Many distance education professionals in the California Community Colleges have spent literally decades working to improve DE, provide access to education, close the equity gap, increase student success, and degree completions. In a few short months, all that progress has been undermined by one single event—the COVID pandemic. Factors include predatory practices by ed tech companies, the massive influx of instructors into online teaching (with little or no experience), bias towards online as a deficit, not a positive principle, and the economic disaster for students and their support structures, mainly family and friends.
Good online learning is so much more than facilitation. "The role of the instructor as subject matter expert and pedagogical architect"1 has been compromised by reliance on web-conferencing (originally designed for corporate business), surveillance technology, and largely text-based digital environments instead of multiple modes of representing knowledge.
In Michelle Pacansky-Brock's Love Letter to Online Learning, she states "The nature of online classes varies dramatically, much like face-to-face classes. But, in both scenarios, the teacher matters and the teaching matters. When an online class is taught by an engaged and empathetic instructor who seeks to be aware of the needs of her students, the asynchronous nature of online learning may become a benefit to students, not a disadvantage. This is contingent upon the design of the course."
We already know that instructors who completed the DE Academy experience transformations in their face-to-face classes as a result of what they learned from teaching online. I guess my question at this point is to ask new online instructors, are you going to swim, or will you hang out in the shallows until classes resume on-campus again?
It's a harsh reality that community college enrollment is taking a big hit. And it mostly affects low income students and students of color. Some students are shopping for classes that don't require a webcam, or don't use online proctoring surveillance. Courses that have redesigned engagement are gaining wider acceptance. For example, redefining authorship, such as welcoming illustrated papers, student video projects, group presentations, or audio soundtrack assessments, instead of short quizzes. Even Harvard acknowledged, students liked the optional breakout Zoom rooms for smaller discussions, “Because the minute the Zoom meeting ends, the entire campus evaporates for everyone." If you learn to swim now, imagine yourself teaching a hybrid class in the future that provides highly engaging activities, flexible learning, and increased student success.
Let's keep swimming!
1 The Manifesto for Online Teaching, 2020, MIT Press
2 Community College Enrollment is Way Down, 10-16-20, New York Times