A Program Begins
I’m going to try an experiment here. I recently began my work in the Johns Hopkins University, ISTE leadership program, and as part of the course work, I’m required to maintain a blog for reflection. I pondered setting up a second blog specific for that experience, but something gave me reason to pause. What is one of the more powerful outcomes of reflection? I believe it is giving change the opportunity to take root in the practice being reflected upon. I have received tremendous feedback in the past nine months from many of you in this space, and I’d be remiss to deny myself the opportunity to have you all potentially work through some of the thoughts and ideas that I’m sure I will be writing about due to this required portion of my work. So, I’m going make my reflections very public and transparent. And I’m going to hope that reflection sparks conversation that will cause change in my own practice, and hopefully, if all goes as it could, yours as well.
The first question of my first reflection won’t likely be of any interest to most of you. JHU has developed its own LMS, and my first question is to state how comfortable I am with the system. Overall, the system seems to be quite functional. There are all the basic attributes present in most LMS, and there isn’t anything woefully dreadful or game changingly new. It’s functional, I’m comfortable with it, and I guess that’s all I can really ask for. Like with almost all online learning experiences, it’s the people and ideas in the system that really make the greatest difference.
The second question may be of more interest. The question asks, “What, if any, concerns do you have about online learning?” Now that is quite a question. This is the kind of question some writers could devote books to, and if I were one of those types, I’d imagine I could do the same. I do, in fact, have all kinds of concerns about online learning. For the sake of brevity, I’ll try to be concise and focus on only two.
My first concern is with the idea that many seem to espouse about online learning being a panacea for monolithic teaching. In many places, advocates are saying that we can completely change the way we educate by moving to an online format that accommodates a greater variety of choice. The issue I see with this is what if students don’t learn well in an online environment? In the classroom, a teacher can immediately adjust the way a student engages learning based on the individual needs of a student. In most present iterations of online learning, the course work and path is set. If a student is a struggling reader, there isn’t much chance for success as the majority of online classes are incredibly text heavy. So, I have to wonder if we aren’t taking a monolithic means of teaching, and by potentially moving the majority of classes online as many are predicting will happen, we’re simply serving to change the method of the monolith.
My second concern is one of greater practicality. I’m somewhat bothered by the nature of a discussion board as it is most often utilized in an online course. When I participated in my program at Walden University, I clearly recall my frustration with the discussion forums. The sheer amount of information being created by those in the class comes so quickly and furiously that it is truly hard to keep up with it all. You typically have somewhere near 30 people posting great insights and thoughts on an issue, and reading all of those initial posts on a weekly basis can be a challenge. Then, add in at least two comments from everyone on other’s original posts, and the noise becomes cacophonous. That alone is a challenge, but then add in the flat nature of text, and the issue gets even more difficult to deal with. I’d love to see a discussion board present the option to create a quick video response to a question in the future. Personally, I’d be much more interested in watching someone’s nonverbal cues as they explain a point, not to mention hear their inflection and personality through their words, than I would be in always reading their thoughts in text. Of the blogs that I read regularly, I find I am most invested in those of people I’ve met in person. I naturally find myself reading their posts in their own voice, giving their life to the words they penned, er, I mean typed.
The ironic part of my dislike for discussion forums is that I required the participation in them from the grad students I taught last fall. Looking back, I’m really not sure why I did such. For some reason, I forgot about my experience, and I was taken in by the idea and potential I thought a discussion forum held. Interestingly, in the final class evaluations, the one part of the course many suggested changing was the use of such a forum.
I know there are a good number of individuals who very much enjoy the experience to be had on a discussion board. Perhaps it’s just something I’m not that equipped to enjoy. I’m not entirely sure, but I do think we should reevaluate the way we are presently utilizing such forums to see if they are as effective as we might think they are.
Thanks for sticking in here for this post for those of you who managed to do so. Of course, I’d love to hear your comments and feedback on my issues with online learning. I hope my posting of my reflections here doesn’t prove to increase the noise too much for you, and I hope you can find value in these conversations.
Thanks to aaronbeekay for the Flickr image.