By Judith McDaniel
Editor, Web-based Course Design
I asked Sener, “How can we improve education, using all of the knowledge and resources available to us?” In Seven Futures, he provides data indicating “that at least 70 percent of American jobs now require specialized skills and knowledge, and that students need education that will help prepare them for jobs which haven’t even been invented yet” (29). It seems obvious to me that our entire educational system needs a jump start and that teachers trained in the old methods of teaching the old knowledge don’t have any chance at all of meeting that challenge.
Imagine what teaching today’s students for tomorrow’s needs might entail — “Realigning Education with Redefined Knowledge.” Simply put, old knowledge isn’t enough. What we know is changing, changing quickly, and it’s not just the sciences. Yes, the number and definition of the planets has changed, but so has every branch of knowledge. I talked with a discouraged college student who recently graduated from a prestigious university in journalism. His last course in college had consisted of an advanced journalism class that exclusively included information on working in print media. The professor was a woman in mid career who seemed not to know that these students had a very small chance of working on a newspaper or magazine. They were not even being prepared for the careers that have been invented in information production on the internet.
And this is only part of the problem in realigning education with redefined knowledge. How will we assess the learning that does take place? And what do we decide must be assessed? In Seven Futures, Sener says:
Proficiency with multimedia is also emerging as an important skill set, as illustrated by an assessment issue which an adjunct professor encountered in her graduate-level journalism class. The final class assignment included both a print and a multimedia component; she felt confident about assessing the student writing, but she was much less confident about assessing a multimedia project. She was struggling with how to assess one particular student who seemed to be relatively deficient in writing but excelled in the multimedia part. Journalism was once all about writing, but now there are plenty of journalists whose craft is based on other skills such as on-camera presence or multimedia creation. The problem is that journalism is being taught for the most part by teachers who excel at writing but not multimedia, so they have relatively little clue about how to assess it. The dilemma is understandable — writing is long-established, multimedia is relatively new — but it doesn’t diminish the issue: multimedia is on the rise and requires new skills. (25)
One of the most exciting answers to this problem, in my opinion, is Sener’s suggestion that it will be teachers who move from face-to-face to online teaching who have the best chance of opening this door. Moving a course from a university classroom to an online format is not simple, and what I have found is that, while my learning outcomes can remain the same, I must give a great deal of thought to how the students are going to achieve them. In the world of education, this is what is called educational pedagogy — and in my experience it is not something that college professors have paid much attention to. We teach our specialized subjects in exactly the way that we learned them — lectures, print research, written summaries that demonstrate “competence” in a narrow field of knowledge.
I had been teaching in higher education for more than twenty years before I heard the term “learning objective” or saw a rubric that outlined an instructor’s expectations for fulfilling an assignment. A teacher — college or K-12 — who moves into online teaching is moving, in Sener’s words, from “reflexive to reflective.” We have to ask questions about method and content. We have to wonder why we did some of the things the way we were taught and try to determine whether or not there is a better way, or at least a way that will translate into this new environment.
Another challenge for educators who want to improve education: “Realizing Redistributed Access.” What does this mean? For one thing, our students are different. We can expect to mentor students who never would have been part of a traditional classroom. That access means adults and students of all ages, students who live rurally or far from “hubs” of educational opportunities, students who are reaching out for new skills because of a job transition or a new job requirement.
How does this improve the quality of education? It will do that only if and when education can meet the needs of learners. Not everyone needs a degree; many don’t even need an entire course. Information is available in hundreds of ways and places. The role of the teacher is shifting as access to knowledge expands and becomes more accessible.
“In Seven Futures,” said Sener, “I describe several factors which are redistributing access in American education (28-32). Pivotal demographic shifts — more nontraditional students, more older students, more women, greater ethnic and language diversity — have drastically altered the composition of the American student population over the past few decades. Lifelong learning found its niche as human resource and workforce development, which has reframed education as a continual, lifelong process. The shift from access as equal opportunity to a much greater focus on producing results also redefines access; simply providing opportunity to access education is no longer enough. And, of course, the transformation of education into something that nearly everyone needs to succeed in society has made greater access an essential social good — one which we are still struggling to provide.”
Sener continued, “So providing greater access is still an important function of online education. Anything that expands educational access to previously neglected or underserved learner populations, helps more learners develop the skills and knowledge they need to live better lives, reaches nontraditional students more effectively, accommodates lifelong learners in ever-greater ways, or increases chances of student success will also improve the quality of education. Of course, there are also many other ways of using online learning to improve educational quality. As the book argues, we also need to be utilizing these strategies so that we can move online education into a new era defined by a focus on improving quality — not just for online education, but for all education.”
As Sener says, there are many ways in which education is becoming more accessible — and each of these contributes to a shifting dynamic between learner and educator.
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