Monday, March 23, 2009

Dear Online Professor, Educate my educators.

A couple of months ago I received an email from a former online student who had heard of my decision to leave my current institution. His email was thoughtful and reflective and summarized his overall learning experiences from seventeen online classes taken at the college level. I have chosen to share his letter here, anonymously (with his permission), in hopes that other online instructors will identify the fundamental concerns he has expressed over instructor participation, integration of technology in support of learning, and creativity and innovation.

I have deleted specific references to disciplines to avoid identification of specific courses. I would expect these problems are widespread; therefore, my interest is to keep this conversation focused on the broad topic of quality in online teaching rather than honing in on specific classes or individuals.

I welcome your responses, thoughts, reflections in the form of comments.

Professor Pacansky-Brock…

I took your online Art Appreciation course a couple of semesters ago... To my surprise, I was impressed that it was a well-designed, intuitive and inspiring class with cutting-edge delivery.

I have earned two A.S. degrees … and am heading (hopefully) for the Haas School of Business at Berkeley.

In the process of earning these intermediate degrees, I have taken seventeen of my classes online. While I have surely appreciated the convenience, the experience was wholly bland and deflating (sans Art Appreciation), and in many ways disconcerting.

I taught myself *** online without the benefit of e-mail responses. I learned *** with an ever invisible professor who returned grades two months after online submissions.

*** and *** were a bit better with links to content provided by the textbook publishers (no educator creativity here).

Four *** and *** courses lent themselves well to the online environment because so much of the content was textual, but nothing cutting-edge was added.

Three *** courses added external links, but again no truly inspirational content. *** was a canned course on a CD with no additions. Imagine the missed possibilities with this class!

In the sixteen online classes other than your class, there were no blogs, no podcasts, no recorded audio or hand-drawn comments and a minimum of professor-student or peer-to-peer interaction.

I felt more or less set adrift in each of these disciplines to learn them on my own.

I appreciate your passion for expanding the educational horizons through technology, but it’s obvious that the majority of your colleagues see it as a necessary evil.

I consider myself very computer literate having built websites, databases and learned dozens of software applications.

Many nights as I have logged into Blackboard, I dreamt of what a well-designed educational site would be like and how engaging and inviting it could be. I contemplated how seamless the setup (especially for computer novices) would be, how fluid the transition from one technology to the other would be accomplished, and how the site could be easily personalized, even by those educators that were a bit overwhelmed.

We are approaching a time with “the simplicity of complexity” when processor speed, software control and breakthrough technologies are capable of transforming what heretofore has been an uninspired and disjointed application of technology in education into a collaborative tour de force.

I wish you well in your pursuit of this new paradigm. If education is the key, then educating the educators is paramount.

Best wishes on your future and your passion…


Mike H said...

Thanks for sharing this. I passed it on to a lady whose husband works at a college that wants everything online.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock said...

Hi Mike, I am hopeful that the letter I've shared is taken in context with the thoughts and arguments about online learning I've shared in the rest of my blog posts. I am an advocate of online learning and believe strongly in both the value and need to expand online learning in higher ed as well as k-12 in America. Online learning is and should continue to transform our educational landscape to both reshape traditional patterns of learning and open new pathways to education to more students than ever before.

However, as this letter demonstrates, in recent years colleges and universities have not developed online classes with pedagogy in mind. Instead, the focus has been on capturing enrollment. Yes, the income has been stupendous. According to last year's Sloan-C's report, one in four higher ed students in the US took at least one online class in 2007. That's pretty significant.

The underlying problem that remains silent too often is that the faculty are not supported with a meaningful online teaching program that equips them with an understanding of online teaching pedagogy, instructional design support, multimedia resources and online collaboration with their colleagues to discuss what's working and what isn't.

Just this week I had a visit with a former online student who brought me a framed artwork dedicated to me for inspiring her to bring out her creative side. As online teachers, we can fully reach and inspire our online students just as much as our on-ground students. We just need to understand how to do so and be provided with the appropriate toolkit.

Thanks for reading...