Teaching and Learning Online – Addressing Our Shared Concerns

by Catherine Hillman on January 7, 2014

One of the tremendous perks to working in the CTLT is the exposure we have to students beyond their classroom lives, and in December I had the privilege of meeting with the SC3 (http://sc3.calpoly.edu/) Student Campus Computing Committee) to chat with them about their experiences with hybrid, flipped and online courses. 
This was not my first meeting with the SC3 on this issue. The first time I spoke with the group was a little over a year ago, and back then I asked them if any had taken an online or hybrid course. I admit to being rather shocked to discover only a couple of those present had engaged in any form of eLearning, and when I asked what their thoughts were about the topic, they said:

  • “I’m not so sure it fits with the Learn-by-Doing approach.”
  • “I think I’d feel isolated in that format.”
  • “I want to get to know my teacher.”
  • “It doesn’t seem like the Cal Poly way.”
As I pondered the students’ responses, it became clear that they were expressing concerns of the “what if” nature, rather than describing actual experiences. Clearly, our students have a love for their learning experience here at Cal Poly. Clearly they appreciate well-designed courses and professors who cultivate a passion for teaching, regardless of the location of the “room.” Students get that. And their concerns are valid and reasonable.
So, I then turned to the faculty. I’ve had numerous discussions with some incredibly talented faculty over the past year, and I’ve heard the concerns and frustrations from those who have the sobering task of converting a successful on-site course into a new pedagogy, whether flipped, hybrid or online. Even when we dissect the myths and misunderstandings about the methodology and pedagogy of e-learning, what remains is an ongoing, high-touch commitment to course design and maintenance that should not be considered lightly. Faculty get that. And faculty have a rational concern about jumping in too quickly, or without enough support, or without the guarantee that they can continue to teach a course they’ve created. They are sometimes concerned about the internal politics from well-meaning colleagues, or that it will take precious time away from the RPT process rather than adding to it. And their concerns are valid and reasonable. 
And so it was with great interest that I met with the SC3 students again, 13 months later, to see if their concerns had remained the same. I started with the same question, asking how many had taken a hybrid, flipped, or online course. 
This time, nearly all of the hands went up! 
Next question: was your experience mostly positive, neutral, or negative? All but one indicated their experience was very positive, and as they elaborated on the classes they’ve taken, it became evident to me that Cal Poly faculty are working hard at creating engaging, collaborative, hands-on experiences while incorporating asynchronous or technology-enhanced models of education. Clearly the concerns shared by faculty and students alike are being addressed in a very positive way so far at Cal Poly.
The last question I asked was, “If you could ask faculty to incorporate eLearning practices into their curriculum to some degree, what would it look like?” Here are the answers I received:
  • “More videos, like the Kahn Academy does. We could use more online video resources in all of our classes, even if it is completely face to face.”
  • “If you make videos, keep it short. Don’t give us long lectures in videos.”
  • “Any supplemental materials you can give us, like web sites or handouts, is great online. We go there to research stuff anyway.”
  • “The flipped class is pretty cool even if it’s just a part of a class.”
This is great advice from our students, who have a profound appreciation for Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing approach. Thankfully, they have instructors who respond in positive ways!
If you are interested in learning more about using asynchronous content or video in your class, the CTLT is offering online seminars this quarter to help you:
Framing Your Online Course – starts January 13th
Introduction to Screencasting – starts January 27th
Cal Poly’s eLearning Addendum and the QOLT Opportunity – starts February 10th

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