I've been at my job with (Pearson) eCollege for 10 years this October. I've seen trends come and go. I've watched bells and whistles become staples while staples disappear from existence. Some things change while others stay the same. But during my tenure with the company, in addition to the 17 years of teaching in higher education for which I've never stopped, I am also tired.
I'm tired of defending the same points to people who don't really care about the answers. I'm tired of trying to show people what it's like to move a mile, just to get them to move an inch. I'm tired of the assumptions based solely on "gut" feel or (worse yet) on tradition. You know the fallacy - "We've always done it this way, so we should continue..." I actually heard the head of one of the largest eLearning institutions in the world start a keynote address with this: "We all know that face to face is the best option. But when that isn't possible, here are the best ways to use eLearning."
Huh? Forget the studies that show how online is BETTER in some instances than on-ground. Forget the research which shows how online, with greater transparency and accountability is a better method for getting students through outcomes-based assessment. Forget that data, which can transform education into a personalized learning environment allowing exponentially more students to pass, succeed, and thrive, only comes when we digitize content, delivery, and assessment. And by all means forget that online education is changing the paradigm of learning from those who cannot (be accepted, matriculate, complete, etc), to those who can (pass, graduate, accel). Forget all of that. Let's just keep doing what we're doing that is and has been failing for decades...
...or not! Instead, why not focus on what we can accomplish if education embraces technology like almost every other facet of our world. What would happen if we really opened ourselves up to delivering incredible content, authentic assessments, and practical tasks to help students work, live, and thrive. Imagine.
Imagine a student sitting on a bus. Maybe a flying bus. (Ok, maybe not - did you know we have pictures of "future" vehicles flying dating back to the 1700's?) But this student is looking at her tablet device. She's a pre-med student going through A&P. So, she clicks on her device, powered by the sun of course, and goes into a lesson on the heart. Immediately a 3-Dimensional heart starts slowly turning above her device. This heart can be turned by her, examined by her, and even sliced open to reveal its contents. Of course, with her ear bud in, she can hear the instructor going through the sections as she views them. Or, she can watch a real heart pumping in a video based on various contexts like during exercise, when in distress, or while sleeping. When her bus arrives, she simply clicks off the tablet and heads to work.
Another group of students is studying statistics. There is a problem that asks them to discern numbers within a given culture. They are in a late night study session in their school's commons area. One of them suggests they step into a room where one wall is made entirely of an HD monitor. A student touches the monitor which switches on. He logs into an account and sends a video conference request to a friend in another country. Immediately the wall is transformed into a window for another classroom 10,000 miles away. Now two student groups on two continents start working the problem together. They share ideas, data, and learning methodologies as they also connect on a personal level. They simply use their fingers to draw facts and figures on the wall - many of which are translated into another language, all of which are dually usable by both groups. The session lasts for 45 minutes when both groups decide to take their new understandings and craft a solution. The wall becomes a wall again.
An instructor begins class. Students login to their devices (mobile, pc, etc) to hear her speaking, but only seeing blackness. Soon though, the blackness becomes gray. Her talking continues as she describes the geothermal tunnels she is walking through. She is trying to research potential problems with the Earth's crust through a research grant, but what better opportunity to illustrate her findings with the next generation of scientist? The entire class experience occurs through the camera attached to her helmet, with the students able to ask direct and poignant questions along the way.
A class of 400 is broken into groups of 15. The instructor begins the simultaneous lecture / webcast, "Welcome to History 215. You have been placed in groups and have been given a packet which includes journal articles, websites, riddles, and puzzles. Your job is to find out who Nymon Lester is and stop him from harming our school. This 55 year old has more power than you can imagine and is using it to destroy something valuable to everyone hearing my voice. You only have 48 hours. GO!" Immediately students scatter as they devise strategies, assign roles and tasks, and establish norms for their immersive group experience. The course will be over in 2 days and only one group will win.
Finally, we find a woman in her early 50's. She has gone back to school after raising a family, but she doesn't remember much. She needs help. So, as she opens her Algebra eBook during the lecture, she watches the instructor start to piece together a problem on the eBoard. Soon, he asks the students to try it on their own. When she tries to do a similar problem, she gets stuck on step 2 and the book pulls in some content from a remedial math course to show her a video, give her a simpler problem, and help her get to a place where she can succeed. By the end of the lesson, she is caught up. Her digital course remembers what she struggled with and will remind her the next time she logs on to cement the learning, but she is not nearly as far behind as she could be.
Do you see it? More importantly, are you preparing for it? Because it's coming. Every technology described here is being worked on somewhere and even a few exist today. Oh, and don't forget the administrator who can call all of it up on her computer, create a report of the institution's teaching and learning efficacy, and email that to three accountability groups for quick perusal.
So my friends, when you get tired of the fight, remember these things. If you hear the fallacious arguments from those in power, just nod and smile. They will retire. Or, when the change is finally too great, they'll simply leave. In the meantime, keep setting up the foundations of education to prepare for this reality. It's coming. And it's going to be more than amazing...it's going to be transformative.
Good luck and good teaching.
Dr. Jeff D Borden
VP of Instruction & Academic Strategy