Why the mission – not the money – will lead colleges to truly innovative e-learning
While there are clearly lessons to be learned from the ongoing pandemic, the ebb and flow of emergency remote training versus return to face-to-face training has already led to one of the latent problems of Higher Education Boiling: What Are We Going To Do With Online Learning?
Over the past decade, online education has been driven by enrollment, particularly out-of-state enrollment. Online courses have been developed like cash cows for years, by many institutions that have them. Not only is this approach educational bankrupt, it has not worked. Many universities initially enticed by the promise of increased revenues have signed deals with online program management companies, but some have since turned away. The University of Florida is one of best documented examples of this, and it should be noted that they specifically cited unmet enrollment goals when they broke their OPM’s contract. Following this decision, the University of Florida also made explicit its new goal of high-quality pedagogy and one-on-one counseling to produce a better student experience. The fact that this was presented as a contrast to the curriculum designed by OPM and accompanied by plans to invest in incentives for faculty to teach online, suggests some of the weaknesses of OPM’s programs, further highlighted by the Century Foundation 2019 report, “Dear Colleges: Take Control of Your Online Courses. “The report urges schools to abandon all-in-one service offerings that outsource the design, construction and sometimes even teaching of online courses, and especially from contractors who promise huge increases in costs. income.
However, in-house course design and fiscal accountability alone will not be enough to create truly strong online programs. We also need innovation and creativity. We need to move beyond the mostly self-paced and asynchronous approach that we have already tried. The content and design of online courses to date has often focused on parity with in-person experience. In a purely asynchronous format, even this basic goal was not easily achieved. We see the traces of this struggle in federal guidelines to include substantial interaction; the emphasis on instructor presence and student engagement in our faculty development offerings; and the common practice of including things like designated social forums in online courses, in the hope of making the casually social connection that being physically in the same classroom provides.
Indeed, if we have learned anything from emergency distance learning, it is surely that interpersonal interaction is one of the most vital parts of teaching and learning, one that does not. cannot be easily replaced and should not be overlooked. Without this element, raised dissatisfaction rises, and one must doubt that regular comments and announcements from an instructor, however detailed and thoughtful they may be, really suffice. In light of this, it seems obvious that the barely equivalent courses that too many universities still use as a legacy of their OPM experiences are in desperate need of revamping, if not scrapping.
Once we stop allowing more registrations to drive online programs, what do we leave to guide development? I would say that we have to start with our institutional missions and objectives. What communities do we serve and where do our students come from? What do they need to take full advantage of our offers? What can technology bring to our school’s mission? If we start from these questions, a very different and much more diverse approach to online learning can emerge. We have already seen some first steps in this direction, from some schools; let’s continue like this.
A school with distributed campuses that wishes to offer students from all locations the benefit of a wide range of courses and faculty perspectives may be better served by investing in hybrid technology to connect distant classrooms in the way. as transparent as possible. A school that focuses on experiential learning might want to invest both equipment and faculty development funds in creating and supporting augmented reality and virtual reality. A school that prides itself on providing an intimate classroom experience for its students might well wish to use the platforms designed specifically to mimic the small classroom, in person and in sync. A liberal arts institution could achieve the best return by investing funds in remote guest speakers and technology to make their presence transparent and accessible, thus increasing the variety of speakers and events that students can attend. A vocational school could be well served by exploring simulation technology. A local college whose mission is to provide equitable access to education for the entire community may wish to continue to focus on equivalent online course options, but also develop a strong equipment loan program for ensure that all students can access these courses.
In all of these cases, in fact, infrastructure and support must also be given special attention. To date, students who choose e-learning on their own already have access to sufficient computers, network connectivity, software, and peripherals to complete the required courses. Many online courses clearly list the equipment a student must have in order to participate, and few offer options for students who do not or cannot afford these items. To create a larger and stronger online footprint, universities and colleges need to think about how students without such access can be provided.
So maybe it ultimately comes down to money after all – not how e-learning can benefit from it, but how we can apply what we have best, to create e-learning. which truly reflects our institutions and benefits the students who have come to us because of the unique opportunities we each offer.