A student in our online Facilitation class raised an interesting case for our forum discussion, including these case facts:
"I attended a class at Brand X University, a well known online university. This particular university had most everything asynchronously (no chats, no online classroom tool, etc.) Further, they used everything via Newsgroups (so much for the lesson saying this is a lessening method!) in Microsoft Outlook Express. There were a total of five newsgroups that were employed for each class, all viewable via Microsoft Outlook Express. I eventually withdrew from the class because the navigation among all those newsgroups was personally confusing and causing me to miss assignments and other items because of the overwhelming amount of information. While there was also issues with a rather user unfriendly instructor, my main issue was this style of asynchronous class.
As the consultant brought in the revamp Brand X University, you have been asked to propose how to revamp the way classes are delivered. The only restriction is that is has to remain asynchronous. What would you change and how would you change it? Or, if you think the newsgroup is a great idea, why would you not change?"
Based on the way the case is presented, it appears two things got in the way of learning in this class: (1) the technology and (2) the instructor. I have highlighted what I see to be the key aspects of both that must be addressed in this scenario:
- Type of technology: I'll start by assuming that this online university requires all learners to have broadband internet access. This seems to be a prerequisite in most US university level programs that I have seen and opens up a vast array of options - many that are available for little (or no) money. Therefore, it is far to limiting to utilize just a Newsgroup with all of the other choices (such as blogs, wikis and forum discussions). While including too many options at once would be an equally poor choice, selecting one or two options that improve content management and navigation is appropriate for a university level class.
- Content management: Learning and content management options should allow content to be easily added, retrieved and edited with simple navigation. While there is a learning curve to most new technologies, most readily available tools allow this flexibility.
- Navigation within platform: Also, in an online course, technology should be used to enhance students ability to communicate, not hinder it due to poor navigation as seems to be a major problem in this case.
Instructor: It has become evident to me that online instruction requires skills and attributes that may not be needed (or as important) in a traditional learning environment, including:
- Belief in Online Learning: An online instructor has to buy into the concept that online education can be successfully developed and delivered. If he (she) is transitioning from a traditional environment to an online setting with no plans to amend his (her) teaching approach, it is hard to envision success. Also, if the instructor is not cognizant and empathetic to the learning curve associated with online learning, he (she) may seem unfriendly and students may not engage. This may be a key problem in this case.
- Passion for Technology: While "passion" may be a strong requirement, it likely separates the great online instructors from the so-so instructors. Also, an online instructor has to buy into the concept that online education can be successfully developed and delivered. If he (she) is transitioning from a traditional environment to an online environment with no plans to amend his (her) teaching approach, it is hard to envision success.
- Understanding of Technology: It is one thing to believe in a concept and another to capitalize on it. The only way to capitalize on the advantages of online learning is to understand the best options available. From this case, it doesn't appear those setting up the program had a good understanding about the pros and cons of the existing and available choices.