Higher Education

much ambivalence, a few certainties

A few remarks coming out of our opening college meeting… no, wait, hold on, I promise that it won’t be as boring as that sounds. Charles Dziuban, longtime researcher on online and blended pedagogies, was our keynote, and I noted a couple of interesting points coming out of his presentation.

First was his sense of the tremendous ambivalence students feel about online education. For the most part, they desire the convenience of learning online. Then they have mixed feelings about the education they receive, and they worry about their self-identified lack of techno-literacy and the loss of face time with faculty. About those feelings I have a couple of observations:

  • Students, in my experience, are ambivalent about the education they receive, period. Regardless of platform. Some classes are good; some are bad. And all that is fairly subjective, although there may be consensus about good and bad professors. However, even then, professors that are popular with students are not necessarily always the best professors from the perspective of other faculty or administration. In short, it’s not surprising that students are ambivalent about the education they receive online. Did we think that technology would cure these feelings of ambivalence?
  • I recognize their literacy concerns: what better way to deal with them than learning online? How did they become print literate? At least in part from reading books in classrooms.
  • The face-time thing is, in my view, a romanticized fantasy of college education anyway. Perhaps in a small class you might develop a personal relationship with a professor, especially in your major if you took multiple courses with the same professor.

More interesting was the generational differences in response to online education. The baby boomers were the most positive: they were learning something new (working online) and were enthusiastic about their progress. Then came the Gen Xers. For them perhaps taking a class on Web CT or something similar meets their expectations of what an online course should be like. The least positive were the Millenials. From their perspective, CMS’s are an outdated technologies.

I would suspect that for Millenials their notion of online communication woiuld be shaped by the likes of YouTube and MySpace, as well as the functionality of mobile phones and iPods. I imagine that Blackboard and others will try to keep up, but they’re in a difficult situation because their first customers are colleges and college faculty. Offering up a product that faculty can understand and use probably means offering up a product that won’t connect with MIllenial students. Tough situation.

We may get a message of ambivalence about many of the things we’re doing, but there are a few certainties, and they indicate that our dated practices from lecturing to cms will no longer serve us. I’m also certain that we are in difficult spot. The vast majority of faculty (everyone with more than five years of experience) were educated and learned to teach without computer networks. Some of them have made the difficult transition to begin to teach using a CMS. Undertaking this change has meant putting a level of labor into teaching never expected of college faculty before. For teachers of the previous generation the classroom hardly changed for 50 years.

Now faculty are presented with the reality that their migration to a CMS will become a techno-nomadism, an ongoing journey. This is why Prensky’s metaphor of the digital immigrant is not quite right. There is no language or set of customs to learn in the digital world. It’s ongoing development.

Anyway, what I got from the day is that we are really as sea. Some faculty are clearly making an effort to try to innovate and take advantage of technology in pedagogically sound ways. But we’re really nowhere toward developing a cohesive curriculum that fits into contemporary communication/media networks.

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