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?

Iterating toward … what exactly?

One year ago, I was still settling into my brand-new position as Faculty Director of Online Education at MiraCosta. I dabbled with POT(Cert) last year and my first POTCert post was full of questions that I think I now have answers for. Of course, many of those answers are, “it depends,” “we’re not sure” or “you tell us.” I feel more comfortable with the ambiguity, more aware of where the immediate opportunities exist to make a difference, and also more settled with taking a long view when it comes to being part of significant institutional change/growth. And aren’t all of those things part of life as an educator?

If I begin to think I have it all figured out – whether it’s content, pedagogy, students, technology, my institution, my colleagues – I probably am becoming a bit stale. Thus my blog’s title and tagline – Education Everywhere: life = growth = learning = change.  For me, the fundamental excitement of online education is that it offers an opportunity to rethink the conceptual (not just physical) boundaries that come to us with time- and place-bound education. And rethink not just once, but continually.

Thus the concept of iteration – as Wikipedia says, “the act of repeating a process usually with the aim of approaching a desired goal or target or result.” So what might that goal/target/result be for an educator? Clearly, student learning is at the top of the list. But even that raises questions: learning what? And how do we know if learning occurs? And how do we find a link between our process (course design & teaching) and that learning?  And so we think about more specific aims … which then adds a further iterative aspect to what it means to be an online instructor.

David Wiley’s blog is called iterating toward openness; he is a key leader in improving education through development and use of open educational resources. What I like about this is his goal is really a principle. It is not a concrete, black-and-white target. Measurable outcomes are often thought of as destinations, with broader principles as guideposts/roadmaps, but I think it’s the other way around.

So, to wrap up this introduction of myself for Potcert 12 … what drives me? What am I “iterating toward”? As an educator, leader, manager, coach, and parent, my ultimate hope is to co-create an environment in which people thrive: that is, they find safety, health, and respect; they discover connection and meaning; they express caring, creativity, and joy. Is there a way to express that more succinctly? I look forward to elaborating (iterating) on this theme in the weeks to come …