Marry in haste and repent at leisure, so the old saying goes. It could also be applied to blog posts – post in haste and repent at leisure.
In a previous post on research in online learning, I wrote:
‘It seems that many ‘traditional’ instructors approaching e-learning haven’t done their homework, in terms of looking at the literature on online distance learning.’
Stephen Downes quite rightly took me to task on this, in his comment:
‘It would be a lot easier if it (Review of Educational Research, the journal article to which I was referring) were online (and to be honest, after a day of chasing references, I am frustrated with demands that we look at the ‘literature’ – stuff written in offline journals by people who have likely never been online)’.
The Review of Educational Research (RER) is the flagship journal of the AERA (the American Educational Research Association). It is the gold standard for academics working in Faculties of Education – an article published in RER carries weight in tenure and promotion. However, the main job of Faculties of Education is to train teachers. Previous research done by the UK’s National Foundation for Educational Research has established that in-service teachers (who are most likely not to be familiar with the literature on online learning) do not normally subscribe to academic journals, and rarely make use of university libraries to access current research on teaching and learning. So if the AERA really wants to influence teaching practice, why do they still require a subscription to their journal? So long as articles go through the same rigorous peer review process, why not make full text articles freely available online? Or is their contract with Sage Publications so lucrative that it trumps the need to make research easily accessible to practising teachers?
Indeed, I would argue that by not making the full text available, the RER is undermining the academic integrity of its publications. In this particular case, people have been freely quoting the results contained in the abstract (which is available online), but in a review of the literature, it is critical to know how the sampling of published articles was done, and this requires access to the full text. For instance, the conclusion that most online learners are Anglo-American suggests to me that the review is biased towards articles based on data from online programs in the United States. My own review of research into e-learning in Europe obviously did not come up with such a result, because the sample base was different (nor, interestingly, would it apply to the online courses I have taught at UBC in Canada, because the programs were designed for international audiences).
This brings me back to my original comment which, in my haste, was not referring so much to the Tallent-Runnels, M. et al. (2006) RER article, but to other publications on what conditions are necessary for effective teaching online. My point is that, although it is useful to have grounded research that confirms basic principles, much was known long before the Tallent-Runnels, M. et al. article about successful online course design, but there is no requirement or even pressure for post-secondary instructors to access this literature, whether published in books and journals, or available freely online.
Thus, in another comment to my original posting, Ray Tolley states:
‘…it seems to me that far too many lecturers in FE and HE have not realised that teaching and learning practices have changed…I recently read a blog arguing that teaching notes on line should match the presentations in the lecture room, i.e. replicating old didactic styles. This is not my understanding of e-learning. E-L as opposed to ‘distance learning’ can occur in activities on screen where students may be sat at the next workstation or just across the room. The interactions, synchronous or asynchronous are documented and tracked in an e-learning environment. Feedback can be almost instantaneous from both peers and mentors in a way that has never happened before….Perhaps what we need to state is that new technologies do not necessarily ensure new approaches to learning. It is time that many of our ‘old-school’ professors went back to school themselves! Perhaps we have put the cart before the horse. Institutions need to understand modern T&L practices and then adopt the technologies that will best serve their needs.’
I agree completely. But let’s go back to what drives academics, and that is research rather than teaching. The fact that academics in Faculties of Education are rewarded for publishing in a journal that is not easily accessible to practising teachers says it all. Currently, the Ph.D. is a training in research, not teaching (there is another discussion to be had about how effective that training is even for research, but I won’t go there for now). Virtually every occupation that requires people to use technology in their work requires training in the use of that technology – except for post-secondary teaching.
Although there is still much more to be learned about how best to teach or support online learning, there is already a strong foundation which instructors ignore at their students’ peril. I think we need to get past the argument about whether faculty need training before they are allowed to use technology, and start discussing what they need to learn, and how to ensure that all instructors have at least a minimal level of training, and how that training should be delivered.
However, I am not naive. I don’t think we are ever going to see a requirement for faculty to have training in curriculum and course design, technology or pedagogy, at least in the public post-secondary systems, until the culture of research dominating teaching effectiveness is changed. As a result, we are still going to see donkeys pulling rockets in our universities and colleges for a very long time.