Day 1 of Summer Institute


It is finally here – our summer institute, where we spend a week working with 20 VCU faculty who are transitioning courses to the web.  My colleagues Jeff Nugent, Bud Deihl, and I have been working since February to develop and refine this institute, so it is exciting that it is finally underway!

vcutwt10_05Our pre-institute survey surfaced some interesting facts and perceptions.  First, roughly a third of the participants (35%) have never taught online, a third (35%) have taught 1-2 courses, and a third (30%) have taught 3 or more courses.

The second graph illustrates the participants’ reactions to the statement “The most significant difference between face-to-face and online courses is the role played by technology in mediating learning experiences.”  About 40% of participants agreed (6%) or tended to agree (36%)  with this statement, while 47% either disagreed (6%) or tended to disagree (41%).  As we reviewed the survey with the group, we had some interesting discussion on the impact of the web across multiple learning facets – formal and informal.

The final graph was our most interesting as we start this institute.  The participants were reacting to the statement “High quality learning content and course design are the most important aspects of a successful online course.”  A strong 82% either agreed (35%) or tended to agree (47%) with this statement.  Only one person disagreed.

As we began to discuss this, I started the ball rolling by noting that – if I had been taking the survey – I would have also checked “disagree.”  I stated this because I strongly believe that content and online course design (which I think of as organization and activities) is only a small piece of teaching online.  The critical component to me is the active facilitation of learning by the faculty member.  If content and organization alone were all that was needed, then students could simply review the wonderful content in the MIT OpenCourseWare project or Open Yale Courses.

There was some interesting push-back from the participants when I voiced this.  They viewed the facilitated delivery as part of course design.  We spent a good part of the morning discussing this aspect.  One of the things that I brought up was their upcoming enrollment in the Quality Matters online course “Build Your Online Course.”  The participants will be completing this course later in the summer, and in that course, they will see that QM makes it quite clear that the QM process only examines the design without looking at subsequent delivery of the course.  So it was interesting that the participants viewed “design” different than I did … but gratifying that they are concerned about delivery.

I got the sense that some in the room were surprised that we were focusing on teaching first rather than the online tools.  Their impression seemed to be that we should teach them the tools first, and then we could talk about how to use those tools.  We consider that a bit of the cart before the horse.  We really want this group to struggle with what they want to accomplish online and then look at how to do it.  If you learn the tools first, that in many cases drives the subsequent pedagogy.  If all you know is discussion board, then discussion board becomes the only way you teach.  So we will get to some tools as the week progresses, but we first want to discuss possibilities.

It was probably lost to many in the room, but Jon Becker (one of our participants) was having a lively discussion in Twitter during this morning session with Tom Woodward and Stephen Ransom, who were not physically present.  It was a perfect example of the open virtual world in which our students will be learning…and which is a new teaching environment for the majority of our participants.

During the afternoon, we had a panel of four faculty and one graduate student discuss their experiences teaching online or taking classes online.  One panel member had extensive distance education experience and yet has never taught a fully online class.  The other three had taught online, with one having just completed her first online teaching experience.  They discussed their expectations, their surprises, and their challenges.  One noted that a year ago, she had been a total skeptic about online teaching, but had such a positive experience that it had rekindled the joy of teaching in her professional life.  The participants asked great questions and the panel gave them much to consider.  It was interesting that several faculty voiced the fear that moving their teaching online would rob them of the ability to be spontaneous, humorous, or agile enough to shift when teachable moments occurred.  The panel addressed this, noting that the time-phasing took some getting use to…but that their personalities still came through online.

Our participants spent the final session of the day reflecting on the different “presences” that both faculty and students have online – social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence.  Most felt comfortable with the concept of social presence, but struggled with separating cognitive and teaching presence.  They also began to reflect on the value of community and what it meant across multiple disciplines.  Would “online community” be the same in a marketing class as a math class?  We gave each participant a copy of Rena Palloff’s and Keith Pratt’s 2007 book,  Building Online Learning Communities (2nd Edition).  We think that this is one of the best “how-to” resources for faculty members embarking in online teaching and learning, and this theme of learning community permeated much of the day.

An exhausting but exhilarating first day!  Tomorrow we look at both asynchronous learning and synchronous learning, unpacking the concept of just what “classroom” means online.  Also, Lisa M. Lane, from Mira Costa College, will be joining us at 7PM Eastern Daylight Savings time in Wimba to spend some more time looking at social presence for faculty.  If anyone would like to join us, our online web conference will be at

{Graphics Credit: William Bud Deihl, CTE Survey}

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

2 thoughts on “Day 1 of Summer Institute

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *