Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Running from Technology

Fear of technology is very real and present in academia. You can almost smell it. It’s the fear of having to keep up with the latest technology and the concern that as soon as faculty learn any new technology it will become outdated or fall into disuse. The huge challenge of trying to keep abreast of and skilled in these technologies can be intimidating. The reason many faculty don’t want to embrace new technologies is three-fold. First finding the time to learn these technologies can be difficult. Adding learning new technologies to an already full load of teaching, researching, publishing, committee meetings is a daunting task. Secondly, technology is changing at breakneck speed and what may be viable today may be a dinosaur tomorrow. This can foster a mindset of “sticking” with know entities. You’re probably acquainted with faculty members who refuse to give up their overhead projector, because whether they admit it or not moving to presentation software is out of their comfort zone. Third, for those who may be late comers to technology or feel technically challenged, why would anyone want to take the risk of looking “dumb” in front of peers or at worst their students? Aren’t they supposed to be “experts”?

The big question is; should faculty be responsible for the creation of all the educational multimedia they wish to utilize? Must they choose/learn the newest multimedia software, or know how to record, optimize, and upload that material? The truth is faculty do not need to have a PhD in Instructional Multimedia Technologies (IMT), or Instructional Design for Online Learning (IDOL) to integrate engaging, innovative and effective multimedia technologies in their curriculum. More and more universities are establishing centers dedicated to studying and implementing technology for instructors. These centers work with faculty to integrate appropriate technologies and multimedia into their curriculum so that they can focus on teaching, not the nuts and bolts of technology.

Faculty should remain the subject matter experts (SME) and be able to rely on a team to assist them with more advanced technical educational multimedia. While faculty must keep up with technologies that will find everyday use in education and the proper pedagogies associated with the intended venue, they shouldn’t be expected to be instructional multimedia experts. This is best left to SME’s in the field of Instructional design and multimedia. A best-case situation is one in which faculty members and Instructional Multimedia SME’s collaborate to create engaging, innovative and effective learning objects that utilize multimedia.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Online Education, What is best case?

Making an excellent education accessible for everyone is a noble goal. One problem with migrating all content to online is that 1.) Not all learning styles can be met online. 2.) It is critical that the learner be self-motivated in online classes. How can we expect students, especially those from K-12 who are used to being spoon-fed to function well in this environment? 3.) Fear of new and existing technologies can cause "technophobia" and avoidance of their use. Most of my peers care deeply about their discipline, but I find that many don't have the time or confidence to learn new technologies on their own. 4.) Some faculty do better at teaching and others research. I have held the opinion for some time that while a faculty member should always remain informed as to their discipline, some should be allowed to focus on teaching and others on research. 5.) The bottom line for universities has always been money. Money is needed to operate the physical plant, pay employees, and provide services. Student tuition, government funding, and donations are critical to keep the machine running. Even online institutions are moneymakers. They have seen the writing on the wall and understand the profitability of migrating to the online venue. Just take a look at most brick and mortar institutions and you will find a huge push to take courses online. With shrinking enrollment rates and funding cuts offering online classes is very cost-effective.

Concerning a distributed learning system. Who will be setting the standards? Employers right or wrong look to some sort of certification/accreditation of potential employees in order to help them choose the best. Their are better ways of determining whether a one person is better than another for a position, but I'll leave that for another post.

For me the big issue with online classes/education is that of creating an environment which is pedagogically/andragogically sound, uses new media and technologies appropriately, has an intuitive user interface, is engaging, and meets students varied learning needs. Current Learning Management Systems (LMS) are evolving and while I find none to be a best-case tool for synchronous/asynchronous learning, I do see newer technologies such as wiki's, blogs, chat, etc. being adopted. The futurist in me hopes that someone will finally get it right by offering either an all inclusive platform, or tool that allows multiple components from other sources to be merged into one customizable interface.