W(h)ither Online Learning?

Let me start off by saying, I am a friend and supporter of our College of Graduate and Continuing Studies. I believe in what I understand their mission to be, that is, to offer a high quality, but lower cost alternative to commercial, adult education options.

I have attended two recent discussions about instructional technology at UMW, which have raised what, in my mind at least, are some fascinating questions. What I’m about to say here may be perceived as unfair. I don’t really have a seat at the table, but I have been lurking nearby, and I think I may have something to contribute since I have over a decade of experience with electronic teaching and learning environments. I readily admit that, not being at the table, it’s likely that I am mistaken in some or all of my ideas. In any case, I am not raising these issues to criticize anyone, but rather to advance the conversation.

Part of the mission of our College of Graduate and Professional Studies is to develop blended and online course offerings. What do those terms mean? Allen, Seaman and Garrett (2007) differentiate between three types of learning environments:

• Web-facilitated Learning, where up to 30% of the course content is delivered online,
• Blended Learning, where 30 – 80% of course content is delivered online; and
• Online Learning, where more than 80% of content is delivered online.

Notice the emphasis on content delivery, which I think it is misplaced, as I explain below.

Since the beginning of our CMS review process six months ago, I have been concerned that I was unable to articulate the need a new CMS was supposed to address. Indeed, the first answer I heard when I raised the question was that the purpose of the new CMS was to replace our existing Blackboard product. That clearly begs the question. It felt to me as if everyone else knew the answer, and that I was simply ignorant, but if so why weren’t we talking about it?

At the meeting two weeks ago, I heard several people say that CGPS needs a common CMS across all courses. We were told that both faculty and students typically have full-time jobs elsewhere, so they don’t have the time or inclination to explore alternative tool sets in each course. They would rather use a common toolset; they also seemed to be suggesting that the toolset be fairly simple.

In conversation at last week’s forum, the question was raised whether we had the infrastructure to support online learning at CGPS. The response was jarring to me:

We have the infrastructure, but what we don’t have is support from the top or from DTLT. DTLT is great at what they do… Jim Groom is internationally known for his work with WordPress… but they don’t do what we (CGPS) need, specifically, training. They make occasional visits here (to CGPS) but there’s no one here permanently. (The bottom line is) after ten years (at CGPS), we still don’t have a real distance learning program.

These statements raise a number of issues in my mind. First, DTLT has assigned one full time Instructional Technology Specialist and one half-time person (a new media specialist) to CGPS. While this may not seem like much, the College of Arts and Sciences, with roughly six times the faculty, has 5.5 IT staff. That works out to approximately 25 faculty for every ITS at CGPS compared with 42 faculty for every ITS at CAS. (Additionally, CAS is short by two ITS right now, so the actual comparison is even more skewed.) One may argue that it’s appropriate for CGPS to have more IT support, but one can’t say legitimately they have none.

The learning environments described by Allen et al suggest a view of teaching as content delivery, at least that is the phrase they used. Content delivery makes me think of online versions of textbooks or other text resources, and online testing. There is nothing wrong with those things, but they’re neither cognitively demanding nor complex.

My idea of teaching and the view of most faculty I know is bigger, involving student interaction with the content (and people) to construct an understanding of what the content means. This involves reading, thinking and writing about content, and debating meanings with others in the class. In my experience you can do these things effectively with technology. And, it is this view of teaching that DTLT supports very well. DTLT is not primarily about training (or training is only a minor part of what they do), rather DTLT is about instructional design. User services is the group to talk to about training, I think.

Unless we are considering completely on-line courses (and I don’t think, for the most part that we are), the distinctions that play a central role in Allen et al are missing the point. The real questions that need to be addressed include:

• What should the course environment look like?
• How are students going to access and interact with the course materials (e.g. content)?
• How are students going to interact with the instructor and how are they going to interact with each other?

The answers will be different for different courses and that’s as it should be. It is dealing with these types of questions that DTLT is ideal for.

The emphasis to date in the CMS review has been on IT questions: What types of software (e.g. CMS), hardware (less of an issue these days), training and other support are necessary and desired (a slightly different question) to support those course environments? Until we understand the pedagogical questions, outlined in the previous paragraph, I don’t think we can correctly answer the IT questions. It’s discussion of the former that I think has been lacking, and it’s that discussion I look forward to having.

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8 Responses to W(h)ither Online Learning?

  1. Jim says:

    Steve,

    I really think your re-framing of Allen et al is extremely important for pushing the conversation forward. The idea of training may be a small piece of what DTLT does, but we are also deeply embedded in creating an interactive space for teaching and learning, we are not an “IT group” as much as we are a teaching and learning group. We have no one tool we prescribe for any and every occasion, and what you enter when you enlist DTLT is a conversation and a relationship. That is what is missing in IT departments more generally, and that is why we don’t fit the traditional IT model (which is wanting). The monolithic CMS is dead, it will deliver course materials fine, but it won’t allow professors to experiment and re-imagine means of interacting online which is crucial in our moment. And if that is what folks are looking for, then the support at UMW is unparalleled in my mind.

    For all the complaints both campuses may have about resources and personnel, I think UMW’s ability to help and consult with faculty about teaching and learning technologies remains one of its richest assets. The issue is not technological, it is pedagogical–and until we focus on that question the demands and rifts will remain. No one tool can frame an interactive learning environment, and if students supposedly want just one tool, then maybe we need to show them what they in fact need to have an interactive classroom. I know Teresa Coffman has done a wonderful job with a number of distributed tools, and from what I can gauge by her students involvement online, they have proved key to the interaction rather than an unnecessary burden. An John St. Clair is an unbelievably rich addition to CGPS that will bring that idea of consulting and conversation to that campus, we have the people and we have the ideas and we are always looking for partners. In fact, I don;t think we have ever turned anyone away, except maybe you 🙂

  2. Laura says:

    Steve, there is so much here, I don’t know where to begin. I can say that you’ve accurately described most of my frustration with doing the work I do (which is, of course, similar to DTLT). People think I’m the IT department when I’m not. The problem is, most people think that technology will do all the work for them. If you just pick the right system, train the people to use it, learning will happen. The problem with training is that if people don’t have good reasons for learning how to use a tool or aren’t motivated, the training won’t stick at all. Even with motivation, it won’t stick. I agree with Jim, the CMS is dead as a learning environment. It may be useful for managing grades or documents, but it is not going to facilitate the kind of complex learning that can happen with “small pieces loosely joined.”

    By the way, when designing anything technical, you always start with the ultimate user outcome, not with what software/hardware is available. When you do website design, you ask people about their audience, about how they want their audience to interact with the site, what the site needs to accomplish. You don’t even talk technology until you have all of the other issues sketched out.

    I could say a lot more, but I have to go answer Blackboard questions. 🙂

  3. Steve says:

    Jim and Laura,

    Both of you argue that the CMS is dead as a learning environment. I agree with you, but many or even most people in my world don’t. They see the CMS as a turnkey solution, along the lines of what Laura describes. Can you explain *why* you think the CMS is dead? That might help the decision makers understand? Also, how would you respond the the desire I mentioned for a common, simple toolset which is what today’s CMS’ offer?

  4. Martha says:

    To my mind, the disconnect here is a fundamental one that transcends issues of technology. Why do many faculty not believe the CMS is dead, or rather not *want* it to be dead? Perhaps because they want to continue to teach in ways that do not push the boundaries of what technology (or any innovative teaching practice) offers. I hate to say that, because I deeply respect the faculty on both of UMW’s campuses, but very often I sense that when we ask them to think beyond the CMS, they balk not just at the technology but at what “thinking beyond” represents more fundamentally to them as teachers.

    To explain this balking, I’d probably have to resort to using a word I use a lot: Fear. I sense a lot of faculty are afraid of what “can of worms” they are opening up by pushing these boundaries.

    In some ways, they may have a right to be afraid. They *are* overworked. They *are* underpaid. They *are* experts in their discipline. More work for less pay that threatens one’s intellectual identity is bound to scare some people!

    But, what many of us who work in this space have realized is that if you push those fears aside for a moment, you can often arrive at a place that is so transformative in terms of engagement with ideas and people, that those fears don’t matter — or may never even materialize!

    Ironically, what they consider a “can of worms,” I consider a “box of magical treats.” 🙂

    Finally, I would say that in order to address these fundamental issues, the conversation about what we’re trying to change needs to happen all over the institution — not just in pockets of faculty or organizations like DTLT. The institution itself needs to be committed to questioning its purpose, its approaches, and its failures and successes.

  5. Laura says:

    Steve, I think you answered your own question to some extent. You say: “My idea of teaching and the view of most faculty I know is bigger, involving student interaction with the content (and people) to construct an understanding of what the content means. This involves reading, thinking and writing about content, and debating meanings with others in the class.”

    What opportunity do students have to interact with content within a CMS? The content is usually uploaded in the form of pdf files or if you post lectures, in powerpoint or video/audio files. Students consume this content and then what? Maybe there’s a discussion board, but it can’t be linked to the content directly. And what about interacting with people. Again, the discussion board offers some opportunity, but it’s tied to just the class and I have seen very few people use this well. I think in part this is because they believe so much in the turnkey solution that they think discussion will take care of itself. Would a teacher ever walk into a classroom and say, “I’m just gonna let you all talk about the material amongst yourselves”? I doubt it and yet, most faculty I know don’t participate in an online discussion. In addition, students, by being locked into a course within the system are exposed to only what the teacher puts into that course. Except perhaps in a research project, students are more likely to simply read what’s been uploaded and not explore beyond that.

    A lot of people think design doesn’t matter, but it does. Most CMS’s are ugly, hard to use (or at least clunky) and not appealing at all. They’re built primarily for one-way delivery and they’re not really customizable by the faculty member or the student. It’s like having to sit in a classroom where there are no windows and the chairs all have wobbly legs and they can’t be reconfigured into a circle for discussion. It’s functional, but doesn’t inspire much. I think the structure works against creating a truly interactive environment. Most people don’t look at it and immediately think, “Wow, this is going to help my students learn from each other.”

    Compare that to using a blog, wiki, social networking site. Professors can still post content, but they can more easily link that content in a way that students can “interact” with it. Let’s say, for example, that you post a link to a journal article in a blog post (and you can do this in a way that allows only members of the school to access it) and write a couple of starting questions to get discussion started. Students can then immediately comment on that article. The comments, because of the blog format, can appear not just at the end of the post, but also along the side of the front page, so it’s clear that discussion is happening. Maybe the author of the article or another expert could be invited to join the discussion, so now you’ve connected the class to the broader field.

    In a wiki, students could work together to build a glossary, a study site or research projects. Wikis, too, have comment features, so that classmates and instructors can provide feedback Again, an outside expert might come in and edit or comment on the work.

    Social networking–twitter, facebook, even social bookmarking sites–can create a way for student to easily communicate with each other and others about the course material.

    And all of these can be in service to a face-to-face discussion. In class, the online discussion or wiki can be displayed on the screen and be used as a jumping off point. Points that don’t get covered completely in class can be taken up online. I don’t think, without a lot of work, that CMS’s foster this kind of symbiotic relationship.

    CMS’s could indeed be used in similar ways, but I think it takes more work, that they’re structured to encourage a kind of one-way, document repository model. If your colleagues were taking up the pedagogical questions, then I think a CMS might prove to be a viable solution because they would approach the design of a course within it with an eye toward creating the best pedagogical environment. But it sounds like they’re expecting the software to do that work for them. They think that it’s designed somehow to create that environment for them. So they think it’s less work to use a CMS than other tools, but really it’s probably more.

  6. This is a great posting, Steve. Thanks for setting this discussion in front of us allowing each to share their ideas and thoughts on the issues around distance education at UMW.

    Being on the CGPS campus I see firsthand the discussions that revolve around distance learning among the faculty and the administration. As with any discussion revolving around teaching and learning, pedagogy stands at the center. I will make a bold statement, there is no faculty member that does not focus on their teaching and their students learning. At the center of any class, whether it is blended, online, or face to face it is important for us as instructors to design an environment that meets the needs of our curriculum goals, necessary standards, and at the same time meet the individual needs of our students. As instructors we also want to ensure that access to learning material as well as activities is easy and seamless, the environment is safe and secure, and the ease of use as well as the functionality of the environment is manageable and consistent. This is a central focus of teaching and learning whether our classes are online, blended, or face to face.

    When we begin discussions about online learning, these points become stronger. Yes, the end user continues to be central. Students must be able to log into an environment that is easy to navigate and provide safe and secure tools that allow them to experiment, explore, and discover content to help strengthen thoughts and ideas. I have not met anyone that does not believe that portions of course management systems (learning management systems) cannot have parts that are open to the public such as blogs and wikis. But, for those that teach online, it is also important to have closed, secure and management friendly sections of your course. This would be like closing your door in your classroom when you are teaching or keeping your grade book private. It is unfair to mix issues here by saying that any faculty that wants to work within a course management system is doing so because they are afraid of changing the way they teach or are unable to push their boundaries.

    Managing a class in an online environment is a time consuming process. Until a viable option can be introduced, I am not sure the move can be made. Has anyone in this discussion introduced options of managing a course? Not tools, but managing a course.

    How we deliver a course is important. We want our students to be engaged in the content, thinking, and ultimately learning. Traditional methods of teaching focus on this as well but it becomes even deeper in an online environment. Yes, it is about teaching and learning but we cannot forget about content and its delivery.

    It is important for instructors to look deeply into their course content and develop teaching strategies and methods that are conducive to online delivery. This medium requires that students be engaged and provides support in order for them to dig deeper into the content. It is a mistake to think that online students only answer a discussion question and respond to a classmate’s reflection. Online learning can and often is more dynamic then that. As a result, instructors need secure environments that allow them to manage their students learning so they can develop activities that allow students to work in collaborative groups to help solve problems that revolve around course topics. Yes, this can be done using a wiki but if the wiki is aligned with the management system course content, comments can be easily tracked and worked with by the instructor and students without the need of accessing many different tools to collect this necessary data.

    I have taught totally online courses at CGPS and I must say the course management system has helped manage my classes as well as ensure that students stay on task and remain focused on learning. I like the security that the management system offers as well as the tools that it provides both students and me as the instructor. I will say that I also use tools outside of the course management system and these also provide the necessary options that I am looking for in the learning goals that I set for my students. This blend is important but more important is for both faculty and students to feel comfortable in the environment as well as have ease of use and the ability to manage and control the content being delivered.

    The ideas behind course management systems or learning management systems are integral to ensure that teaching and learning remain at the center of a student’s experience and they are not searching for content and information necessary to complete their learning experience. Also, it is needed to manage the learning environment from the instructor’s standpoint. It is a lot of work to manage an online class. Teaching becomes a 24 hour profession and having a good course management system that can help the instructor keep track of comments and activities is always a wonderful and necessary addition.

    Whether or not it is believed that systems such as this will be obsolete in a year or two, a better solution has yet to be offered. I think the discussion should propose solutions and not just tools of communication and collaboration but a system that allows for managing the environment from an instructor’s standpoint. Until this solution is found, course management systems will be in existence and utilized to build and strengthen online programs.

    One more note, there are programs at CGPS that are being considered for a total online delivery method. To ensure their success, course management systems will need to be in the forefront.

  7. As a follow-up after reading the latest postings and comments…

    After posting the last comment, I realize that this is not just a discussion about pedagogy, teaching, and learning. This is the concern of every faculty member – whether they teach online or face to face. This posting with its comments changed focus. Instead, this is a discussion about change. Through time educators have been faced with questions, opposing views, and ultimately issues of change. Should we keep the slate or introduce the blackboard? Should technology teach or do we need teachers to teach? Should technology be integrated into a classroom to engage the students in the process of learning or are we doing just fine without it? Does this method work best for student achievement or this one? Is distance education rigorous enough or is traditional learning better? I could go on. There are strong proponents for both sides of each of these issues. Both sides make sense in their own right. Both are wrong as well. Does one size fit all?

    It is unfair to say that faculty is only afraid of the tools that many say are terrific without providing viable options of classroom management and climate for an online course. What is the answer for managing an online course and its components? Managing an online class is time consuming. Anyone who has taught an online class can contest to that. The questions do not stop there though. Other questions that need to be considered are how can faculty ensure that their students are safe? How can faculty ensure that the proprietary content that they include in their course adheres to copyright and fair use laws if a course management system is not being used? How will a school help faculty connect components in order for the faculty to manage them more efficiently and better? Managing online course content is time consuming. You will need more than bloglines to help with this task. I use bloglines for my student’s blog postings. The system is down more than it is up. Issues of consistency and reliability are also issues and concerns that need to be addressed.

    It is important to look at both sides of this issue. Yes, teaching, learning, and pedagogy are at the center of any learning environment. The idea of online learning steps this up many notches. Many courses at CGPS are offered completely online. Some are blended. How can we manage each of these elements most effectively and efficiently? Thus far, course management systems are the option that people are familiar with. I am not sure anyone has posed another course management option as of yet.

  8. I would really rather not respond to this blog posting because doing so will inflame the “true believers” out there which, I think, is counter-productive; because being a comfortably-INTP math major I am not nearly as mellifluous (shoot – I had to look up how to spell it) as the author or the commentators; and, because I long ago abandoned any psychological need to be right all the time. Ask anyone who knows me, my personal motto is “You can be right, or you can be happy.” So, before anyone reads any farther: Steve, you are definitely right, the CMS is dead and should be abandoned with all possible haste.

    However, I am responding because I have been quoted (mostly correctly but with some inaccuracies), because the author specifically emailed and asked that I do, because some of the posting has merit and some does not, and because the author has sent the link to his posting directly to my colleagues, my boss, and my boss’s boss, AND my boss’s boss’s boss thus promulgating an otherwise unnoticed diatribe.

    You did ask me to sit down and discuss the posting. I was unable to chat before the posting but we have had a couple of conversations between the posting and this comment. And although I have a problem with some of the posting, overall I am happy to debate the necessary evilness of the aforementioned, deceased CMS. Steve, you are a deep thinker – a very congenial fellow. I enjoy talking with you and have asked you to advise me on matters related to online learning at UMW. I would imagine your courses are both interesting and productive. As you say, “I am not raising these issues to criticize anyone, but rather to advance the conversation.”

    Point One: Blogging

    Blogging is a wonderful tool. As pointed out in the posting, I have praised UMWblogs on many occasions and have advocated for increasing participation in UMWblogs by CGPS faculty. I use UMWblogs (shameless plug – http://online.umwblogs.org). This posting, however, is a prime example of why blogging is not used frequently by faculty at CGPS. Let’s take a look at the message and the medium of this blog posting.

    What we have here is a public airing of an internal issue at the institution. The posting reports on comments made in a couple of public forums on campus. Although the forums were public, the audience was a small subset of the institutional employees and certainly not a conversation available to the general public at large. Although the author does not call persons by name, other commentators do. The author does refer to departments and identifiable segments of the institutional workforce. Regardless of the merits of the issues in the discussion, this is a discussion of internal contentions within the institution. Of course, the author has every right under the precepts of academic freedom and the first amendment to write these things in public. My personal opinion is that it is not useful to air institutional “dirty linen” in public. Just because it is permitted doesn’t make it a good idea.

    The posting author argues against certain statements made in the forums. In fact one grievous error was pointed out to me immediately after one forum. That error was acknowledged and the offended party was sought out individually and was apologized to face-to-face. In addition, I attended a subsequent open forum to publicly support the CAS-related activities of the DTLT unit. Also of note, the acting head of the DTLT unit was not in attendance at the open forum in which the comments were made so I sought out that person and indicated in a face-to-face discussion what had been said, lest he be caught unaware.

    The topic of the usefulness of a CMS is a great subject and should be discussed at length. But what public good can come from a public discussion of the ratios of support personnel to faculty within the two colleges at UMW? I won’t go into the merits of that piece (because it is not appropriate IMHO and because it is a case of comparing apples and oranges).

    Point Two: Intimidation

    I am firmly resolved that the posting author had no inkling that his post would be interpreted as a matter of intimidation. In this regard, I find no issue with the author although the posting itself is problematic relative to this issue. I look forward to many future both heated and friendly debates with the author.

    However, take a second to consider this posting in a different context (outside the UMW sphere). What we have is a person of power (referent & legitimate power in terms of French & Raven) calling out a person without power. Yes, the titular topic of record is the withering away of the CMS. But the secondary and more pointed of the topics is the issue of inter-departmental contention. In the forum, I was representing the views expressed in frequent interviews with faculty. However, I am a newly hired (four-month), non-tenure-track employee on a yearly renewable contract addressed in the general public by a (I assume) tenured faculty member with long-standing socio-political connections within the institution.

    Again, outside the context of this incident, I would assume that any such new employee would make it a point to never again speak up at a public forum, thus, the intimidation. And one wonders what the long-term employment status and employability of such an employee is (in this uncertain economy). Some professors at CGPS believe it is not prudent to have an academic exercise drawing real-world details from local employers to become a matter of public discourse (via blogging). Here is a perfect example.

    Blogging is fun isn’t it! And it sometimes has real consequences (sometimes unforeseen). From a recent piece by Gene R. Nichol in the Chronicle, “I’ve seen at close hand the impact that battling bloggers, … can have upon a presidency and an institution. They are nothing to scoff at.” (http://chronicle.com/weekly/v55/i10/10a05001.htm?utm_source=at&utm_medium=en). So, Steve, I suggest we take the internal piece of this discussion offline and continue the CMS-related discussion if you want.

    Point Three: Denigration by phraseology

    Notice in the posting that the author wants to debate the merits of a study used by Allen, Seaman, and Garrett. Now I am not an expert on debate but it seems to me that this argument has nothing to do with the discussion that took place in the open forum (need for CMS at CGPS). This study was not the topic of discussion at the forum. I used the Allen et al definitions of web-enhanced, blended, and online so as to have a discussion based on a common understanding of terms, not to support their study (although I do).

    Also of note is the author’s denigration of “content delivery. “ This is an issue worth a lively debate, but here it is pointed out as if the only thing CGPS faculty are interested in is pushing content. It seems on the surface, the author (albeit decrying it earlier (“I readily admit that, not being at the table, it’s likely that I am mistaken in some or all of my ideas. “) is imputing motives to others with which he has little interaction.

    Now, I’ve only been an educator for a brief 34 years and involved with instructional technology since only the early 1980’s (remember the TRS-80?), but I have seen this a couple of times – one educator impugning the motives and abilities of other educators without first hand knowledge. Again, (to paraphrase Mark Antony), I speak not to disprove what the poster wrote, but here I am to speak what I do know. And on the subject of “content,” please be advised that there are more than a few folks out there teaching online (in and out of a CMS) that understand (“get”) what teaching online is all about. “We few, we happy few” are not the sole purveyors of true understanding.

    Point Four: Mischaracterization

    The posting author quotes me as having said “both faculty and students have full time jobs elsewhere.” I don’t _think_ I said that about faculty (although my memory is imperfect). Obviously many faculty members are full-time at CGPS and therefore do not have second full-time jobs while others are adjuncts with full-time jobs elsewhere. In both cases they are frequently practitioners as well as being fully qualified academics. What is true is that faculty and students have outside interests, families, and other constraints. There are those who dearly love tinkering with new technologies in hopes of finding something particularly useful in supporting teaching and learning – I know, I’m one of those folks too. And there are those who do not enjoy incorporating the latest tech-tool but would rather spend their time and energies involved with the interaction between instructor and student. Rather than speak from imagining the motives and work conditions of others, perhaps Steve should spend a semester teaching at CGPS?

    Point Five: The CMS

    The CMS is not dead. Steve and the commentators assert that the CMS “won’t allow professors to experiment and re-imagine means of interacting online.” Who says? Show me the research data. The merits of using a CMS are worth discussing at length, but the CMS is not dead. Should it be? Opinions vary, but I don’t think so. Is the reader to believe that all courses taught using a “monolithic” course management system are void of interaction, merely disgorging “content” on the unsuspecting student? Again, opinions vary, but I don’t think so.

    Seriously, there are certainly many online courses taught within a CMS that are dreadful AND many that are wonderful. I imagine a great deal depends on the students and on the instructor. I also imagine that are probably many examples of good and bad courses taught without a CMS.

    Again, what I do know is that in a system with policies, procedures, standards, and guidelines there are measurable methods for assessing quality. One such rubric for assessing quality is Quality Matters (http://www.qualitymatters.org/) which is independent of the presence of a CMS. A system which I designed for the Tennessee Board of Regents was based on Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles – again, which focuses on quality and measures whether the CMS encourages contact between students and faculty, develops reciprocity and cooperation among students, encourages active learning, gives prompt feedback, emphasizes time on task, communicates high expectations, and respects diverse talents and ways of learning. The assertion that a CMS prohibits interaction is disingenuous at best. Online teaching and learning is not one-size-fits-all.

    Another contention in a posting comment is that the CMS does not allow for experimentation. Perhaps the author or commentators have had no good luck in experimenting within a CMS – but others have. A few years back, a fellow math professor and I created two courses as a proof of concept (using a course management system). These two courses (number systems and geometry for elementary teachers) were delivered successfully online via WebCT at nineteen colleges and universities in Tennessee and were used as national models for courses that were comprised entirely of reusable learning objects available through MERLOT. These two courses relied on frequent interaction among students and between students and professor as well as incorporating many interactive online activities (similar to what is now referred to as Web 2.0).

    Another assertion is that interaction cannot be facilitated within the confines of a course management system. This is not true. I conducted a study while at the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) which correlated communications and student success. The findings were used in faculty development activities for several years to stress the importance of faculty-student communication and rapid feedback. While doing the study, I found many courses which routinely had discussion postings and email communications in the _thousands_ per semester. (Yes, Steve, I understand that quality is more important than quantity – but the contention expressed in the posting is that communication is not feasible in a CMS.) I have not replicated that study yet at CGPS, but will be doing so. A dissertation coming from a TBR online instructor (Examining Interaction in Online Courses in Relation to Student Performance and Course Retention, Zeh, 2006) further defined this correlation and has also been used in faculty development.

    Thank goodness for DTLT, early adopters, and other innovators such as yourself, Steve, who are willing to invest their time and energies into incorporating new technologies and new teaching techniques in their classes. I am one of those folks too. But there are plenty of sincere, hard-working, diligent faculty members who have tremendously successful courses in which great learning occurs who teach their online courses using a CMS.

    What is completely puzzling is that since I have been at UMW, I have never once heard a CGPS professor suggest that CAS faculty members are not teaching correctly. I have never heard CGPS faculty assert that CAS courses are not quality. I have never heard a suggestion that CAS faculty be required to use a CMS. But I have repeatedly heard that CGPS faculty members are remiss in their desire to use a CMS. Wherefore art thou, academic freedom?

    In summary, I find this blog posting either naïve or disingenuous. Posting it is one thing, but calling attention to it to the Provost and University President is another. I am happy to have a lengthy discussion of educational technology in general and the CMS in particular based on my 34 years of teaching experience, 7 years in a leadership position with an online program used as a model by the National Center for Academic Transformation (http://www.center.rpi.edu/Monographs/ExpAccess.html) and internationally acclaimed by the IMS Global Learning Consortium (http://www.imsglobal.org/learningimpact2008/2008LIAwinners.html), and an Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction. However, I do not find a public experiment in “he said, she said” to be productive. I would hope we all could work together toward some positive future rather than fault finding.

    Note to reader: Steve and I have a lunch date to discuss. I like talking with Steve and am looking forward to it.

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