Friday, September 23, 2005


Getting Good At It

This week we had a meeting that touched on, among other things, ways to encourage more faculty to take the leap and try either doing an entire course online, or at least supplementing their classes with material on the web. A comment by our local web guru reminded me why so many faculty resist.

“A new version of (our web platform) is coming out this Fall, and it’s completely different from the current one. Everyone will have to be trained on the new one.”


The folks who are already offering courses online will have to go through the same training as the folks who aren’t sure about this newfangled ‘electricity’ thing. It has ‘morale killer’ written all over it.

I saw the same thing, magnified, at my previous school. At one point, we had used three different platforms in three consecutive semesters. The faculty were livid, since they spent all of their time in the low-payoff part of the learning curve. They didn’t have enough time to get good at it.

I’m wrestling with a similar issue at home. The Wife bought me a nifty, cool, way-fun object of techno-geek lust, and I’m trying to figure out how to use it. It will probably be a blast, once I figure out how to make it go. Until then, it’s an annoying time-suck. Thirtysomething that I am, I keep analogizing it to earlier technologies, incorrectly. Damn that historical memory.

It’s futile to ask innovation to slow down, I know, and probably a bad idea anyway. But from a faculty perspective, time spent learning to use the new web platform is time wasted. They want to be able to get good at it right away, to spend time on actual course material, and they’re right.

Hell is a series of workshops.

Might there be some way to persuade the techies that any upgrades to the web platforms must be modified so that old-timey users don't have to re-learn everything?

I suppose it depends on what they're changing. Are the upgrades necessary or just out of habit?

If it were at all possible, I'd squeeze the techies and make them work harder, rather than the faculty. There's fewer of 'em, at least.
I agree to the "squeeze the techies" bit: we recently had a new system for recording attendance and we were promised that we just had to key in the attendance and that would be it, all reports etc. could be pulled from the system... five weeks later we're told that actually the system is still in the 'test phase' and reports etc. cannot be generated. So we have to manually search through pages of attendance sheets to work out who needs to be sent a warning letter...
A few issues have come to light:
1. A system is being implemented before they know it actually works.
2. Most of the faculty have ante-deluvian computers that can take up to half an hour for one class list to be generated. The techies obviously have recent computers that are a lot faster.
3. The reaction by IT is to retreat behind jargon and let everyone else deal with the mess.
as a student, i feel that the focus on using technology, making material available online (at least at my school), is overrated. it doesn't really help that much. in fact everyone just ends up printing out everything.. so i don't see the point of having the readings photocopied, scanned, then uploaded.. and the readings online are in black-and-white.. so.. it doesn't make any difference at all. if they were in color, maybe that'd be great, especially for art history courses, instead of making color copies and distrubuting them to students, which for obvious reasons isn't practical.

and my school charges for printing, too (well we have a 25$ allowance, which gets used up pretty quickly considering that we have to print out readings), so... i'm not too happy about that, especially when some professors are actually putting every reading on the web.

on the other hands, things like online posting, multimedia, etc are cool.
Our cc is trying to get the entire AA degree online, from registration to complete coverage of the courses.

One of the ways of encouraging faculty (since this is our second webframe in the last 3 years) is to offer stipends for course development. This also allows some oversight and support in the semester before the course starts up. Looked like a good idea to me. I was scheduled for 2 online courses in spring 2006.

Two problems I've had with that: one is that the dept heads signed me up for going online next semester in two different depts. When I filed the stipend proposal, suddenly the deans noticed that I was doing two new courses in one semester. Not only did I not get the funding, but one of the courses got pulled (ostensibly for my own peace of mind). So if there are going to be negative consequences of applying for funding, I can imagine faculty having some reservations about participating.

Another part of the support and mentoring is offering monthly brown bag lunches with the instructional development folk. This would be a great idea, but the last time I went, and asked my questions, I wasn't thinking of the dean's attendance in her role as quality control and stipend awarder. The next day the group met on the stipend proposals and I suspect that my questions might have been in the back of her mind -- maybe indicating that I'm struggling. Having someone attend what should be an open discussion who could later withdraw faculty from an online course inhibits the kind of questioning faculty can do.

doesn't address your question in the abstract, but I'm deep in the practical right now.
The worst part of this situation is that "The new version is completely different" is almost always a lie. There will be some differences, but most of the time, the upgrade is relatively minor, and the "training" is all but indistinguishable from the previous round. Which makes the whole thing an insult to the intelligence of people who already know how to work the old package.
We're also "upgrading" our on-line course management system, which was developed in-house, rather than purchased (e.g, Blackboard). Only this revision is being done as a part of a 6-school consortium and apparently the faculty using the old system were not surveyed (I sure wasn't) about what might constitute appropriate changes.

So the initial package trashed the internal email system (becuse it duplicate other email systems--but it also guaranteed that email was not spam and did not carry viruses), it trashed the instructor's ability to create groups within a class (private spaced for each group). The new version does not allow an instructor to impose accessibility controls on on-line quizzes, which the old one did. Maerial posted mysteriously disappears. And, at leas for now, the gradebook feature is not present--they rolled the new program out without it.

And when I went to a training session, we spent almost 2 hours receiving no information of value.

Now, why would anyone be upset by all of that?
It's totally insane. I have taught an online course (Mass Comm) and am finishing my degree online. I'll separate the instruction from the student services and say that almost nothing I have done in online instruction could not have been equally well done with blogger, reasonably good email accounts, and a threaded discussion area.

If you want to tie this to student services and backend (i.e. automated grade-keeping) you can, but most instructors in B&M take grades manually. Why is this so anathema to online courses? Maybe you need a function to help the folks who use Scantrons, but beyond that?

It just goes too far without reason.
Oh yes. I've been teaching at a small state university for 12 years, and I have lost count of the software applications that I would told Would Transform Teaching As We Know It.

Anyone remember MUDs? OK, you can stop laughing now.

I do use Blogger with students for collaborative blogs and will continue to do as long as it's free. But there is published research showing that online courses take more of the instructor's time than do classroom courses. If the students email you at 2 p.m. on Saturday morning, they expect answers now, not Monday. Well screw that.
new reader here, from bitchphd...

as a educational technology person in the midwest, i have to, respectfully, call bull$&^* on the way most schools are using technology. schools accept things from their tech departments that they would never accept from any other. Meetings with no results, changes that were not required or inspired by the users. You would never accept a faculty member to have required reading that only 25% of the class could access.

Too often, schools let their lack of knowledge about technology mean that the techies get to dictate what happens. You need a middle person--someone who understands technology but from a teaching and curricular view. If you don't have this, decisions are made based on technology only, rather than what is best for the instructors and learners at your institution.
Our entire school board's network is designed by a company currently being charged with fraud in a network they sold to the city. The whole thing was designed without input by teachers, although principals and caretakers got their say.

It's so bad that students at my school set up an external web site, which is what I use. I just email a student supplemental material and she adds it to the site. No muss, no fuss -- and the kids do a better job than the 'professionals'...
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