Reflections at the beginning of an online teaching experience

“Professors, over all, cast a skeptical eye on the learning outcomes for online education. Nearly two-thirds say they believe that the learning outcomes for an online course are inferior or somewhat inferior to those for a comparable face-to- face course.”

So report the researchers behind “Conflicted: Faculty and Online Education, 2012.”  The study, a joint project of  The Babson Survey Research Group and Inside Higher Education, “focuses on attitudes and practices related to all aspects of online education – including views on the quality of learning outcomes, issues of institutional support, and institutional rewards.” The thesis statement: Online learning doesn’t get much respect, at least from faculty members.

Yet here I am, two days into an eight-week online course titled “Organizational Culture and Governance,” one of five core courses in Messiah College’s newly minted masters program in higher education.

It’s a bit off-putting to know that to which I’ve committed myself is considered suspect by so many folks for whom college teaching is their day job. (As regular readers of Generous Matters know, my business card reads “Consultant in Fundraising and Board Education.”)

But I press on. Here are my reasons for

 GOING WHERE I’VE NOT GONE BEFORE.

1. I’m a self-confessed governance junkie. Any time anyone offers me a platform from which to preach my message about the importance of good governance, I take it. Even if the platform is virtual. Even if, as the “Conflicted” study reports, “only 38 percent of faculty members either agree or strongly agree that online education can be as effective as in-person instruction in helping students learn.” To colleagues looking down their noses at the venue, watch out. I plan to prove all you doubting Thomases wrong.

2. As the Boomer generation begins exiting our nation’s ivory towers, it’s essential we help recruit, equip, and inspire our replacements. I’m especially passionate about pointing young believers in the direction of Christian higher education — the world where I’ve lived much of my life.Teaching this course gives me an opportunity to do just that.

The 18 twenty-somethings enrolled in my course are virtual blank slates when it comes to institutional governance. They’re administrative novices, untainted by the turf wars, the bickering, and the silo mentality of their campus elders. It’s mine to write the first messages on their minds and hearts. It’s mine to help them see the ministry, as well as career possibilities, of the pathway they are exploring. What an awesome opportunity.

3. I’m eager for what I’m going to learn over the coming weeks, beginning with whether it’s possible to teach this old dog the new tricks of teaching in a virtual environment. Developing my course has been a stretching experience, but nothing, I suspect, to what’s to come. Between now and October 13, I’ll be digging deeper into the culture and governance of American higher education than I’ve gone before, racing to keep ahead of (or at least in step with) my students. Forget the naysayers. If I’m learning, I’m confident students will be also.

WHICH MEANS I’LL BE HERE LESS

Teaching an online course for the first time is a huge amount of work, or so I’ve been told.  So I’m bracing and pacing myself, cutting back where I can, including with my blogging. Beginning this week, and continuing until the end of the course, I’ll be posting twice a week and not my usual three times. At least that’s my plan. We’ll see how the work flows.

Talk back: What’s your experience with online learning and/or teaching? Encouraging words are appreciated as I test these new waters. 

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