30 Day Challenge – Day 10 – Linear or Exponential

Next week along with my colleague Jeff Nugent, I am leading our second learning path session on online teaching, looking at the evolution of elearning.  Borrowing a page from Brian Lamb, I plan to take the participants on a bit of a historical journey.

  • Mankind first formed social groups about 200,000 years ago
  • Mankind became mobile and left Africa about 70,000 years ago
  • Mankind began to leave visual evidence of culture about 40,000 years ago.
  • Evidence of storytelling emerged about 17,000 years ago
  • Evidence of gaming appeared 8,000 years ago
  • Writing evolved about 5,600 years ago
  • Gutenberg developed the printing press 664 years ago (though the Chinese first developed moveable type 400 years earlier)

In the past hundred years, we have seen communication evolve from radio to television to multimedia on the internet.  Moore’s Law has been evident in the past forty years.  I did my Masters thesis on a Commodore 64 computer…and today carry an iPad with exponentially more power.  In fact, as Brian pointed out, today’s iPad has capabilities that match our human development of social, mobile, visual, storytelling, and gaming.  I include an example of how tablets have changed in the past 200 years:


As Tom Friedman noted in The World is Flat, the internet was one of the forces that flattened and shrunk our planet.  Growth in users and applications has been exponential over the past twenty years.  In that time, online education has evolved and grown as well.  I first began teaching online in 1995, before the advent of LMS technology. At the University of Nebraska, we used a new business software program called Lotus Notes to provide a platform for our first online classes.

But the growth of online learning in higher education has not matched the exponential growth of the internet in other fields.  The latest SLOAN / Babson survey shows:

online enrollment growth

So my question for Day 10 of the 30 Day Challenge (almost in line with “Where are the flying cars?”):

Day 10:  If growth in the internet in users and applications continues to expand exponentially, why has growth in online learning been linear?

This is one I do not have a clue to…but I would be interested in your perspectives.



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A Summit and Academy

May is always a crazy time here in the Center, and this has been a busy week leading up to two more busy weeks.  On Monday, our Center of Teaching Excellence hosted our first Online Learning Summit.  Yesterday, several of us did a road trip to Fredericksburg for University of Mary Washington‘s 17th Faculty Academy.  Next week, we start our third Online Course Development Initiative, and the week after, we conduct our EdTech Collaboratory. As I said, crazy…

I have not blogged in a while, so let me try and at least capture some of what we did at the summit and academy.

VCU Online SummitThe online learning summit Monday was a first for the faculty of VCU and our CTE.  In some ways, it started as a trip down memory lane.  Bill Pelz of Herkimer County Community College and the SUNY Learning Network was our keynote presenter.  I had the pleasure of working with Bill at HCCC, and was there as he started Herkimer on its online journey.  In fact, we were recalling that he, I and Ron Carvin gave a presentation to SUNY chairs back in 1998 on this new thing called online learning!  Bill gave the keynote, and he was followed by seven VCU faculty presenting papers.  I have linked to the papers below.

Bill Pelz

The summit was conducted in a room with multiple round tables, and following each set of presentations, the presenters moderated the table discussions to capture faculty perceptions about shifts in teaching practice.  Bill set the stage with his discussion of “technoheutagogy” – a term most had not heard (since Bill created the term) but a term that captured in part the evolution of learning online.  Bill took us on a historical look at first pedagogy (how children learn), then andragogy (how adults learn), followed by heutagogy (self-determined learning).  Bill added the “techno” prefix to move self-determined learning online.

Our first panel presented the following papers:

We really wanted this summit to be a chance for dialogue rather than passive reception of talks.  Following these presentations, we discussed the talks at our tables and collected ideas on what shifts in practice seem most important, how are instructor roles changing, and how does teaching online shape expectations about faculty load.  We also brainstormed support that faculty felt they needed in order to more effectively teach online.

In the afternoon, three more faculty presented their papers:

We again did small group discussions around effective teaching practices as demonstrated by these papers.

Our plan is to collect these table discussions with the papers and publish a conference proceedings from the day.  All the papers contained valuable and relevant information, and I would recommend your review of them.

We spent Tuesday completing our plans for next week, and then hit the road Wednesday morning for UMW and Faculty Academy.


We could only attend one day, but as always, Mary Washington’s Faculty Academy inspires us.  Martha Burtis was unfortunately out sick, but Jim Groom,  Steve Greenlaw, Tim Owens, Alan Levine and others welcomed those of us from off campus and provided a rich selection of presentations to move our thinking.

Giulia Forsythe let us use multiple markers as we played with visual notetaking.  While she had each of note “I can draw!” on our charts, Joyce’s looked a lot better than mine!

Jason Davidson, Mike McCarthy and former student Shannon Hauser showed different uses of the UMW WordPress blogs in their teaching and learning.  I was particularly blown away by Shannon’s rich uses of blogs both personally and professionally.

Grant Potter gave a great plenary on “Tinkering, Learning, and the Adjacent Possible”.  His main point was that creativity and innovation do not often happen in structured spaces (physical or virtual), but rather need open, transparent, and chaotic processes that allow recombinations / remixing of ideas.

Lots to think about from these past few days…and lots to look forward to in the next two weeks!

{Photos shot on iPads by Britt Watwood and Bud Deihl, the FA12 Banner from UMW FA12 website}



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What is the Future of Education?

I have no real idea … just some notions, but I am lucky enough to be attending a neat retreat focused on just this question.

I am attending a retreat hosted by the New Media Consortium, which publishes the Horizon Report annually.  With well over one million downloads and 27 translations in the past ten years, the NMC Horizon Report series annually charts the landscape of emerging technologies for teaching, learning, research, creative inquiry, and information management.  I was on the Board of Advisors for last year’s K-12 report, and found the experience rewarding and enriching.  Some forty of us from around the world examined a range of technologies and focused in on those we felt collectively would emerge in the next year, two to three years and five years down the road.

This year will be the tenth year for the Horizon Project, so Larry Johnson, CEO of the NMC, and Lev Gonick, VP and CIO at Case Western Reserve University and Board Chair Emeritus of the NMC, have invited one hundred of us from current and past boards of advisors to come together January 24-26, 2012 in Austin to reflect on what technology will mean to educational institutions in the next decade.  The are calling this retreat “The Future of Education.”

Their goal as stated at the above retreat website is to “…produce a 30-page-ish report that does two things:  One is to capture meta-learnings drawn from our research of ten years into the uptake of technology, which technologies seem to be “sticky” and persist, which are generative (in the sense of shaping perceptions that allow subsequent technologies to take traction) — and how to know one from the other. The second is to use those meta-learnings to frame a set of recommendations for strategic technology planning to inform the next decade of decision making across all sectors of education.”

One of those “sticky” persisitent uses of technology in education is the online education movement.  This past week, my colleagues and I at the VCU Center for Teaching Excellence launched our first totally online faculty development initiative for faculty who want to teach online.  Eighteen of our colleagues are in the first pilot of this online “course”…though course is not quite the right word.  We have crafted a learning environment and have 18 fellow faculty along for the ride.  They have done well this first week getting to know one another, researching the pedagogy behind online teaching, and in some cases, struggling with learning in an asynchronous environment.

But while I do believe “online” is a part of the future of education at both K-12 and higher education levels, I am not as sure about other aspects, such as terms like:

  • course
  • degree
  • discipline
  • professor
  • class
  • semester
  • …the list could go on

Bill Gates and Salman Khan certainly are interjecting some radical ideas about the future of education and the use of online learning…as are others.

So, while I am enjoying the launch of our online faculty development initiative – it follows established models of online course design.  I am looking forward to having my thinking pushed the next three days as we grapple with the future of education and the role technology might play in that future.

{Photo Credit: Mark Chapman, Steve Jervetson}



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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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Teaching Online (Versus Online Teaching)


I am heading out for a couple of weeks vacation, but I wanted to try and capture some thoughts about the summer institute our team at the CTE completed on Friday.

My last two posts focused on the first two days.  The further we got into the week, the less energy I had at day’s end to blog, so this will complete my initial reflections.  In reality, the first two days simply laid the groundwork for the bigger issues which rose later in the week.  On Day 3, we mixed theory and practice as we discussed creation of web resources by both faculty and students, such as social bookmarking, RSS feeds, blogs, and wikis.  Day 4 concentrated on assessment – assessment of learning, assessment of student readiness to learn online, and assessment of their courses.  Finally, on Day 5, we explored how rubrics such as Quality Matters , California State University-Chico’s Rubric for Online Instruction, NACOL’s quality standards could inform course design.

online teaching

While I think many in our institute knew what they were getting in to, it really began to sink in during the last three days.  Some had conceptualized moving online as simply a virtual mirror of what they did face-to-face (in some ways as depicted in the graphic above).  In the give and take discussions across disciplines, they began to really grapple with issues of quality instruction, value-added faculty interactions, social presence, and resource demands.

Our group included faculty teaching everything from small doctoral seminars to one faculty member who will have 200 undergraduates in an introductory non-major course. Some worked to design their own courses, other to design courses which could be handed off to adjuncts.  The participants seemed to come together as a community, achieving a degree of openness and trust that was pretty remarkable.  In some ways, they were energized (and angered) by an administration that would assign a non-tenured faculty member to teach 200 students in an online section without TA’s or design help (other than our institute).  While we have pockets that have taught online for years, we had not strategically approached online learning as an institution in the past, and this became evident to them.  The development of this cohort is an initial good step, and they are beginning to recognize both their opportunities and some limitations resulting from the previous lack of school or institution resources.  I am optimistic, because as a cohort, they appear to want online teaching to succeed and succeed well.

The key take-away from the week for me was that they moved well beyond a concept that teaching online meant putting your stuff online towards one in which teaching online called for new and unfamiliar ways of teaching practice.  They struggled as a group to discuss best methods for achieving learning outcomes in both synchronous and asynchronous environments.  They looked at how to tap crowdsourcing to meet instructional targets.

As these final days were unfolding, Jim Groom blogged a related post in”Edupunk, or on becoming a useful idiot.”  He noted this article by Glenn Harlan Reynolds in the Washington Examiner, in which Reynolds suggested that higher education is creating a bubble not unlike the housing bubble, and that the education bubble may soon collapse.  Jim included this Reynolds quote:

My question is whether traditional academic institutions will be able to keep up with the times, or whether — as Anya Kamenetz suggests in her new book, “DIY U” — the real pioneering will be in online education and the work of “edupunks” who are more interested in finding new ways of teaching and learning than in protecting existing interests.”

Jim was taking issue with edupunks as destroyers of higher education, but I would take equal issue with online education as destroyers of higher education.

learning revolution

I am not sure many in our cohort would label themselves as edupunks.  What I am sure of is that they are passionate about their teaching.  What I observed during the final three days of this institute were faculty members who genuinely believe that they add value to the lives of their students, and who therefore want to design online experiences that equal or exceed that value.  As the week progressed, the focus became less on “online” and more on “learning.”  In many respects, they captured practices and ideas that will emerge not only in their online classes but their face-to-face classes as well.

Reynolds may think that this destroys existing issues.  I see this group as adopting and adapting social media and online teaching and learning as a way of strengthening the value that higher education provides our society.

My question to my colleagues worldwide – does focusing on teaching online, instead of online teaching, help us address the growing questions of our relevance and value?

{Photo Credits: William “Bud” Deihl, krossbow, Wes Fryer}

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Mixed Signals about Online Teaching

As many of you know, we have spend the past few months preparing for our summer institute.  Each summer, our Center for Teaching Excellence runs an intensive week-long institute on teaching with technology.  Our theme this summer is teaching online, and in concert with our Provost, we are funding twenty faculty to work with us in June at our institute, then attend the Quality Matters online  course “Build Your Online Course“, followed up with working with us through the Fall and Spring semesters as they design and deliver an online course.

As one can see from examining our institute schedule, we are going to spend the week immersed in the pedagogy of teaching online, because as we stated in our White Paper last May, we fundamentally believe that teaching online involves not just the design of content delivery, but new practices as well.

Whether one has been teaching for years or is relatively new to teaching, it is our assumption that one should not just jump into teaching online (no more than one should just jump into teaching in the classroom).  We have, I think, thoughtfully crafted a networking and learning experience for our institute participants to facilitate their development of the skills and practices needed to teach online.  Teaching online takes an investment in time, and this nearly year-long process will assist this development.

So it was interesting to see two very different references to online teaching cross my desk today.


The first was an article in the May 9, Chronicle of Higher Education – “U. of California Considers Online Classes, or Even Degrees: Proposal for virtual courses challenges beliefs about what an elite university is—and isn’t” by Josh Keller and Marc Parry”.  The University of California is rolling out a $5 to $6 million pilot project for undergraduate online courses and degrees.  They are focusing on their 25 high-demand lower-level core gateway courses.  The university plans to spend up to a quarter million dollars on each course.  The article noted that there is faculty resistance to the concept of teaching undergraduates online, although they also quote Frank Mayadas, of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, as noting that piloting online courses is “…like doing experiments to see if the car is really better than the horse in 1925, when everyone else is out there driving cars.”

While I agree with Frank, it is good to see an institution as prestigious as UC exploring the use of online teaching for core courses.  They are taking a serious look at it as opposed to just opening up a bunch of sections and throwing adjuncts into them.

One issue I do have with the article by Keller and Parry is where it mentions the open content at MIT and Yale as if they were also online courses.  They are not – and MIT is explicit about this – they are content and not meant to replace online teaching and learning.  Too many in media and administrations conflate open content with online courses.  Just as a textbook does not replace the facilitated learning in a college course, neither does the online content replace the facilitated learning that takes place in good online classes.

Meanwhile on the same day – and I am not meaning here to be disrespectful to either Magna Publications or to David Penrose, an advertisement arrived in my email:

magna ad

“With Rapid Online Course Design, your faculty members and instructional designers can arm themselves with the tools and knowledge necessary to create quality courses with maximum value in a minimum of time. If your institution is struggling with online instructional design, this upcoming training seminar is for you”


So, for only $229 and 90 minutes, you can learn what you need to teach online!


Now…I just know in my heart that David Penrose is not suggesting this (though the marketers might be and many administrators probably do).  As the many comments in the Chronicle article attest, teaching online is work.  I think that it is fulfilling work and opens access to higher education that many might not otherwise have.  But none the less, one has to approach teaching and learning online in meaningful ways.  One cannot simply take a series of powerpoints, a few multiple choice tests, and call that an online course.


I was therefore struck that, on the one hand, we have a prestigious research university “considering” online classes – or even degrees – and on the other hand, we have an advertisement for an online webinar addressing the high demand for online education and giving institutions the blueprint they need to meet that demand – NOW!

Thoughtful educators will see issues with both approaches.  Teaching and learning online has moved in much of higher education from a pilot phase to a mainstream method of instructional delivery.  As with face-to-face learning, the quality of instruction varies.  I applaud UC for taking a serious look at the design and delivery of quality online courses – an approach we are also taking here at VCU.  It is equally important that we continue to address these mixed signals.  Faculty development needs to clearly focus on processes that improve student learning and student success rather than simply loading content onto the web.

It is one of the reasons I look forward to the next two days at University of Mary Washington. Their Faculty Academy 2010 will once again help me learn processes that indeed do just that.

{Photo Credits: foomandoonian, gagilas, ZeroOne}

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The Only Thing to Fear

I was in an interesting exchange today across multiple levels of the web on which I would like to reflect further.

It started when my friend Eduardo Peirano tweeted a link to me and two others about an article in the May 29th edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education.  In “I’ll Never Do It Again,” Elayne Clift laid out her reasons for never teaching online again.  Her five reasons included:

  1. “Virtual community” is the ultimate oxymoron.
  2. The lack of immediacy in communication is maddening.
  3. The quality of education is compromised in online learning.
  4. Show the money (more work for the same pay)
  5. Online teaching can be very punishing (requires more time)

She wrapped up her comments with:

“Weary and obsessed, I began to feel that, despite my best efforts, I was not up to the task, not in control, not meeting my own standards. On top of that, I suspected my students didn’t like me very much. That hurt. I began to break out in rashes and suffer sleepless nights.

That’s when I knew that I would not do it again and would chalk it up to experience — even if that decision meant hanging up my chalk altogether. Try to talk me down. Tell me I didn’t give it enough time. Call me old-fashioned and out-of-date. Just don’t call me to teach online.

I’ll leave that to (younger?) teachers who like living in a virtual world of virtual students with virtual goals, capacities, and ideas. Me? I’ll stick to the virtues of live human interaction — in the classroom and elsewhere — in a world rapidly becoming, as some of my students might say, “totally unreal!”

Eduardo knew that this 59-year-old (younger?) faculty would rise to the bait!  He had started a discussion forum around this article in his Ning site for Higher Education – College 2.0.  In his post, he noted:

“Aren’t online teachers complicating themselves. At the face to face classes there is nothing similar to forum discussions. So the discussions between the students should be very important for their grade!! They should be allowed to help each other and the teacher’s role is to point them to good resources and to support and facilitate the discussions and learning. If the homework is a collaborative paper each student should be responsible to contribute with some paragraphs (Michael Wesch: A Cultural Anthropologist Looks at Digital Technolog…) or presentation.”

I posted a reply on the College 2.0 forum, but I was fairly certain that Elayne Clift or folks that agreed with her would never see it there.  So I posted the same comments in a Chronicle Forum for article discussion (as well as linking this comment out on Twitter).  Jon Becker was more eloquent in 140 characters but summed up my feelings pretty well:

My more lengthy comment was:

Elayne Clift certainly had issues with teaching online, but it appeared to me that she attempted this course without changing any of her practices, and teaching online is fundamentally different than teaching face-to-face.  I am as old-dog as Clift, but I also have been teaching online for 14 years at a variety of institutions, and see things a little different than she does.

A “virtual community” is only an oxymoron if the faculty does not instill a sense of community through her or his own social presence in the class.  Using social media and collaborative activities, a community can not only form but be very strong.  Social networking tools can lead to a rich communication not only within just the course but with discipline experts worldwide.  We recently held a webconference with our class and guest speakers, and we also opened it up to the world through Twitter.  Others in the field from around the country joined the webconference and began interacting with our students in the chat box.  You could not duplicate that in a physical classroom.

As to lack of quality, that is more an indictment on the institution and the faculty than on online learning.  In my most recent class that I co-taught with another, several students used the term “life-altering” to express their appreciation for the quality of learning they found in our class.

The comments about money and time suggest to me again that Clift attempted to be the single expert on the stage rather than co-opting her students into the learning process.  I find the time distributed nature of online learning works well for me, but much of my focus is on helping students learn how to learn and teach each other.

I was lead author of a white paper published by our Center for Teaching Excellence on online teaching> http://bit.ly/11DBMx. It focuses on the practice of teaching online, and may offer an alternative view to the one espoused by Clift.  Please add to the conversation – we would be interested in your thoughts.

Danger Students Working Online

That was near 1pm today.  Another person had started a similar forum called “Teaching Online.”  By dinner time, these two comments had been read over three hundred and two-fifty times respectively, and a lengthy exchange was developing in the forum.  What I found fascinating was that our comments evoked such strong reaction from two faculty who had never taught online. I respect more the comments from those who had taught online.  My Twitter network is biased towards technology but was much more aligned with my own comments.

In several Chronicle comments, there was a note of fear that the “good old days” were gone and that because of online learning, higher education was going to hell in a handbasket.  “Beatitude” noted “I hope to God this isn’t the future for all of higher education…”

“Beatitude” raised a number of interesting points.  He or she noted that online courses were fine in the summer as long as they did not take resources away from [real] courses in the academic year.  (My interpretation).  There was a bit of fear about potential loss of jobs due to outsourcing.  And a note that many students currently taking online courses live on campus and take these courses from their dorms.

All true.

Yet, there is no real discussion about “learning” or academic success.  My simplistic view is that online is simply a mode of delivery, as are large lectures, small classrooms, and even tele-delivery to remote satellite settings.  We do not burn down large lecture halls because significant numbers of students fail those classes.  We instead look at best means of delivery given the context of large lecture halls.  Online should be no different.  Castigating online as something to fear for the future seems narrow-sighted.

Recent polls suggest almost 100% of entering students already own a laptop.  Given wireless connectivity, there really is no course anymore in which some online learning does not occur.  Our students are using Google and Wikipedia, either in class or outside it (not to mention Facebook!).  The question is not whether students are online or not but rather whether we faculty are guiding their online lives towards learning that matters.

Lisa Lane had a more positive note in her posting in College 2.0 on this matter:

“Faculty who’ve been teaching online awhile have a responsibility to share their experiences, tips and tricks with those just starting out. Mechanisms need to be in place for them to do that, whether it’s professional development programs, training seminars, or social interaction (online or in person). I could, and have, provided many, many solutions to the overload so many new online instructors experience trying to make their online class as much like their on-site classes as possible. There are indeed ways to design the experience to be easier and better for all.”

I agree with Lisa (and I think our White Paper was an attempt to do just the type of sharing she suggests).

Eduardo hit my hot button today (or more correctly, Elayne did).  What are your thoughts?  Have we not reached the point where the debate over the efficacy of online learning is past and where we should instead be focusing on the new practices needed to make online learning the success many of us have already seen it to be?  As always, I would be interested in your comments and reaction.

{Photo Remixed from Gill Wildman}

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CTE White Paper on Online Teaching and Learning

The delivery of courses online is nearly as old as the web itself, but as with any innovation, some faculty members have been early adopters while others have watched the development with both interest and skepticism. As publishing and managing content on the web has become easier, and as the delivery of online courses has become increasingly more popular, more faculty members have begun exploring ways to offer their courses online.

There is a common perspective that moving a course online is primarily about designing and sequencing course content. While content is important, 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. The unprecedented access to information coupled with the ability by anyone to publish online are disrupting how one teaches and learns, raising questions in the minds of faculty as to whether their own practices should change.

Jeff Nugent, Bud Deihl, and I at the Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Teaching Excellence where I work have authored a white paper, Building from Content to Community: [Re]Thinking the Transition to Online Teaching and Learning, that is intended to serve as a resource for faculty who are teaching online or are considering making a transition. We hope this paper serves as the starting point for conversation, and invite you to share your ideas by leaving a comment at our CTE blog or here.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

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Are We Ready for Swine Flu?

I heard on the mainstream media news tonight that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Sunday declared a “public health emergency” for the current swine flu outbreak, which while mild so far in the United States, has taken 86 lives in Mexico.  Secretary Napolitano liked the current emergency call to preps for a pending hurricane.

Health officials’ advice is to follow common-sense precautions: Wash your hands, stay home if you’re sick and listen to your local health authorities.

Mirrored I am sure by my colleagues in ed tech, I have been wondering about that fourth piece of advice not mentioned above – practice online teaching and learning so that one can shift online if a state of emergency is declared.

There is nothing new to this train of thought.  Ask Valley CIty State University.  As reported by Inside Higher Ed:

Valley City … announced it would move all instruction online for the remainder of the semester, as the Sheyenne River rose to record levels and officials called for an evacuation of the city’s flood plain (where much of the university is located). According to Mayor Mary Lee Nielson’s statement, the river’s elevation had never before exceeded 20 feet; a crest at 22 feet or higher is expected and, “additionally, the Corps of Engineers also predicts that we will likely remain at this elevated level for up to two weeks, adding additional strain to our dike system.”

“There are simply too many unknowns at this time, and with a two-week expected evacuation we do not have the ability to expect students back on campus. It has been agreed that we will continue with classes and finish the semester in whatever manner possible utilizing technology,” Shirley wrote in a Wednesday message to Valley City State’s 1,000 students. Classes are to resume next week and Shirley urged faculty “to be as flexible and creative as possible,” adding: “We all realize there will be decisions that need to be made on a class-by-class basis, and recognize some classes are more suited to online delivery than others.”

I wonder what my institution would do if faced with an emergency of the scale Valley City faced – one requiring the complete shut down of the physical plant?  I am sure that my institution is like many nationally, in that we have many faculty who are using Blackboard to web enhance their classes.  We also have a minority of faculty who either teach fully online or use a hybrid approach for teaching.  Would we be ready to move online like Valley City did?

The news about the swine flu came out of no where and in the space of a few days has moved to a public health emergency level.  A few years back, avian flu was the concern and institutions drafted contingency plans for dealing with this flu.  I would hazard a guess that few institutions actively trained faculty and students to implement these contingencies.

If one believes that emergencies such as the high water issues faced by Valley City or the potential shut-down of institutions due to influenza are more than concepts, then prudence would suggest that we prepare for them.  One possible way would be for institutions to require all faculty to routinely “teach” one week of their semester online.  The week would be at their choice.  Some may say that this violates their academic freedom, but one week would not impose too harsh a requirement on faculty or students.  I have never heard anyone suggest that moving out of a building when the fire alarm rings violates their academic freedom.  Rather than impede academic freedom, moving online for a week each semester would instead facilitate campus safety for faculty and students.  Faculty would have an exercise in meeting learning objectives online, and students would likewise be held accountable for attending and meeting those objectives online.  More importantly, all would have a conceptual framework around online learning that could be rapidly implemented if safety needs required it.

A radical thought?  I wonder … and I wonder what you – my colleagues – think?

{Photo Credit: Eneas}