By Jim Shimabukuro
The road to technological change in education isn’t going to be paved by those who are committed to traditional face-to-face pedagogy. Yet, Ann Taylor, interim director of the Dutton e-Education Institute at Penn State, suggests that colleges “use traditional face-to-face faculty as … lead instructors, but hire part-time individuals to handle grading and daily course interactions” (Mary Bart, “Best Practices Help Dispel the Myths of Online Faculty Hiring Practices,” Faculty Focus, 15 Aug. 2011). This advice will more than likely lead to more of the same old ground-based practices. The instructional base is still the classroom, and from this perspective, change doesn’t stand a chance.
Taylor also suggests hiring a “course manager to oversee … online courses” (Bart). Unfortunately, for the vast majority of colleges, this is the model for online classes. This, too, is a perpetuation of practice that’s proven inimical to change. The problem is that the only person who can and should manage a class, online or F2F, is the instructor. Adding a layer of bureaucracy isn’t the answer. This is an extremely costly stopgap and simply postpones the need for teachers to manage their online courses.
Taylor offers some good advice, too. For example, faculty should be given the resources to teach their classes. One that I like is “Give new faculty the experience of being an online student” (Bart). However, this experience shouldn’t be limited to the campus CMS. If it is, then change will be stifled in a self-imposed silo.
Nancy Caramanico, in “Online Options for Professional Learning” (Techconnects, 15 Aug. 2011), says that “if your school or district is relying solely on sit down, one size fits all training, there is a good chance you are not getting the participant satisfaction, or more importantly, the results your school and your students need.” She suggests an open, independent, empowering model that takes advantage of the fact that “adults today are accustomed to accomplishing many things online on their own time in a self-directed fashion.” The question is a simple one: When teachers are already accustomed to learning so much on their own via online resources, why limit their in-service program to face-to-face workshops that focus on topics that may not be relevant to their needs?
Ved Petkar, in “Online Learning at PDSB – Terribly Outdated?“* (The Youth Informer, 15 Aug. 2011), underscores the innate problem of CMSs in general. He recently took an online summer class and was appalled at the AnGEL learning system from Blackboard Inc. that the Peel District School Board (Ontario) is using. “Perhaps at the release of this system,” he says, “it was state of the art but by today’s standards it’s terribly outdated and broken.” He urges the board to ensure that online pedagogy is “up to date with today’s web.” In defense of Blackboard, he suggests that an updated version of the CMS would be an improvement.
Still, despite updates, I’m afraid the one-size-fits-all CMS approach will continue to lose ground to open web alternatives, and the gap is widening by the day. The question isn’t which CMS (or LMS) is the best? Rather, it’s how can teachers use the vast array of applications and services that are proliferating on the web?
The problem is that we can’t expect to see this dialogue and exploration coming from technocrats or people who are hired to manage instructional technology. Their survival depends on centralization and a tight rein on all technology. The last thing they want is for teachers to become empowered and independent learners capable of creating their own learning environments from the best options that are available on the living and breathing web.
* Click here for the WebCite alternative.
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