At some point in last week’s meeting of the A&S Faculty Board, Jordon Morelli declared: for heaven’s sake let’s put this issue to rest and move on with the many issues of substance that confront us (or words to that effect). Whether or not I agree with his views on the issue he was referring to, his general principle is on target. There are many issues that we as teachers and researchers, and indeed as a Board, need to get moving on, so let’s not waste time.
One of the issues we need to put behind us is “the business case for on-line learning.” The focus should rather be on the “academic case,” and then, once we are properly informed on that score, we can, if it seems important, look closely at the financial picture. [Though it still strikes me as strange––where do we discuss “the business case for lecturing”––we don’t. Though we most certain talk about the academic case.]
On-line learning at Queen’s has two faces, distance learning and blended learning. I won’t discuss the former, though Rob Beamish has made some good recent comments in the Journal. But for many disciplines the academic case for blended learning is now as strong as any teaching and learning approach that Queen’s might support. There are many factors contributing to this. One of these is that our students are generally very good (and often resourceful and creative) at getting information and ideas from on-line media.
But I want to concentrate here on a hugely important factor which relates directly to our Academic Plan. Most of my students need to focus a great deal of their academic energy on “fundamental learning skills,” particularly (for my courses) critical thinking and writing. To make progress here, they need more one-on-one time with me or with their TA’s. Thus I need to find a way to spend the three scheduled hours I have with them each week much more effectively and mounting many of the technical components of the course (examples, ideas and discussions) on the web will allow me to do that. Indeed, I have been frustrated over the past couple of years that I have not had the time to record the needed sequence of videos. [By the way, I am not talking here about “lecture capture.” These videos are not lectures but 3-4 minute snapshots of critical examples and ideas that the student can easily refer to for information, clarification or inspiration.]
I understand that some disciplines (perhaps even some pedagogical approaches) are sufficiently different from mine that on-line supplements may have little to offer. Fair enough. But I do know that the views I express here are widely shared by colleagues in the natural and social sciences.
One more thing––I mentioned TA’s. The tutors I use for these class interactions are graduate and undergraduate students, sometimes students from the very same class. This is a significant teaching and learning experience for these students. This summer I will also be involving them in the production of the videos.
April 17, 2012