Kick-off conversation…and lots of opportunities!

A new learning community that has formed to explore the opportunities and issues surrounding the broad topic of Online Teaching and Learning met for the first time. I’ll call the group LC:OTL, and we’ll call the meetings gatherings.

…I sense much less “pressure” compared to “a traditional committee”…I think that is a huge plus.

This open group of practitioners will gather on a regular basis – both in-person and online – to explore sub-themes that emerge from conversations we have and research we share. All are welcome.

At the inaugural gathering, participants explored positive and negative ideas they have about online teaching and learning in a broad sense. These ideas were collected anonymously and then discussed as a group. The activity helped each individual see that we all share similar concerns – and optimism for making online programming even more successful. Themes that emerged include the following:

Positives/Opportunities:

  • Online programming affords more students the flexibility they need to fit education into their lives.
  • Our programs can achieve greater geographic reach and help broaden the impact of the Saint Rose mission.
  • Creative and alternative instructional modalities can expose learners to a greater amount or wider breadth of content than can be taught in a course using traditional methods. Content can be shared and adapted to meet the varied needs of each learner, creating a personalized and more meaningful experience.
  • Similarly, opportunities exist in online environments for deeper learning by using tools in ways that foster self-reflection, constructive, active, and applied learning.

Negatives/Concerns:

  • Faculty recognize that instructional strategies might need to change based on delivery mode, but struggle to find the time and resources to learn these new strategies. A course experience that is not adapted for its delivery mode and its learners can produce negative results. Faculty worry about the possibility of delivering sterile, shallow, surface-level learning.
  • The student experience is very important – both in terms of interpersonal/social connections as well as quality/depth of learning. Faculty know that the student experience can be enhanced or harmed based on their individual approach to teaching online and seek guidance with “what works.” A student’s decision to drop a course or withdraw from their program comes easier when the course or program is online due, in part, to social separation or perceived isolation.
  • Even faculty who have adapted and are employing “best practices” often feel unsure that they are on the right track.

Instructional designers and digital innovation evangelists know that online teaching can result in unintended outcomes – both good and bad. Without thorough planning and a focus on student experience, an online offering that was supposed to be positive can turn south – and fast. On the other hand, a positive learning experience can result in very happy students whose lives will forever be changed by our ability to adapt to their unique needs.

So, how does a course instructor or department develop something innovative while ensuring a positive student experience and achievement of intended outcomes? The answer surely is not simple.

Our institution’s mission, values, and goals should, in part, define our benchmark of success. At the LC:OTL gathering, we discussed the need for a certain level of engagement in online courses. This is one of many common areas of concern and opportunity among online learning designers and faculty. To me, the fact that this emerged as “the place to start” speaks to a shared desire to retain Saint Rose’s high-touch traditions and care for the whole person – even if that person is never physically present.

Externally, well-vetted standards of quality, as well as the techniques that instructors use to reach those standards, are broadly researched by professional associations and university collaboratives. These quality indicators usually do not prescribe the specific teaching methods that are “best” but instead lead faculty to a place of self-reflection and intentional design.

The LC:OTL’s initial conversation was a positive experience because faculty from all corners of Saint Rose came together with a shared interest in exploring these issues for themselves and for our future students. I am excited to continue this work and to see where we end up!

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