"The professoriate is left out of decision-making in educational institutions."
The gist of the article was that the professoriate is left out of decision-making in educational institutions when those institutions start looking to the use of technology to solve their business needs. The article noted that the result is that the technology doesn’t work well for anyone with less access than the elite or privileged student. I have to agree that when administrators trying to solve a college’s financial problems, turn to technology mediated instructional interventions to do so, can make some huge mistakes. However, not everyone is making those mistakes.
In the California Community Colleges (CCC), our experience with using technology to provide our students with access to courses and/or resources began with the faculty. It still resides there. Our colleges, for the most part, offer online courses that are developed by the faculty members who teach them. There are teachers in all systems who try to avoid work by creating their own online teaching situations. Usually, those people develop courses that run themselves and they are ultimately weeded out in the faculty evaluation processes and accreditation visits.
Generally, however, online teachers in our system have a passion for creating high quality learning environments for students. I’ve been teaching our CCC faculty about how to teach online for over ten years and the predominance of my teacher-students want to replicate what they do in their traditional classes to the online environment.
While I use the term “replicate” I do not mean just port over lectures and tests, I mean create activities that ensure that student learning takes place as effectively, if not more so, in the online environment and that include teacher to student interaction. One of the first things I ask our teachers when they start learning to teach online is, “How many of you think that you have changed or saved a life in your teaching?” Without a doubt, our teachers all agree that they have had that experience. My follow–up is that it wasn’t the technology, the textbook, or the materials that saved anyone, it was the teacher presence. It’s the teacher that connects the materials to the knowledge and creates an engaging, creative environment.
I have seen some amazing courses that were developed by teams of teachers with the assistance of instructional design support. These courses have then been offered with significant teacher presence as part of the strategy. I am beginning to believe that this might be the best approach to effective online course design, but it is certainly not the only one. If we don’t assist our teachers in creating effective courses by providing them with instructional design support that is capable of developing rich media content, then we see teachers resort to publisher content that can become “a course in a box”. That approach is one I dislike, as it does take the teacher out of the design process of their own courses, and limits the ability for the human high-touch environment to develop.
To think that we can take the teacher presence out of the technology-delivered classroom and be successful in educating the whole student is really the thinking that will lead to the development of less than civic minded, empathetic, creative citizens. So, why not start looking at the models that work in online education rather than continuously trying to focus on experiments that have gone wrong?
My own experience as an online teacher includes online conversations with students that were far more involved than the occasional, or even intentional, questioning and interaction with students in the face-to-face classroom. The need for every student to thoughtfully respond to an activity within a course makes for excellent consideration in discussion and blog posts, for example. I had to be present in the course for those interactions to exist. I had to model and cajole and monitor, but when I did the results were evident. I had one student comment at the end of a course, “I felt like you were with us the entire time”. I couldn’t have gotten a more treasured compliment from an online student.
There are relationships that happen in the traditional academy that cause us to think critically about what we are learning. That focus on relationships cannot be diluted in the online environment if we expect students to be engaged in what they are learning and in the lives that they will lead as a result.
I love reviewing the courses that my teacher-students create. I love being in the online learning environment with them as we discuss teaching and learning strategies and test the limits of our creativity. Online instruction doesn’t have to be a self-paced, auto-run, human-less activity. It should not be. (Notice, I didn’t say, “never be” – just-in-time learning resources can be important additions to an online learning inventory.)
What that takes, however, is less dependence on technology as THE solution to an institutions financial crisis, and more about making sure that we educate our citizenry. It’s sad that the government has reduced its contributions to public education over the years, which has led to the huge rise in cost for both institutions and students. Is there a correlation with our economic decline as a society?
I am fortunate to live in a state that has decided to fund online learning for the 100% of the population who want to go to college and find the community colleges as their option. With the initiative I am working on, we may have the chance to focus on what works, finally.