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.

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Admirable WordPress sites

I am looking forward to working with WordPress to build a new website for MiraCosta’s online education/ Teaching-Technology Innovation Center. Here are a few websites of instructional technology / teaching enhancement centers that are inspirational in what they’re doing with WordPress.

http://cit.duke.edu  http://cft.vanderbilt.edu  http://www.txwescetl.com

Do you have any others you’d recommend as exemplary?

How tasty is diigo?

About 9 months ago, when it was looking like delicious was just going to vaporize, I was quite panicked – I had been using it since the early days (I still type del.icio.us much more readily than delicious.com) and had several thousand bookmarks. But as it became clear that it was going to hang around, I put off switching over to diigo. Now that #potcert11 has a diigo group, though, it’s time for me to finally take the plunge.

Exporting my old bookmarks out of delicious and importing them to diigo was easy and quick. So far, things appear to be mostly intact at diigo. Some people do complain about diigo truncating long descriptions, but I don’t think that affected me much, since I’m kind of a minimalist when it comes to saving bookmarks (though maybe my 700+ different tags say different).

I am having a bit of a problem, though. I use Chrome on the Mac as my primary browser. I installed the diigo extension but when I try to bookmark, I get an endless attempt at “loading recommended tags“. I’d like to have the recommended tags available, but also this seems to block the area where normally I’d be able to share with a group (i.e. mccpot). Usually a little googling of this kind of problem gives me an answer, but in this case no luck. Anyone else encounter this issue? Any solutions/suggestions?

On teaching/learning in the network age

Alec Couros’ talk on teaching & learning in the network age (http://lisahistory.net/mccpot/newpages/courosvideoannotated.html) covers a lot of ground regarding tools and concepts underlying the cultural impact of the emergence of social media. I don’t think I have a problem with any of his major points. My sense of his audience at the conference is that they were very receptive – educators who are interested in technology and innovation. Unfortunately, I think many typical educators would be a bit lost in this talk.

A recent piece in the NYT on “What will schools look like in 10 years?” (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/03/what-will-school-look-like-in-10-years/) featured five “experts” and none of them spoke specifically about social media. Their focus was primarily on content and subject areas. As long as education is driven by outdated (IMO) paradigms based on scarcity of information resources and expertise, and assessment/accountability regimens designed for those paradigms, all the cool tools will have minimal impact on our systems. My fear is that our education systems are so completely intertwined with those non-network paradigms that evolution simply won’t happen. What would a new paradigm look like?

Differences between Instruction Paradigm and Learning ParadigmNote the citation: this is from 1995. Still waiting … and the tools perhaps provoke some to think more about this shift … but pedagogy first!

Dear reader, if you are a teacher, have you made this shift, or are you in the midst of it? What helped you? What made it difficult?

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!