Thursday, December 10, 2009

Evaluation of a recent training session in online education

In Defense of  Traditional Face-to-Face Teaching

As teachers who are obligated to provide our students with a deep understanding of our discipline, but also with a visceral event to for students to relate directly to this understanding of our information, we must acknowledge the limitations of online education. We must respect and encourage the ways we deliver and synthesize this deeper understanding, ways that no degree of electronic technology can ever simulate.
 Some examples include:
·         the weight of social and intellectual responsibility that a student feels when called out by the professor in impromptu, Socratic fashion - in a room that is living and breathing with one’s academic peers.
·         the satisfaction a student feels after providing a sophisticated and correct response in this situation.
·         the sound of chalk on the chalkboard, as if the very idea was being inscribed and etched into your head.
·         the smell of the guy sitting next to you, which reminds you of a former co-worker who often espoused racist remarks at your workplace, which helps you to relate to a lecture on racism.
We should also acknowledge that it is fundamentally more rewarding for teachers to teach in a live classroom.  The theatrics and presentation skills necessary to deliver a good lecture require years of practice (and usually no training). The artistic element in teaching a live classroom, in adjusting to moment-to-moment shifts in intellectual energy in a class of forty students, for example, has an intrinsic reward for teachers themselves. This sensation cannot, as yet, be simulated online.
Maybe we are not obligated to provide these things. There is currently no (measurable) evidence to suggest that these experiences are important for learning, or that teachers desire them. But then again, how would we know if these qualities of learning have never been measured, or are immeasurable? Considering the inability of current assessment rubrics to measure such unquantifiable forms of knowledge, and the current reward structure in which only the standard outcomes receive administrative support, should faculty be expected to provide these things?  Further, given the stress and time constraints induced by administrative demands for outcome assessment - for quantification over quality - should faculty be expected to provide this additional service, especially given the median salary for this work? Of course, quantifying outcomes usually yields in stronger courses and deeper learning, at least by our current measures. But should we be at all concerned that providing the intangible learning experiences of the live classroom seems almost superfluous to the ordinary expectations of online classroom instruction?
I’m not sure. But I doubt this question would be posed in an online classroom of any sort, because there is no readily measurable learning outcome and the discussion might not be consistent with the stated course objectives.
Having said all that, I think it is entirely appropriate and valuable for online instructors to complete this Quality Matters workshop. Participating in this training has absolutely improved my understanding of effective online education and has tangibly improved my current online courses. I would not have even thought about many of the quality controls suggested in this collegial-style workshop, so thank you for the opportunity, honestly. Online education today has been constructed primarily through a business lens, for profit-driven reasons and, as such, tends to attract lower-level academics and newbie professors who need extra money. It also encourages sloppy work as a side project for many of these instructors. A poorly-constructed and easy course provides well for the lazy student and instructor and such as course is easily replicated throughout the system. The Quality Matters guidelines are a practical and effective means of raising the bar for online education under these circumstances.

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