A vision for online “tutoring”

If you haven’t heard, the California Community College (CCC) system has undertaken a 57 million dollar, 5 year (to begin with), Online Education Initiative. Check it out if you haven’t heard about it – suffice to say it’s a grand vision for supporting student access and success across the system that goes far beyond provision of online courses to online learning infrastructure and integrated support services for students and faculty across the 112 CCCs.

I am participating in a small working group considering how online tutoring should be a part of the mix (since I helped MiraCosta to become the first CCC to offer online tutoring via the Western eTutoring Consortium rather than by outsourcing completely). In our early discussion, we have been invited to consider a grand vision for online tutoring. Here’s mine – what do you think?

Aristotle tutoring Alexander

Aristotle tutoring Alexander (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Online tutoring in a perfect world is a great support option for all students, not just those enrolled in online classes. The advantages of high-quality learning online are brought to bear: anywhere, anytime, rich media, abundant high-quality relevant resources, a supportive community, flexible options for presentation of information, engaging interaction, and systemic analytics and processes that over time make online support even easier and more targeted for each individual as well as enabling continuous systems improvement.

In this vision, online tutoring is not just a quick fix, remedial option for struggling students, but a performance enhancer, a support mechanism with the potential to help every learner – even those who are already excelling – to go beyond their current capabilities.

Online tutoring in a perfect world is not merely an “extra” layer of support services that students must seek out beyond their typical educational routine. Rather, every faculty member, every course, and even other non-course academic and student support areas (e.g. the library) find ways to integrate online tutoring on-ramps/opportunities throughout the student experience so that tutoring is seen as normal, present, integral, and available whenever it might be needed.

In this vision maybe “tutoring” as a term becomes obsolete and we need to craft a new, more expansive word that encompasses this notion of ever-present support. As this evolves it might more seamlessly incorporate and interface with other forms of online support for all learners, including peer communities, counseling and advising, mentoring, real-world connections with community members, support programs for special populations, co-curricular and extra-curricular experiences, library resources, discipline-specific resources, information literacy guidance, tech support, study skills, etc.

Would love to get more thoughts on this …

Where is a new online instructor to start?

English: no original description

Starting line, Indianapolis Speedway (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Or, where to begin when introducing novice instructors to online teaching & learning?

To continue the theme from my previous post, I would suggest that it is key to introduce the notion of iteration, or redesign. The language of “course conversion” has always bugged me, because to me it implies a kind of mechanical, one-time translation process from in-person to online, without really rethinking (iterating) the design of the course for the new environment. In fact, Ko & Rossen say “if you’re converting an existing course into an online version, your basic approach need not change.” (p. 12) I think that could send the wrong message, though if I read that in context, the “basic approach” they refer to is not the approach of teaching the course, it is the approach to designing the course – considering goals, objectives, tasks, assignments, etc. The challenge is to get faculty to reconsider all of those things as they account for the “opportunities afforded by the new online environment.”

Ko & Rossen go on to say some important things about their ideals for what happens as faculty engage in online course design:

You will fashion tasks and exercises that emphasize student collaboration and de-emphasize the traditional role of the instructor (p. 14)

[Teaching online] makes them better teachers — not only online, but also in their face-to-face classes … We find that the instructional design process becomes less implicit and more of a deliberate enterprise. (p. 19)

So I appreciate the reflective intent of the Where the Hell Do I Start exercise and its introduction of a more deliberate approach to course design. But I also wonder if it moves a little too quickly forward without raising some more fundamental questions and prompts for instructors to consider changes in their curriculum and/or their teaching. [Full disclosure: my score on the pedagogy Questionnaire when I force myself to make selections is a 7 – very much at the student-centered/constructivist end of the spectrum.]

So for me, the Getting Started Chart would do well to raise a few more questions, especially to those who score at the higher end of the questionnaire. Should you really just  jump into creating online lectures galore? And not to give a free pass to those at the other end of the spectrum, if you are great at doing groupwork in person, how well will that really translate to the online environment? Do you provide sufficient instructions and structure, or are you just really good at facilitating, explaining, and sorting out issues on the fly in the classroom?

But even more than that, we are getting to instructional methods right off the bat. Shouldn’t we be first doing some thinking about course outcomes, and aligning outcomes with content, activities, and assessment? Things that are a bit bigger picture? I think this is what Ko & Rossen are suggesting as the “basic approach” that doesn’t change when going online. I know the SLOs and Course Outlines of Record are fixed in CA community colleges – it’s not like you’re going to completely reinvent the course. But there could be a lot of attention given to rethinking how those SLOs have historically been taught and assessed, what has worked well, what could be improved, etc. For instructors elsewhere, there may be even more latitude to completely reconsider the fundamental outcomes of your class. And upon rethinking outcomes, and how you plan to assess student learning, you may come up with some very different thoughts about the content, assignments, and other activities that will best help students to get there, than if you begin the course design process by thinking about the instructional methods you prefer.

So for me the initial questions should be questions of inquiry:

  • into my own ideals & practice as an educator
  • into the effectiveness of the current course curriculum & design in helping students succeed
  • into the teaching & learning opportunities afforded with online technologies
  • into the challenges that an online version of the course will present to students
  • into the effective practices for online teaching & learning employed locally as well as solidly grounded “in the literature”

And these questions should be viewed not as being asked one time, but repeatedly.

What questions do you find helpful in prompting your growth as an educator? What questions would you find insulting or patronizing? What are the hard questions that should be asked, but rarely are?

Bonk / Bb MOOC week 1: Motivation & Encouragement (?)

inside of an Zambian school. The room welcome ...

Blackboard awaits the arrival of learners.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A 5-week MOOC on Instructional Ideas & Technology Tools for Online Success appeals to me, especially when taught by Dr. Curt Bonk. And I’m curious to see how Blackboard is used as the environment for this, for better or worse.

So the first week has us reading up on motivation, tone, and encouragement to help online learners persist and succeed.

And while the content is good, I think for many participants the clearest takeaway at this point is a major sense of cognitive dissonance between the message and the medium. Lisa Lane’s blog has a great discussion going on about this, with Curt Bonk himself and at least one Blackboard employee weighing in. There are Bb tool issues to be sure: The Blackboard discussion board sucks, there is no doubt about it, especially when it is being used at this scale. But I think most of the issues are course design: Why would an open online course be set up to encourage people to use closed-system blogs and wikis? You don’t have to do it that way. But even more so, it is the activity design that I think is the biggest problem thus far. MOOCs certainly have a heightened element of self-organization and learner control, but thus far this MOOC does not feel purposeful about encouraging and facilitating this. We shall see what emerges from the chaos.

I will hold off on posting about week 1 content until after Dr. Bonk’s presentation this afternoon. Unfortunately I will have to watch the archive rather than being able to participate live.

Online learning: the ruin of education?

A soapbox at Occupy Boston

A soapbox at Occupy Boston (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A LinkedIn group discussion (may need to join the Technology in Education group to view) alerted me to a recent Huffington Post article by a 17-year-old who “had the horrific opportunity to experience online learning for a few weeks.” He thus decided to generalize those few weeks to a rant about all online education, including “Any school that uses online learning systems should not be called a school.”

I decided to share the response that I posted to the LinkedIn discussion here, as this is a fundamental tenet of my educational philosophy, and will undoubtedly continue to be revisited on this blog in various ways:

Design matters.
Interaction matters.

Poorly designed classroom-based education with little interaction is not likely to stimulate significant learning. And the same is true for poorly designed online education with little interaction.

The young author of the original article experienced what sounds like a rather lame online learning environment. It is unfortunate that he has made the decision that all online learning is therefore terrible and inferior to other educational approaches. “Online” is not the variable that made his experience bad.

Insisting “online learning is great” or “blended is best” or “in-person education is always superior” does a disservice to the bottom line of what determines the quality of an educational endeavor: the design of that endeavor.

Presentation at DET/CHE 2011 on social media for professional growth

Quick links: DET/CHE 2011 prezi and associated resources

Last year, Kevin Kelly (SFSU), Otto Khera (USC), Derek Bruff (Vanderbilt), and I presented at DET/CHE 2010 on the big picture gap related to rapid cultural change, especially exemplified by social media, vs. slow educational change.

At DET/CHE 2011 I’m doing a brief session (prezi here) in which I hope to focus more on DET/CHE members as individuals and what we can do with social media to help close some of the gaps in our own minds/practices.

Much as I would like this to be an exhortation to learn to use the tools/ride the torrent sip from the firehose, rather I hope it is more an enticing invitation to join a party.

“connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.” – Stephen Downes

The work of constructing and traversing learning networks is not incidental to DET/CHE members’ professional lives. Our understanding of how and why to cultivate learning networks is critical to our position at the juncture of technology, learning, people development, and strategic leadership. Learning how to (a) build and use such networks for our own growth will help us in turn to (b) thoughtfully approach the development of learning networks for staff and faculty locally, which will help us to (c) provide leadership in working with faculty, staff, and students in networked learning environments.

Which comes first, constructing or traversing? You can traverse without constructing, but lurking/legitimate peripheral participation will only take you so far. Jump in and push past the “I don’t get it, this just seems lame” phase. Use established tools at first – don’t make your first forays into building personal learning networks be in an environment that people are still figuring out (beware Google social networking attempts, snazzy SecondLife-type things, walled garden nings and so on …).

See this google doc for a number of great resources on how-to and why-to for educators using Twitter and, to a much lesser extent, Facebook.

Getting started

Beginnings are awesome. Three weeks into my new role as MiraCosta College’s first Faculty Director of Online Education, I remain amazed and humbled by this opportunity. I have been given incredible latitude to define the role, to assess the possibilities, to learn about challenges, to build relationships, to engage the MiraCosta community.

MiraCosta’s Program for Online Teaching is a wonderful invitation to undertake this journey with seasoned travelers and fellow learners. The requirement to blog, along with the space I’ve been given in this position, is what I’ve needed for years. I’m a long-time microblogger, but have merely nibbled around the edge of blogging and participating in communities of bloggers. It is time to open wide.

I’m an avid user of Evernote. When I learned that MiraCosta was hiring me, I began keeping a list there of questions to pursue regarding online education at MiraCosta. I anticipate that for some time, this blog will be all about answering, refining, and struggling with these questions, while asking ever more. And I hope that this blog will extend the dialog to other MiraCostans and beyond.

Without further ado, my questions, loosely organized …

Student support issues

  • Are there info literacy/tech literacy requirements/desires for students?
  • What are student opinions about online courses, technologies, support?
  • What are the most-cited pressures/frustrations/challenges/problems/concerns of students?

Faculty support issues

  • What concerns are there re intellectual property? copyright issues? course ownership?
  • What are the hot button issues? FERPA? “curriculum” compliance?
  • Who’s responsible for FERPA issues – defining/policy-making, training, enforcing, etc?
  • What are the most-cited pressures/frustrations/challenges/problems/concerns of faculty?
  • Relationship with campus bookstore? Use of eBooks, readers, Cafe Scribe? Policy on eBook purchasing/format (Follett/Cafe Scribe)?

Pedagogical support issues

  • Are there examples of courses heavily using synchronous sessions?
  • Innovations in course materials? eBooks? OERs? etc.
  • Anyone doing/discussing portfolios/ePortfolios?

Technology support issues

  • Moodle v. Bb. – history, current state, vision for future
  • Integration of library resources into the CMSs?
  • What web 2.0 tools being used? Any problems with use of cloud storage/sharing tools such as Dropbox, google docs, etc? Social media such as twitter, facebook?
  • What tools are used for supporting non-academic group activities?
  • Is “let a thousand flowers bloom” working for faculty and students w/regard to instructional technologies? Are things moving toward consolidation/standardization, toward increasing diversity, or stasis?

Systemic/organization issues:

  • Where is there trust/confidence? Where wariness/uncertainty/lack of confidence?
  • Who are the key players (individuals & departments)?
  • Course outcome measures? (or other statistics being tracked/cited?)
  • Are there common student learning outcomes across programs? How are those implemented/taught/measured/tracked?
  • Are there different measures/tracking being used for online vs. other courses?
  • What is being done that should stop that would enable increases in quantity and/or quality of online education?
  • What needs to be started to enable increases in quantity and/or quality of online education? (eg policies, procedures, practices, people, programs, technologies, expectations, fears, misunderstandings, budget)
  • What are the bridges between in-person courses and online courses?
  • What do I need to wrap my head around about MiraCosta and CCs in general, coming from SDSU and the 4-year world?
  • Are people on the same page about MiraCosta’s mission? What is that?
  • What are the exemplars/aspirational institutions MiraCosta should look to?
  • What are the organizations MiraCosta is/should be part of to help get there?
  • Are there areas outside of strictly “online education” where this position could provide leadership/support?
  • What are the administrative procedures I should know about? Who are the key getting-things-done people?
  • What are the compliance mandates, reporting requirements, regulatory issues, etc. which I need to be aware of/publicize/enforce/compile/create/deflect?
Looking forward to thinking through these and others here, hopefully as part of a community!