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Currently, I am taking two online courses, so vastly different that the need to explain these differences in the context of learning has consumed me for several weeks.
Since moving overseas in 2000, I have taken countless online courses, for my low-residency MFA program, for my COETAIL technology certificate and for re-certification hours.
I’ve taken courses on Blackboard, on Moodle and via blog postings and Google Drive.
I’ve taken courses from the University of New Orleans, from Northern Arizona University and from SUNY Buffalo.
I’ve had excellent professors. And I’ve had professors who might have been excellent had they grasped the technology which with they were working.
Student Learning is the Goal!
Firstly, whether we are teaching in a classroom or online, the primary goal should be that of learning. Whatever research you adhere to, there is nothing out there that denies that student learning is at the heart of instruction.
Yet, far too often, whether online or in a classroom, we, the instructors, become so consumed with the content that we paralyze learning.
Far too often, we equate rigor with quantity and burden students with endless tasks and readings that compartmentalize learning and disengage the learner.
Far too often, we fail to put the learner at the center of the learning experience.
At present, I am entombed in this battle and it is causing me to feel a great deal of resentment and anger. At this point in my journey as a learner, I shouldn’t be jumping through hoops.
I should be learning.
I wonder how often our students feel the same?
The cause of my anguish (yes, I realize the strong word choice), I believe, is the contrast I am seeing in my two vastly different courses.
Learning as Reflection!
In the last year, I have taken five excellent COETAIL courses in which reflection has been the key product of all learning. There has been an enormous amount of content to read, decipher and grasp. There have been projects that challenge me and cause me to grapple. I am currently working on a ten-minute digital story that will encompass all I have learned. This is not an easy course, and yet, I have never been more engaged or motivated. In fact, I believe I have found new directions and innovations with which to lead.
Through all of this, I have never felt overwhelmed. I have never felt frustrated. In fact, I have a constant stream of thoughts and ideas running through my head. The content has so engaged me because at the heart of the content, the instructors asked me to participate, to write about what I learned and to reflect upon my thinking and my practice.
Task as Learning?
To contrast this phenomenal experience, I am also taking a lit course as I finish up my MFA in poetry. This is my second masters. It is a degree I began because I love to write. I don’t need it for any certifications. I like to call it my indulgent degree, and for the most part, it’s been a fantastic experience.
However, I am noticing that with some, less innovative professors, I may as well be an undergrad, sitting in a classroom, twenty years ago. This is how little some of these classes have changed.
If, as Prensky and Puentedura state, technology is meant to redefine our practices so that we can do “new things in new ways,” my current professor has failed miserably.
This offends me as a learner. It offends me as an educator.
Let me explain my distress:
- Each week, we have weekly readings to which we need to respond with a very detailed and prescriptive prompt
- The prompts fall on the lower to mid levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy – it’s busy work
- The readings and prompts are incredibly time-consuming and largely disjointed
- We have word lengths that we must adhere to for each assignment AND for each response
- Yes, that’s what I said; sometimes, we should respond in 25 words, sometimes in 50
- There are late penalites and strict time deadlines listed
- There is so much content to process, with no personal connection, that I don’t have time to learn
In looking at the above, many might think I am the crazed one. Teachers should have late deadlines, correct? They should assign readings, correct? They should assign the questions?
Well, sure, if you want to go with how it’s traditionally been done. But there is so much more my professor could be doing that would get me really learning:
- She could have us use the readings to conduct an in-depth author study and then have us write and revise our work based on these models
- She could have us apply any of the readings to poems we have written in order to demonstrate understanding and reflect on our own work
- She could have us choose one of our three main points of study, and conduct further research in a number of different ways
My point is that with the same information and content, she could put me at the center of learning, ask me to do the research, to pose the questions, and ultimately bring it back to my craft as a poet.
Instead, I am plodding along, doing everything I have been asked, utterly confused at points, and totally unable to see the connection from week to week, sometimes even within the week.
I am engaged in a series of learning experiences, any one of which could be excellent if we went a bit deeper, but in their current “coverage” fashion…
I am not learning.
I am doing.
Moving Beyond this Realm
- We know that broad coverage of content is not effective.
- We know that quality over quantity is better.
- We know that we must engage students so that they can learn.
- We know that learning requires reflection.
If we know the above, then we have a responsibility to practice it. We have a responsibility to look at our content and make decisions. We have a responsibility to design learning experiences that motivate students. No one should feel as I currently do – frustrated because I don’t have time to really learn because I am so busy performing teacher directed tasks.
As educators at every level, let us please put our students at the center of the learning experience!