Higher Education

blended courses and the limits of bureaucracy

Blended or hybrid courses are courses that meet FTF part of the time and online the other part. They are a common feature of many college campuses. Indeed in the 2005-06 academic year, the SUNY Learning Network supported some 1600 blended courses on 15 campuses in the SUNY system. And blended courses are offered regularly at SUNY Cortland…

Well, not officially. Faculty take it upon themselves to schedule their classes this way, so on the schedule a class may say it means Tuesday and Thursday, but really it only meets on Tuesdays. Is there anything wrong with this? Not really. At least not from the perspective that blended courses are a widely accepted, pedagogic practice. However, it would be nice if students knew what they were registering for, and it would be even  more helpful if students knew such courses were available and which ones they were.

So what prevents blended courses from appearing as such on the schedule? Bureaucracy. Nothing less, nothing more. And not SUNY wide bureacracy (which is often onerous) b/c, as I already mentioned, there are 1600+ blended courses going on each year already in the SUNY system.

When I write that I am concerned about the future of traditional higher education, it is because of instances like this. As I mentioned in my previous post, it’s great that we are producing scholarship about blogs. Right now on the TechRhet listserv, there is a series of exchanges about wikis going on. I’m going to be in a meeting tomorrow to talk about blended courses on our campus. All that’s great. I suppose it is a sign of some kind of progress.

But it also strikes me as oddly outdated, out of step, like the lame, aging talk show host attempting to connect with some hip guest using last year’s lingo. However here it’s not about being "too cool for school" as much as its about the inability institutionally to keep step with the unfolding world. Obviously this is not about buying into every new trend, but it is about having enough awareness to be able to engage critically.

And we have the faculty who are up to the task, maybe not enough, but we have some. And we could at least start to rise to meet these challenges if the institution could discover the flexibility it needed to adapt quickly in terms of curriculum and policies. College curriculum and policies are what take the learning opportunities offered by faculty and turn them into the particular types of college credit students need.

Without that adaption, innovation occurs in a vacuum, away from the student body. In large part I believe this is a reflection of institutional will, which is not to say that it is or isn’t the will of specific individuals within the institution, but rather that, as we all know, college institutions resist change. As institutions they are particularly designed for conservatism, despite their purportedly "liberal" content.

I believe it might be apt to compare contemporary colleges with American corporations of the 80s, bloated with middle-management and hamstrung by outdated, institutional cultures. How will colleges evolve? Not so that they can be more competitive in the educational market (though that is a concern for some), but so they can continue to offer a relevant intellectual and alternative perspective on the world.

It seems clear to me that they… we will need to rethink the way we do business.

One reply on “blended courses and the limits of bureaucracy”

Alex – I appreciate your perspective on this issue. Here at my SUNY entity (a community college), we can’t even talk about this issue since it is a bargaining chip that labor and management are both “saving” for our next round of contract negotiations. It was used in the previous round of negotiations, but due to many reasons, we never were able to reach agreement.
It’s a contract item now because it is considered a “condition of employment” at our institution.
Unlike your situation with UUP (statewide SUNY contract) the SUNY Community Colleges have individual agreements with the counties. So, there is likely to be a big spread of of institutional approaches to this issue, even within the supposed “SUNY System” of NY.
Meanwhile, faculty interested in at least trying to capture the best of F2F and online environments must sit on our hands.
Cheers! – KK


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