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Preaching to the converted – how do you get the word out to those who really need to hear?

February 3, 2010 Leave a comment

I was reading a recent blog post by Kyle Pace which was discussing the issue of choosing to adapt your teaching practice now to be more inclusive of technology, or to wait for the world to change around you.

Personally I feel that teaching practice will change to be more technology inclusive, no question. As those growing up in our society today immersed in online networks, social media etc grow up and some of them become teachers, it will be as natural as using a whiteboard is most of us today – it is a question of natural evolution. I guess the question is whether teachers today choose to move forward to be a part of that future or refuse to acknowledge the changing society that surrounds up and adapt their teaching practices to suit.

Convincing people about the value and relevance of online learning and teaching seems to be the eternal question though, at least until the next generation arrives. We are in an interesting transition stage as technology moves so fast, it is no wonder that teachers can have a hard time keeping up with out help. And no wonder that many feel it is too much of an effort to start.

This brings me to the point of this post really…

There is a lot of interesting material out there about adopting online technologies into teaching, Kyle’s blog post is a good example, and I myself am in the middle of developing a project to help teachers new to online learning get started. However I have a feeling much of the time, it is people who are already convinced about embracing technology who watch, and not those who really need to.

As part of my role as coordinator of a fully online program, and as someone who trains academics to write and teach online courses, who has to sit on the academic committees that vote on allowing such courses to go ahead, I can say that for the most part, those who are not interested in online learning are deeply suspicious about its credibility. Often this is justified because what they have seen has been done so poorly in the past. Also there are many teachers who simply will not look at any material or seek to learn more about this topic because they are just too busy.

I think in many ways teachers can feel as if technology is being forced down their throats, and more often these days I think this is a justified feeling. More universities finally seem to be realising that they have missed the boat on including online learning in their curricula, and that there is a REAL demand for it. So all of a sudden there is a big rush to get content up fast, a ‘goldrush’ if you will, which can sometimes be ill considered and not approach the problem from the perspective of understanding how technology can enhance an individual teacher’s practice, and how it is relevant to their industries and students.

This is usually a ‘one-size fits all’ kind of approach, where one platform or technology is offered, and the teachers are told they must use it. In my own institution last year there were statements such as ‘every academic must have part of their course online’ coming from those higher up – but no thought went into why this had to be so, how it would effect the students’ learning or the teacher. It was just about ticking a box. No wonder academics get their backs up when technology supported teaching is mentioned!

I tend to agree with the old adage, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink”. When I first started helping to set up the online courses at my faculty, it was an incredibly hostile environment to such a venture. We found teachers who were interested, then worked hard to produce online courses and teaching practices that were effective. Feedback from students was good, and where it wasn’t we always tried to work as a community to help each other improve. Over the years word spread and more people wanted to try online teaching, bolstered by the success of their colleagues, and now it feels as though we are finally getting somewhere in terms of acceptance.

So in relation to Kyle’s post about do we move forward or wait, I guess I’d have to say don’t force anyone to start using technology in their teaching who doesn’t want to, or the results will most certainly be counter-productive. Let those who are not ready to move forward wait, while those who are forge ahead and build great examples for others to follow.

The material our team will be producing as part of the project I mentioned earlier will follow this philosophy, offering assistance to those who want it, and hopefully it will help teachers create sustainable, successful online teaching and learning initiatives that will inspire their colleagues to give it a go before the world catches up with them…

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