Thoughts on the “New to Online Learning” Sloan Workshop

I just completed the New to Online workshop through the Sloan Consortium as part of my wider goal of completing the program’s online teaching certification. Being that I have not actually taught a course myself online, I figured that this workshop might be a good opportunity to see which path the Sloan-C certification course might follow. While I am glad that I completed the workshop, I have mixed feelings regarding its usefulness. The access to research materials provided through Sloan-C is very valuable, but a lot of what this particular workshop covered was geared toward faculty; a lot of the ideas were discussed as part of the Tech Fellows intensive, which was a lot more efficient and interesting.

90% of the participants had never taught online and I was one of a few people who were not faculty. Neither of these aspects of the course were an issue, but they might be why the time it took me to go through the reading materials were longer than the estimated 6 hours of commitment for the total workshop. It has been a long time since I’ve had to slog through research articles, and I am not generally a person who can skim over something and retain information, at least not long-term. The 6 hour estimate assumes a lot of skimming over content. If you are a slower (I prefer to say deliberate) reader, the overall course might take a few hours longer and it all takes place over a span of 6 days.

Grading is entirely based on the content of your forum posts. These posts consist of:

  • Your introduction explaining your background and reason for taking the workshop.
  • Two replies to other participant’s introductions.
  • A discussion post based off of readings describing some of the challenges faced with online learning versus face-to-face as it relates to the changing roles of the faculty member. This post is supposed to summarized what you learned from the reading and how you will use that information to change the way you teach now as you transition into an online course.
  • Two replies to other participant’s discussion posts.
  • Two glossary posts, with each one examining an article that mentions a term used in online education. You must define the term and then summarize what the article is about, while also providing a link to the article.

I did not care for the first required reading as I felt that it focused too much on the face-value of the changing role of faculty as they transition toward online learning. The article provided a great overview of the hierarchy of instructor and student needs, as well as the history of how those needs and associated expectations have changed, but did so in a way that treated technology as this super special thing that made teaching so much more difficult and complex. I argued that technology was not making teaching more complex. Rather, it is the fact that technology enables everything to be so connected and immediate that all of the background players responsible for creating course materials–textbook authors, multimedia artists, graphic designers–are now in the foreground. This obvious connection to your resources gives rise to the demand to not just fix something tomorrow or next week, but immediately, and it is that complex immediacy that gives rise to a lot of faculty trepidation toward online learning. I say all of this, of course, as a non-faculty, technology-oriented individual, so I could be missing the ball completely on what the article was trying to say.

The glossary assignment was a bit more interesting, but we were given so many links that it took at least an hour to figure out which direction I even wanted to go. To keep as close as possible to the presumed 6 hour workshop commitment, I opted to utilize Sloan-C’s compiled list of project summaries that deal with the various pillars of online learning, such as student satisfaction, faculty satisfaction, pedagogy, etc. Many of these summaries were light on details and/or difficult to read due to an unfamiliarity with terms, so it was helpful capturing the essence of what the studies were about and posting them into a centralized area. In many respects, the summaries that people posted were more useful (and faster) than going through the articles themselves, which is to be expected.

My first glossary assignment dealt with student-directed learning. The project in question had students take turns as the lead presenter in an online forum. Each week, a student would have to read a chapter or a case study ahead of time and create a list of questions for their peers to address. Faculty were on hand to guide the conversation if any information was confusing, moderate the assignment of lead student for each week, or if inappropriate terms and definitions were used. Aside from that, students were driving the car. This is an activity that I can see myself utilizing in a course in the future.

The second glossary post was a lot more safe, having dealt with a virtual world nursing project from the University of Michigan School of Nursing. Since that is what I do day-to-day, writing about it was a piece of cake. However, I added my own insight after the article summary. Unlike U of MI, which wanted to create an environment as clinical as possible, my own work seeks to do the opposite. I found out early on that students haaaaaate being in a lab all day as part of their regular schedule, only to then find themselves in a recreation of that same place when they are at home or traveling about. Students were a lot more engaged when we stripped the clinical environment and replaced it with more creative ones, such as an underwater lava cave, or a tropical island. Key clinical components were still in place, but we found that students really were smart enough to learn how to use them in Second Life regardless of what environment they took place in. The quest for realism can be a trap that a lot of people default toward when they are new to simulations and games.

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