Doing Things Differently, or Doing Different Things?

The new tools of teaching are going to revolutionize the role of the professor in the classroom. Gone are the days in which the teacher occupies center stage–this new technology replaces traditional classroom instruction. Soon, students will learn via the screen, and our role as faculty will be rendered obsolete. Technology changes everything, but is change always good?

This was the conversation when televisions and VCRs became prevalent in classrooms.

You look surprised.

Did you think I was talking about something else?


See what I did there?

When we discuss new technology and its impact on teaching and learning, it’s easy to get caught up in scenarios that vastly overstate the potential or desirable impacts of that technology. TVs and VCRs did not replace instruction, they supplemented it (unless the teacher was lazy). The internet has not replaced instruction, it has given us tools to enhance that instruction and offer more resources to and for our students. Across the higher ed landscape, the current discussion centers around Blended and Online Learning: is it an opportunity or a threat? Is it better or worse than face-to-face instruction? Is it good or bad for students? And this discussion, as so often happens, becomes an exercise in exaggerated worst-case scenarios.

One way out of the artificial dichotomies and the dead-end discussions they bring is to reconsider the ways in which we approach online learning. First, we should remember that it’s a tool, just like TVs and VCRs and Blackboard and dry-erase markers. Tools only become problems when used poorly or incorrectly. Second, we should bear in mind that more than one thing can be true. Blended and Online Learning can be great. It can also be very bad. Context, intent, and preparation are what matter. Third, it’s not very useful to simply see Blended and Online Learning solely in reference to face-to-face methods. That assumes that everything we do in face-to-face instruction represents the best possible pedagogy. Does it?

What if we approached Blended and Online Learning as not inherently “better” or “worse,” but rather just different? Jeanneatte McDonald, from the University of Wisconsin School of Nursing, urges us to do exactly that in a really useful article that summarizes a good deal of research and thinking on the subject. If you’re curious (either from sympathy or skepticism) about online teaching and learning, McDonald’s work is well worth reading. Check it out here:

McDonald, “Is Face-to-Face as Good as it Gets?”

So as Grand View works through the important issues surrounding blended and online learning, seeing the issues in their larger context remains vitally important. Many of us already use online tools in our teaching. Digital pedagogy is a fact of life in the higher-ed landscape. How do we, as reflective and dedicated teachers, work to make sure our tools remain something we use, rather than things that use us? Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel offer some great thoughts in their essay on “what the best digital teachers do.”

Finally, remember that CETL is here to support all faculty and academic staff with training, consultations, workspace, collaboration, copious amounts of coffee, assistance with digital tools–whatever you need. For a comprehensive list of the ways in which CETL can support faculty who are interested in/already preparing to teach in a Blended or Online format, click the link below.

BL-OL Training Opportunities sponsored by CETL

Be sure to call, email, or come by Rasmussen 208 and let us help support you!

Looking for resources? Ideas? Help?

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