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.
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.
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?