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Building from Content to Community: [Re]Thinking the Transition to Online Teaching and Learning

Building from Content to Community: [Re]Thinking the Transition to Online Teaching and Learning

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Published by bwatwood
While content is important, we believe that teaching practices need to be modified when teaching online. This white paper offers a research-based framework for guiding faculty in the translation and application of key instructional practices to the online environment.
While content is important, we believe that teaching practices need to be modified when teaching online. This white paper offers a research-based framework for guiding faculty in the translation and application of key instructional practices to the online environment.

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Published by: bwatwood on May 19, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The delivery of courses online is nearly as old as the webitself, but as with any innovation some faculty membershave been early adopters while others have watchedthe development with both interest and skepticism. Aspublishing and managing content on the web hasbecome easier, and as the delivery of online courses hasbecome increasingly more popular, more facultymembers have begun exploring ways to offer theircourses online. In our work with faculty membersinterested in teaching online, we have experienced thecommon perspective that moving a course online isprimarily about designing and sequencing coursecontent. While quality course content is a significantfactor, we also believe that recent changes on the web -toward a more social and interconnected space - havenecessitated the rethinking of what it means to makethe transition to online teaching and learning. Theunprecedented changes occurring on the web aredisrupting the normal practice of teaching and learningand raising questions in the minds of faculty as towhether their own practices should change. In thiswhite paper, we will examine the implications of thesocial web for learning online and explore a model forinstructional practice that has been vetted by researchand has proved successful in our own work.
The Web and the ChangingLandscape of Learning
We live in an era where the vast storehouse of humanknowledge is readily available and easily accessible -quite literally at our fingertips. Using devices fromlaptops to mobile phones, we can connect to theInternet from anywhere and in moments search for andfind information that not only helps us answerquestions, solve problems and complete tasks, but alsoentertains, inspires and confounds us. At the same time,the web has become a place where anyone with acomputer and a connection to the Internet can readilypublish text, images, audio and video. The web hasbecome a space where human knowledge is stored,reshaped, accessed and redistributed. Information isabundant and knowledge has been set free.This state of affairs is unprecedented in human history.We are all engaged in gaining a better understanding ofthe implications this has for traditional conceptions ofeducation. Additionally, for the purposes of this whitepaper, we are specifically interested in considering howthese changes bring into sharper relief the need to[re]conceptualize what online teaching might mean.Our view is that teaching online is in many waysfundamentally different from teaching face-to-face.Let us illustrate how the web is changing how andwhere learning takes place through some examples thathave evolved in recent years.In India, a joint venture of the Indian Institutes ofTechnology and Indian Institute of Science -representing eight schools in total - have launched theNational Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL). Part of this program has focused on providingopen access to full video recordings of course-based
lectures. These recordings are hosted on NPTEL’s
YouTube channel and are openly viewable by anyone.NPTEL has posted content in the form of topical playlists that represent complete lecture materials forindividual courses. There are currently ninety-five (95)
“New technologies are always used to do old tasks —
 until some driving force causes them to be used in new ways."
- Marshall McLuhan
[Re]Thinking the Transition Online
Page |
courses listed. Many of the videos focus primarily onscience and engineering topics, with a total of over 3560videos uploaded. One purpose of this content is toprovide open access to science and engineering course
materials to India’s vast population, many of whom
have limited access to advanced educationalopportunities. It is common for individual lecturevideos, many of which have been up for less than oneyear, to have 30,000+ page views. No degrees orcertificates are awarded by NEPTEL for engaging withthe course materials, yet with over 506,000 visitorsaccessing the NPTEL channel in the 15 months it hasbeen available, it illustrates that many are interested inusing these learning materials.The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) hasbeen engaged in their OpenCourseWare (OCW) project for over seven years. The OCW is a web-basedpublication that contains course content for nearlyevery undergraduate and graduate subject taught atMIT. Syllabi, lecture notes, readings, exams and videosare available for free, and no registration is required toaccess content. However, OCW is not a credit-bearing ordegree-granting initiative, nor does it provide access toMIT faculty. Many of the courses have been translatedinto Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai and Persian. MITOpenCourseWare averages 1 million visits each month;translations receive 500,000 more. With over 73 millionvisits to date by 52 million unique visitors from virtuallyevery country, it is rather obvious that OCW is serving aneed among a diverse population of educators andlearners from all over the world.Academic Earth is an organization that acts as aclearinghouse for thousands of video lectures from the
world’s top scholars, all openly accessible and free. Anexcerpt from the organization’s web site reads:
“As more and more high quality educational
content becomes available online for free, we askourselves, what are the real barriers to achieving aworld class education? At Academic Earth, we areworking to identify these barriers and findinnovative ways to use technology to increase theease of learning. We are building a user-friendlyeducational ecosystem that will give internet usersaround the world the ability to easily find, interactwith, and learn from full video courses and lectures
from the world’s leading scholars.”
Currently, Academic Earth houses over 1500 videos fromMIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale allof which have been published under a CreativeCommons license at the host institution. Again, while
these materials are loosely arranged into “courses” they
are non-credit bearing, but nevertheless they are part ofa growing trend of openly available courseware on theweb.TheOpenCourseWare Consortiumis a collaborativeeffort involving over 200 institutions of highereducation from around the world that are working tocreate a broad collection of open educational content.
The stated mission of OCWC is to “advance education
and empower people worldwide through open
courseware.” A mirror organization at the community
college level is theCommunity College Consortium ofOpen Education Resources.At both of these consortia,courses and materials are available for free and can beadapted for reuse under an open license. Through thisshared and open model, the consortia endeavor tobroaden the open courseware concept and encouragethe ongoing development of high quality course designand educational content through the use of itsmaterials.This placement of content online has been occurring atan ever-expanding rate for nearly a decade. Asunderscored by the above examples, content alonedoes not make a course, nor an education. Anyone can
access the courses in MIT’s OCW program, but obviously
a degree from MIT not only reflects the access tocontent, but crucially includes, the access andinteractions that occur when skilled faculty in the fieldfacilitate that education.In other words, access to information does not lead toknowledge. Everyone has access to high qualitylearning content. Teaching online therefore meansmore than serving up content. Faculty are critical, inthat they are the drivers of quality course design,content mastery, and the skilled facilitation of learning.These changes are serving to disrupt teaching as wepreviously knew it, and are occurring at the very timethat many academic programs are beginning to explorethe addition of online courses to their traditionalofferings. As universities and their faculty memberscontinue to make sense of these changes, the aboveexamples begin to paint a picture of the ways in which

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