Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Verticial Alignment

I've been talking with some of the people in CITES EdTech, the division that supports the course management system, that one of things we need to do a better job of is bringing the services we offer faculty primarily but students too more in accord with how management (me and my boss, but really mostly me) conceives of those services. There is always a gap between the ideal and what is possible and it is a fair criticism to say that management, which is shielded from the bulk of the day to day support, focuses more on the ideal while the staff who are doing the real consulting and support work are much more focused on getting the instructors to cope with the software. And I've had colleagues from peer institutions tell me they too are consumed with support of the Course Management System and it is overwhelming their operation. So this is none too easy.

Also, how you get things done in a large class with say 250 students and limited TA support is quite different form how you get things done with say 20 students. Further, so called "early adopter" faculty probably don't need instructional design help from EdTech, but they are the most likely faculty to talk about their won experiments with using technology in instruction. It is clearly harder to get "majority" faculty to talk about innovation in instructional mode while utilizing the technology, let alone to get them to actually do something in this vein.

That said, and talking in generalities to be sure, the big realignment issue is to spend less time directly as support providers of the software and more time encouraging use of the software to promote learning. That sounds like a platitude when I don't mean it to be so here is a bulleted list of developmental stages that I think we can and should promote.

1. Using the CMS to publish instructor-created course documents. (Crass characterization of where we are now.)

2. Using the CMS for student work to be turned in, evaluated, and returned to the students, possibly for further evaluation and re-submittal. (Next step.)

3. Reconsideration of what the student work in the course should be to most effectively promote learning. (This may never happen in some courses - having different problems to solve in a problem set format is sticking with the old (problem set) methodology. In those coures where it does happen, the nature of the student work changes. For example, introducing online case studies into a course that previously was problem set oriented is a change in methodology. Having students write longer papers in groups is a different methodology from having students write one pagers on their own each week.)

4. Tying the online and face to face aspects of the course. (My expectation is that if stage 3 is reached this stage will also be reached, but perhaps not quite at the same time.) The course has to work on a holistic basis. It has to make sense as a totality. Once an instructor starts to tinker with the form of the assignments, other tinkering will follow with the goal of making the parts work in unison. An interesting question here is where do students first get introduced to content, online or in class? The instructor might flip flop on that to see what seems to work best for the course.

5. Bringing the students in as co-teachers and co-content-creators. (To a certain extent this step needs to be early in the process because otherwise the instructor will kill himself or herself trying to make the innovations work. But really, without a vision of what makes sense in the class trying to bring students in makes for a supervisory problem and expectations that can't be fulfilled. So I've got this later in the developmental list.)

6. Instructors and students collaboratively driving the next generation of online tools. (Right now the tool development, I believe, is being driven by those who support instruction and their conception of where things need to be. We are not yet seeing the users themselves voice their needs strongly but if there were many at the stage 5 level, their collective needs should drive where the software goes.)

Returning to some thoughts from a previous post on innovation at the median, we really should spend more time on moving those at stage 1 to stage 2. It would signify major progress for the campus if the bulk of instructors were at stage 2.

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