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…
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