Online Instruction Quandaries

In the text, Teaching Online, a Practical Guide, a few questions fit in with the investigation my EdTech 522 class at Boise State University completed on online education sites. They may not be the obvious ones for those new to online instruction or have not had a variety of presentation methods for online instruction.

The questions queried here are “Who teaches them?” “Who put the courses together?” and “Is there any training in place for those who want to teach online? If so who offers it —faculty development, academic departments, academic technology, instructional design units” (Ko, Rosson Chapter 2). As one of my professors mentioned when I attended Grand Canyon University, simply being a veteran instructor does not mean one is able to dive into teaching an online course. Not only does the androgogy take deep precedence, but also, as Ko and Rosson state, “mastering new skills” and the “cycle of review, reflection and continual revision” that instructors must be involved in. In my analysis of my wife’s sociology class, a review of the professor’s “Rate My Professor” showed a solid rating for the instructor for her site-based courses, but the reviews began to drop off when related to her online courses. Several students in the class said they would be hard pressed to evaluate her well based on the lack of teacher-to-student interaction and feedback. Office hours are available, but for many who are taking instruction online, physical gatherings are often difficult, or in the case of many of us in the Boise State University program, impossible based on the distance learning many of us are undertaking.

In an article by Kyong-Jee Kim and Curtis J. Bonk in 2006, entitled “The Future of Online Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: The Survey Says…”, the second most common factor that would “most significantly affect the success of online programs” was the “pedagogical competency of online instructors” (the first, of course, was money).

The recession and the rush back to the classroom to reinforce or get a better education may have indeed created the “low readiness” or “middle readiness scenario” (Ko and Rosson) that some colleges have been dealing with lately (this reminds me of the same issue my undergraduate alma mater, New Mexico State University, dealt with in the 1980s as the personal computer exploded on college campuses and computer labs were filled, to coin the vernacular, “24-7” with students during peak learning times). During my two years at Grand Canyon University, there were at least three major course management server issues that came during (Murphy’s Law) bad times. The problem in at least one case: too many students but not enough server or bandwidth to handle the strong online presence Grand Canyon had established. To illustrate, GCU shifted to a powerful online presence in 2005, and blew up to between 12,000 and 15,000 students by 2010, according to Grand Canyon University’s web site (http://online.gcu.edu/index.php?page=faqs). To be fair, the university has found the funding it needed to reach the high readiness solution quickly, and the last semester (January 2010), the technical difficulties appeared to be resolved, with only the routine slow-downs and breakdowns that were handled fairly quickly.

Yet, even with a “high readiness solution” in place, the use of the solution still rests in the hands of the instructor. Jenny Hays, a former colleague of mine from Arizona, teaches both high school and at the University of Phoenix in Arizona. She told me recently that it is not uncommon for teachers to simply teach exactly what is presented them. In essence, they regurgitate the curriculum, which as several of my former high school students have told me, makes the course monotonous and “boring.” Even as a high school English teacher for seventeen years, whenever teachers were told they needed to jump into  a restrictive mold, it created a frustrating situation that even caused a few teachers to walk away from that school or district. It can be frustrating for an instructor, and also make the online experience difficult not only for the student, but for the teacher. It is evident, at least in the two Ed Tech courses I am taking right now, that although there is a solid template with the use of Moodle, instructors are, as coined in Ko and Rosson “encouraged to explore and experiment with new technology tools”.

Kim, Kyong-Lee, & Bonk, Curtis. (2006). The future of online teaching and learning in higher education: the       survey says…. Educause Quarterly29(4), Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Quarterly/EDUCAUSEQuarterly
MagazineVolum/TheFutureofOnlineTeachingandLe/157426

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