Emergency Remote Teaching vs. Online Education

Having previewed the topic in an earlier post, I wanted to come back to the topic of what, exactly, we Ontario College faculty are currently undertaking.

In particular, I wanted to highlight one article: “The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning“, by Charles Hodges, Stephanie Moore, Barb Lockee, Torrey Trust, and Aaron Bond.

As indicated by the title, the authors differentiate between “Emergency Remote Teaching” — which is perhaps best described as the conversion or displacement of in-class courses to a virtual environment — and online learning, which describes a learning experience that is designed for the online environment and takes advantage of the properties unique to that environment to provide students with an effective learning experience.

The authors describe the two pedagogical situations as “meaningfully different”, and caution that mistaking the former for the latter will warp one’s understanding of the true potential of online education. (Emphases and hyperlinks below added):

What we know from research is that effective online learning results from careful instructional design and planning, using a systematic model for design and development. The design process and the careful consideration of different design decisions have an impact on the quality of the instruction.

[ . . . ]

[D]ecisions around class size will greatly constrain what strategies you can use. Practice and feedback, for example, are well established in the literature, but it’s harder to implement this as class size grows, eventually reaching a point where it’s just not possible for an instructor to provide quality feedback.

[ . . . ]

Thus, careful planning for online learning includes not just identifying the content to cover but also carefully tending to how you’re going to support different types of interactions that are important to the learning process. This approach recognizes learning as both a social and a cognitive process, not merely a matter of information transmission.

[ . . . ]

Typical planning, preparation, and development time for a fully online university course is six to nine months before the course is delivered. Faculty are usually more comfortable teaching online by the second or third iteration of their online courses. It will be impossible for every faculty member to suddenly become an expert in online teaching and learning in this current situation, in which lead times range from a single day to a few weeks. While there are resources to which faculty can turn for assistance, the scale of change currently being required on many campuses will stress the systems that provide those resources and most likely will surpass their capacities. Let’s face it: many of the online learning experiences that instructors will be able to offer their students will not be fully featured or necessarily well planned, and there’s a high probability for suboptimal implementation.

[ . . . ]

A full-course development project can take months when done properly. The need to “just get it online” is in direct contradiction to the time and effort normally dedicated to developing a quality course. Online courses created in this way should not be mistaken for long-term solutions but accepted as a temporary solution to an immediate problem.

The authors’ primary conclusion is a cautionary note — not against Emergency Remote Teaching, which they regard as necessary in current circumstances — but against schools’ or governments’ impulse to treat the results of the next months as somehow indicative of the quality of or potential for online teaching.

I was struck by a colleague’s comment this week: Last year, and every year prior to that, students’ primary overall criterion for choosing one Ontario College over another was geographic proximity.  The longer our current switch to online education endures, the more irrelevant that criterion will become; it will be replaced by the schools’ respective reputations for the quality of their students’ online learning experiences.

Which inspires me to recycle a tweet:

Coincidentally, my Twitter feed just yielded this headline from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

I do wonder what would be the reaction of those students, if they were to pay the full amount for learning experiences that — “Let’s face it” (as the authors concluded) — turned out in some cases “not be fully featured or necessarily well planned, [with] a high probability for suboptimal implementation”.

So, let me end on a (hopefully) optimistic note: If your manager or any person in a management position asked you or your colleagues (as a group) or your Union representatives what you needed in order to provide students with an excellent online learning experience, please feel free to acknowledge that example of good management at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.  Anonymity will be strictly ensured.

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