Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Faculty as Authors of Online Courses: Support and Mentoring

Only a few years ago, if you had polled Simmons College administrators, faculty, students, and even technology staff members, the consensus would have been that “online” learning is not relevant to the mission of our institution. A “small university” with a liberal arts undergraduate program and four graduate schools, Simmons’ culture is “high touch” and personalized. To the uninitiated, distance learning seemed antithetical to our institutional mission and philosophy of learning.

Along with thousands of other institutions of higher education, our views have changed as we have become increasingly sophisticated in our understanding of the tremendous potential for online learning. Today we offer hybrid courses, three fully-online certificate programs, and an online degree program in Physical Therapy. The School of Library Science is a member of WISE, a national network of schools providing online courses in information science. A number of other fully-online and hybrid programs are in development, including courses within the College of Arts and Sciences. Not only do pioneering faculty teach online at Simmons, those in the so-called “second wave” are also developing hybrid and fully-online courses.

Our current challenge is to ensure the development of online learning that engages learners in the open-ended, inquiry-based learning that we believe is at the heart of a liberal arts education. We are finding that excellent professors whose face-to-face teaching is grounded in a liberal arts approach to learning may sometimes encounter difficulties when they take their teaching into the digital realm.

Our experience also suggests that the distinction between “pioneer” and “second wave” faculty is spurious. These labels distract from the insights and unique talents that a particular faculty member can contribute to a project. People don’t fit neatly into categories – they aren’t exclusively pioneers or second wave. Some faculty who are “second wave” in relationship to technology can be pedagogical “pioneers.” To realize the promise of online learning, we believe that academic technologists must learn how to collaborate with good teachers – even when technology isn’t a professor’s strong suit. Conversely, faculty members need help in learning how to work in partnership with academic technologists.

Good professors excel at engaging groups of students face-to-face, but few are prepared to develop courses online.

Read the rest of the article by Deborah Cotler and Gail Matthews-DeNatale here.

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