Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in complicated conversations on a subject and forget how simple it really can be. Academia is full of such occasions (meetings that could have been emails, anyone?), and online learning is merely the latest example. In contemplating online learning it doesn’t take much to get into the deep weeds with specific technology policies and intricate questions of implementation. How do we put things online? What platform do we use? What forms do we sign? What committees to do we put on high alert? Do we need more servers? Can we use mobile technology? Can we OH GOD WE HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS AND NOW I GAZE INTO THE VOID. 

To be sure, those are all important questions. But at their most essential level conversations about blended and online learning are simply conversations about learning. And there are few groups better than Grand View faculty and staff at constructive discussions and innovative work about teaching and learning. Sure, blended and online learning takes place in a much different environment than a traditional face to face classroom, but the pedagogical principles that value active learning and student engagement are the same. So we don’t have to learn a completely new language; more than anything we’re just speaking a different dialect. Good teaching is good teaching, successful learning is successful learning, and engaged students are engaged students no matter what modality we encounter them in. As so many on this campus demonstrate on a daily basis, the key to effective teaching is to keep student success in the center.

That’s where CETL comes into the picture. As the institution begins to pilot blended and online courses, our mission is to support faculty in doing what you do best: helping students be successful. As some of you heard of the faculty meeting yesterday, Karly and I have been gathering resources, information, and experience to help you create the type of learning experience that works best for both you and your students. Grand View’s membership in the Online Learning Consortium is one set of resources we can connect you with for both broad-based and subject specific training to teach in a blended or online environment. Over the next two months to the OLC is offering a range of webinars, each of which is one week in duration, covering a variety of subjects from basic to advanced principles in blended and online teaching. Here is a list of dates and topics for webinars that would be particularly useful for faculty preparing or at least thinking about teaching a blended or online course:

New to Online: Essentials Part 1, Getting Started

Mar 07, 2016 – 12:00pm – Mar 13, 2016 – 11:59pm or Apr 11, 2016 – 06:00am – Apr 17, 2016 – 11:59pm

Strategies for Supporting and Advising Students

Mar 28, 2016 – 12:00pm – Apr 03, 2016 – 11:59pm or Mar 28, 2016 – 12:00pm – Apr 03, 2016 – 11:59pm

Fundamentals: Framework for Quality Design

Mar 28, 2016 – 12:00pm – Apr 03, 2016 – 11:59pm

Designing with Accessibility in Mind

Apr 13, 2016 – 12:00pm – Apr 15, 2016 – 11:59pm

If you’re interested in enrolling in any of these webinars, contact us in CETL as soon as possible and we can help you make arrangements to get started. If you’re scheduled to teach a blended class in term four, and have not yet joined the blackboard training course, let us know as soon as possible and we will help get you connected. We also have numerous books articles websites and other online and digital tools with which we can help you design activities and assessments to engage your students meaningfully in your courses content.

From conception to design to implementation, whether it’s a new course or one being shifted to blended or online, we are here to support you in creating the type of experience that will help your students be successful.

This week’s links may focus on blended and online learning in particular, but you’ll see that they provide much food for thought when it comes to teaching and learning in general. And that’s the most important thing to remember: teaching and learning is at the very heart of what we do, no matter what sort of environment we do it in.


One of the most important components of any successful course is discussion with and among students. In a blended or online environment, discussion boards and blogs are the backbone of this interaction. Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching maintains an enormously useful web presence, and this section on using blogs and discussion boards is a representative example.

Faculty Focus has published a number of useful short pieces that offer practical tips for engaging students online; you can find an archive of those posts here.

A key element in online teaching and learning is presence, which scholars often divide into instructor presence, cognitive presence, and social presence. Recent scholarship has engaged all three areas in interesting and helpful ways; in particular, examining “social presence” can offer us insights about how technology mediates students’ interactions with course material and one another–even in our face-to-face courses. This recent article from the Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning ties social presence to learning outcomes, with some interesting implications for course design and implementation. [Note: the JoSoTL is completely open-access online; it’s a wonderful resource for scholarly approaches to pedagogy]

We all worry about the quality of learning for any mode of teaching and learning, and in the blended and online world, sketchy for-profits and crap-tastic programs that value savings over learning have really muddied the waters. But, “online courses are not the kiss of death for struggling students, as long as the courses are designed properly. This involves instructor professional development, collaboration, and transparencyamong other things. This smart essay lays out the ways in which teaching and learning in a blended/online environment can be done well, with the type of attention to actual student learning that we all value.

And, finally, my favorite source, period, about online learning is the Manifesto for Teaching Online from the University of Edinburgh’s Digital Education group. The teachers and researchers there remind us of what’s possible, and challenge us to enlarge our perspectives to embody those possibilities.  Highly recommended!


Looking for resources? Ideas? Help?

Click here to contact CETL

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