an education…Everyone has access to high quality learning content.  Teaching online therefore means more than serving up content.  Faculty are critical, in that they are the drivers of quality course design, content mastery, and the skilled facilitation of learning.”

I continue to believe that faculty are critical…and not just to design, curate, and sequence content.

Our White Paper suggested three central themes to rethinking instructional practices for online teaching.

  • First, it requires effort to build a learning community in an online class, but that effort is critical.
  • Second, the virtual medium in which engagement occurs can happen across multiple websites, from learning management systems to microblogging sites to blogs and wikis.  The engagement requires true interaction rather than the more passive action/reaction of “read this and then take a quiz.”  Yet, this engagement is critical.
  • Finally, the social presence of both students and faculty is an important component of online learning.

booksIn the ensuing four years since we published this white paper, we have had nearly 80 faculty members participate in our Online Course Development Initiative, and another 60 faculty members complete our online Preparing to Teach Online course.  Another 24 faculty members have attended our three-session Learning Path on online teaching.  One commonality in these three programs is that each faculty member was given a copy of Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt’s 2007 book, Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for the Virtual Classroom.  Each of these programs has additionally been influenced by Randy Garrison’s 2011 update of E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice (Second Edition).  Community (and the Community of Inquiry model) have therefore been positioned front and center in our development of faculty for online teaching.

Given the changes emerging in online learning, my question becomes – Is “community” still a core fundamental principle for online teaching and learning?

For me, it is…but I would love for others to weigh in.

My colleague Joyce Kincannon used a great word yesterday as we discussed this – discourse.  Discourse is more than conversation, it is meaningful debate.  It is “meaning making” spread across multiple individuals.  To be quite honest, it is the discourse occurring in my online classes that keeps my juices flowing and excites me as I teach my courses.  I would suggest that it is the discourse that helps form and grow the community aspects of online classes.  So, building community is critical from my perspective.  I still think that “community” can exist across multiple digital websites or paths…and it can continue long after a course completes.  This past week, I have received several tweets from former students who are continuing our discourse.

All of which suggests that the social presence of both faculty members and students continues to be important.

Is “online teaching” evolving?  Definitely!  Are the fundamentals still core?  For me, the answer is yes.  This does not suggest that we should not explore self-paced digital processes that enhance learning. Just as the web is becoming ubiquitous in our lives, it should (in my opinion) be equally ubiquitous in our teaching and learning.  While some of the “tools” listed in our white paper have morphed or died – to be replaced my new tools – the fundamentals embedded in our white paper still resonate with me, as does our use of Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles as a lens for exploring the use of these digital tools.  While we may welcome MOOCs and self-paced instruction into the repertoire of online offerings, it seems to me that with 32% of college students taking online courses, the “traditional” instructor-led online course will be continuing for the foreseeable future, and the fundamentals we suggested in our white paper will continue to shape those courses – and our development of faculty.

Last spring, MGen Will Grimsley suggested that technology-enabled leadership should take a lesson from .38 Special – “Hold On Loosely, But Don’t Let Go.”  Seems like good advice for the fundamentals of community, networked learning, and social presence in online teaching and learning.

So maybe I am not as disruptive as I think…. 🙂

I would be interested in your thoughts…and any aspects of our white paper that you see as needing updating.

 

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Hello 2012 and a New Community for Learning

I have to admit – 2011 seemed like a long year, and I am glad to see it go.  2012 seems more promising, even with a presidential election looming. 🙂

I did not blog much in 2011, but I also did little teaching in 2011 (and none online), and so did not feel that I had much to share (beyond occasional tweets).  I see 2012 as different.  Next week, we launch our first fully 0nline faculty development course – “Preparing to Teach Online”.  PTTO has 18 faculty signed up for the inaugural pilot of this course.  I have been working with my colleagues here at the VCU Center for Teaching Excellence for the past five months to map out and build this course. I will also be co-teaching grad students in our Preparing Future Faculty course and hopefully will be teaching a summer course on Theory and Practice of eLearning. The combination should definitely give me some rich opportunity for reflection, which I hope to capture here.

(…and I like the banner designed by my good friend Bud Deihl…)

Co-designing the PTTO course with Bud Deihl, Joyce Kincannon and Jeff Nugent has been a blast.  For some of our thought process, check out out philosophy statement in the course syllabus, which reads as follows:

“We are living in an amazing time – where the vast storehouse of human knowledge is readily available and easily accessible – quite literally at our fingertips. Using devices from laptops to mobile phones, we can connect to the Internet from anywhere and in moments search for and find information that not only helps us answer questions, solve problems and complete tasks, but also entertains, inspires and confounds us.  In our work with faculty members interested in teaching online, we have experienced the common perspective that moving a course online is primarily about designing and sequencing course content. While quality course content is a significant factor, we also believe that recent changes on the web – toward a more social and interconnected space – have necessitated the rethinking of what it means to teach and learn online.

This availability of knowledge does not necessarily lead to learning online. Students already have access to high quality learning content. Teaching online therefore means more than serving up content. Your critical tasks are to be the drivers of quality course design, content mastery, and the skilled facilitation of learning.  By skilled facilitation of learning, we mean understanding how to interact with and engage students in this new learning landscape.

In this online course, you will do many of the things you routinely do to prepare to teach a class.  You already set goals for your courses, describe the specific learning objectives, define the tasks necessary to meet those objectives, and then create applicable assignments around these tasks. The fundamentals are the same.  The practice of facilitating learner interaction is quite different.  What is different in our view flows from our observation that the web has become social. Online courses require the social presence of the faculty in order for the course to be effective.  Students need to form a learning community as well, and active engaged learning activities are required for the course to be effective.

We designed this course with these philosophies in mind.  Through our work together in the coming weeks, we all – each of you and each of the course consultants – will be actively present in this course, will build our own learning community, and will collaboratively engage each other in the best ways to facilitate learning online.  We look forward to this!”

The textbook for PTTO is Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt’s (2007) Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for the Virtual Classroom.  We designed this course with the belief that community is a core component of a quality online learning experience. and we look forward to modelling this in our course.

Community has been on my mind for quite awhile, so I focused on something Stephen Downes said in yesterday’s oldaily about two posts that align nicely with this core focus of community.  Downes noted:

“Clarence Fisher writes a post titled ‘Learn it Yourself (LIY)‘ in which he argues “the Open Source revolution is rooted not in technology itself, but in learning. It’s the ease of observing how languages function and how programs are made – coupled with the ability to seek and openly share that information with others.” Meanwhile, Brian Lamb writes a post titled ‘DIO: Do It Ourselves‘ in which he argues “the slight shift to ‘DIO’ from ‘DIY’ is obvious enough, and if I think about all the fun and all I learned this past year through, say, DS106, it’s equally obvious I didn’t do any of it myself.” Which leads me to suggest the next logical step: LIO – Learn It Ourselves.”

Wow!

There was a lightbulb that came on for me that brought full circle all the reading this past year on the DIY U movement and networked learning.  We are launching PTTO precisely because it is NOT a DIY world where individuals can in isolation learn new practice.  Rather, it is a richly nuanced networked world where “we” learn together, and through PTTO, we hope to build in ourselves and others the skills in networked learning that can then be applied by our colleagues who participate in their own courses.  I would also suggest that this will spill over into my other courses.  I have always told my students up front that I will learn as much from them as they will from me…this just puts a new spin on that concept.  In the summer course in particular, I hope to experiment more with Facebook groups, Google+ Hangouts, and the like, co-opting my students into a two-way learning community.

I would be interested in tips from any of you on what works with adults in creating and sustaining engaging learning communities.  And look for more in the coming months as we “learn it ourselves” in my courses.

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Pretty Good Looking Camel

I have not blogged in three months…partly from not having the muse to do so, and partly because I have been so darn busy. But given the interesting things I have been involved in lately, I have been meaning to do some reflection … and now is as good a time as any…and of course, I have questions that I hope you can help answer.  🙂

During the last three months, I and my colleagues in the CTE have been focused on exploring how to take our year-long 20-faculty cohort model for developing online teachers, that we have done for the past two years, and scale it to a process that can be delivered to more faculty online in a more frequent manner.  While not a committee in the strict sense, developing a product within a team can resemble the old English proverb:

“A camel is a horse developed by a committee.”

Well, this team is putting together a pretty good looking camel!  And for context, we need to go back a few years.

Two years ago with my colleagues at the VCU Center for Teaching Excellence, we published a white paper entitled Building from Content to Community: [Re]Thinking the Transition to Online Teaching and Learning.

At that time, the strategic plan for Virginia Commonwealth University – VCU 2020 – did not even contain the word “online.” My colleagues and I understood that the academic world was increasingly being impacted by the internet, and we wished to draw a line in the sand and go on record stating that online teaching was much more than simply positioning content online. Rather, we strongly believed that online teaching required a shift in teaching practice. We have been influenced by Terry Anderson’s 2004 work The Theory and Practice of Online Learning. In fact, the word cloud here was built using the words from his Chapter 11, Teaching in an Online Learning Context.  I love how serendipitously “online learning’ and “teachers presence” lined up in this Wordle, and that equal emphasis is given to students, teaching, and content, mirroring our use of Garrison, Anderson, and Archer’s Community of Inquiry model.

Much has changed in the past two years, including a new president and a new provost with a vision for positioning VCU as the nation’s top public urban research university. The new strategic plan – Quest for Distinction – includes a new emphasis in online teaching and learning. Online@VCU has been launched as a move to coordinate, support, and grow online learning initiatives at all academic levels. In the past two years, we at the CTE have facilitated two online initiatives, helping 39 faculty make that transition online. We used a very intensive process involving a full week face-to-face institute, followed by an online course experience from the student’s perspective, and then consultation and peer review as their online courses were built and taught. With the increased emphasis and resultant interest campus-wide, we are moving to the next phase of developing online courses to help more of our faculty colleagues prepare to teach online.

I am blessed to be working with a great tech team.  Jeff Nugent continues to provide both leadership and vision to our process.  Bud Deihl brings a strong sense of storytelling to our team.  And during the last three months, we hired a new online instructional designer in the person of Joyce Kincannon.

We have collectively spent some productive hours mapping out strategies on whiteboards before moving into production inside Blackboard.  What we wish to do is develop a process that will prepare faculty members to teach online, and that involves pedagogy, course design, and experiences within an online community.  Faculty members by nature come to this virtual table with content knowledge and knowledge about teaching face-to-face in their discipline, but in many cases, they find the online environment unfamiliar.  They are walking into their online room and not recognizing the layout.  Where are the chairs?  Where is the podium?  How do they circle the chairs if that is their desire?

We hope through our “Preparing to Teach Online” course to make the layout and the processes more familiar.  We hope to raise faculty awareness of processes, best practices, and tools that have worked for others without inundating them with so many choices that option paralysis occurs.  Finally, we hope to support faculty as they both gain experience working in an online environment and construct their own course.  All of us have design models that we have used in the past, but this is the first time we have collectively worked to build a single course together.

There are good models out there already, such as SLOAN-C’s certification process and the development courses run by Penn State University‘s World Campus and University of Central Florida.  We just do not believe it is cost effective to outsource the training for  all of our online teaching faculty.  Developing it in-house remains an engaging process where our assumptions are continually pushed by each other…resulting I believe in an improved product…a good looking camel … that we know will be even more improved after our first class is piloted.  We do not see this as a drop-in, drop-out model.  We still believe that the best approach involves developing learning communities that can work together through the process.

We still have a ton of work to do to fully flesh out the course, but our initial thoughts for the flow are:

  • A pre-assessment of both motivation and technology skills
  • A face-to-face orientation
  • Online modules
    • Introduction to the Online Environment
    • Development of Learning Goals and Outcomes
    • Selection / Development of Course Content
    • Online Collaboration, Interaction, and Engagement
    • Assessment of Learning and Evaluation of the Course
  • Interspersed consultations with the instructional designers
  • Peer Review of developed courses

For those of you moving in the same direction, any thoughts?  I would be particularly interested in the following

1.  Your ideas about pre-assessment instruments that have worked for you.

2. Time commitment expectations for full time faculty moving through a process like this.

3.  Cohort size.  What is too big?  What is too small?

4.  Compensation or enticements used at your institutions.

We are in the early stages, so your assistance as always would be most appreciated!

 

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