The U of L has seen a steady increase of online course offerings in the last ten years that culminated in the enrolment of more than 2100 students in 79 courses and lab sections across many disciplines in the academic year of 2018-29. This development is in line with a global increase in online or blended course offerings and with that came a rising interest in o capturing in scholarship, research and practice the pedagogical and methodical implications of the digital age we are living and working in (Anderson, 2008 Bates, 2015; Breen, 2018; Maurer, 2017; Süss et. al, 2010; Swertz 2005).
In the last three years (2017-2019) before the Covid pandemic, lively conversations also ensued on our campus about the future of digital teaching among different members of the campus community who understood that the evident changes in the higher education landscape and work environments required new and/ or modified approaches to teaching. In the absence of a framework that could guide quality enhancement of teaching through technology, the Teaching Centre hosted several events for a working group consisting of faculty, instructors, IT staff, librarians to discuss ideas for change, delineate development needs pertaining to digital compentency, and share expertise arising out of their digital teaching work.
As per decion of the Faculty of Arts and Science, a selected number of online summer courses were being piloted to see whether they could engage some those students who would otherwise enrol in online courses elsewhere to proceed with their studies during a time with less course offering on their local campus. Most of the instructors tasked with the design of these courses to be delivered online have had no previous or little experience with teaching in that modality but were nonetheless enthusiastic to give this modality a try.
With only two staff members in the Teaching Centre experienced enough to assist our campus educators in their online course design and facilitation, the need for more sustained support personal became apparent and was communicated to the adminstration to result in the additional term hiring of an online teaching coordinator. The teaching development facilitators worked closely with the people in those departments that were continuing to offer online programming or were planning to move into that direction. An example of the latter is the
Blended Learning in Dhillon School Graduate Program starting from the Fall.
The forced pivot to an emergency online delivery as an implementation of a Covid-19 prevention measure came as a surprise to most of the faculty and instructors who are usually teaching in face-to-face on-campus settings.
How to create valuable online teaching and learning experiences?
If we look across the Globe, digital teaching has become part of a very lively discussion that tries to capture in scholarship, research and practice the pedagogical and methodical implications of the digital age we are living in (Anderson, 2008 Bates, 2015; Breen, 2018; Maurer, 2017; Süss et. al, 2010; Swertz 2005). Digital enthusiasts like Tony Bates have been advocating for more proactive approaches in the Higher Education landscape to create adequate support networks for instructors and learners alike. Bates (2018) identifies five key factors that drive online learning, namely student demand, the pedagogical approaches, technology, external politics and institutional planning; the latter of which can have an inhibiting effect on the growth of online learning if managed without direction and agency. As a wider-campus community we need answers to the following questions:
What is the vision and direction for teaching and learning?
What are the institutional priorities? In particular, where does online learning and digital technology ‘fit’ within the broader teaching goals of the university? For instance, can blended or hybrid learning be used as a means of developing some of the core skills required by students?
The Academic Plan provides us with no clear answers yet. It merely states an intent to “develop an institutional flexible learning strategy and the necessary support to facilitate teaching and learning initiatives such as online learning, SCALE-UP and flipped classroom pedagogies” (Academic Plan 2018-22 2.4 Program Delivery Priorities).
Bates is not alone in his argument for an institution-wide discussion of the goals and the definition of a strategic vision relating to online learning. He cites Kim (2018) outlining four models demonstrating the scope in which policies for online learning differ. In Bates and Kim’s view, the discussion about the best model should then be followed by a decision. While faculty and students need to be involved on the program level, “the Board and the institutional executive team need to support a move to greater use of online learning, and they all need to be on the same page about this.” (Bates, 2013).
If you or your department are considering to offer (more) online course as part of your programs, please help the campus articulate a future direction and to secure adequate support for that direction to be taken.