Monday, February 14, 2011

What to Do With Online Teaching, Part II

Developing an online or blended course that has a chance of being successful requires a variety of things. Let me list a few of them:
  • It is crucial that universities be willing to invest an initial amount of money into the creation of such a course. Such an investment will pay off eventually but we can't begin creating such courses without it. (I have a bibliography on this, too.) Educators need the kinds of computers that will allow them to be accessible to the students outside of their regular office hours. My office hours this semester, for example, are between 11 and 12:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Obviously this is not going to work for students who take online courses. The main reason students enroll in such classes is that their work obligations keep them from being on campus during the day. There needs to be a variety of options for such students to access their teacher.
  • Anybody who wants to create a blended or an online course needs to do a lot of research before proceeding to develop such a course. Universities should offer course releases to educators who are conducting such research. Since we are doing something entirely new by venturing into this kind of format, we also need to conduct experiments. Focus groups of students need to be involved in testing out trial versions of online activities. To give an example, a few universities have discovered that video lectures they used and were so proud of were completely useless. So they had to be dumped from the syllabus entirely. Of course, that only happened after many students wasted their time in a dysfunctional course.
  • Creating new online courses should be considered as fulfilling part of service to the academic community requirement. Online learning is aimed at accommodating students who cannot spend as much time on campus. As a result of offering such courses, though, the teachers who offer them will end up spending less time on campus as well. If I'm conducting an online discussion between 7 and 9 pm, I shouldn't be expected to spend the whole day before that on campus attending endless committee meetings.
  • Entirely new teaching and testing methods should be explored. The temptation to fall back on true and trusted strategies and materials is huge. However, unless you are ready to scrap everything you have been doing in this course and start completely anew in your creation of an online version of this course, I'm afraid it might not work.
  • The very concept of what the goal of teaching is should be reexamined. Nowadays, learning is not about accumulating information any more. Cramming and memorizing are dying out but they aren't doing it nearly fast enough. What is the point of getting students to memorize lists of dates when they can find any date they need online in matter of seconds? We don't insist that our students achieve a uniformly beautiful handwriting any more, do we? In the same way, memorization and accumulation of data needs to go. People who still rely heavily and multiple choice testing and handing out information sheets to students should stop. In the online format, any such activity will be a complete waste of time. You can't give the students an online test whose answers can be located through Google. We need to remember that information is extremely easy to find nowadays. So we need to offer students something completely different. Something they can't find through a search engine.
Of course, this will only be the beginning of a long and complex process of creating truly efficient online and blended courses. I am sure that many new concerns will arise as one proceeds to experiment with this format.

If I get my grant, I'm planning to spend at least 8 months developing the course before I even begin offering it. Students who take this course should not be turned into guinea pigs for my experiments in blended learning. I will begin with creating a list of what I want to teach the students. Even though this is a course I have offered several times already in a traditional format, I will reexamine absolutely everything I do in it. People who read this blog will have the benefit of observing the development of such a course in real time.

Thank you, Patrick, for prompting me to write this series of posts.


Patrick said...

You may want to investigate the CGA-Canada (Certified General Accountants) program of continuing studies. It is designed for working professionals to be delivered online, and may provide some insight into what works and what doesn't. I won't bias you with my assessment of the program.

BTW: I think you've hit the nail right on the head with the online course development. You're cursory outline seems to have touched on many of the relevant points that would need to be addressed.

Clarissa said...

Now we will see if my university wants to support this method of developing a blended course as opposed to the "let's dump exercises on Blackboard and forget about it" format.