Dear Higher Ed Admins,
At a time when most of us here in the United States are facing continuing cuts to education, it’s important to take into account the thoughts and advice of those around you. This is one such piece of advice is from an eLearning Director at a small technical college in the Pacific Northwest.
I know money is tight. I know how much time is spent chasing after grants to avoid the black and keep above water, to ensure students still have access to the best services and the best education possible. As schools move towards offering more and more programs online, this is the advice I have:
Invest in your eLearning Team and Student Technology Support Staff. Invest in Instructional Designers, Multimedia Designers and Trainers, and most importantly, invest in your faculty, permanent as well as adjunct.
The buildings you once built enabled you to build capacity, to add space, to add seats, to increase enrollment, student count, and those three magical letters known as FTE that tell us how much our state will fund us and how we can continue for another year. It used to be that in order to build this type of capacity millions and millions of dollars needed to be spent to create new buildings, acquire new land and make these little square boxes where people would gather for an hour at a time to engage in the wondrous event that is teaching and learning.
With online learning though, building capacity and adding spaces costs you a few dollars where it once cost those millions, right? A new online classroom can be built in mere seconds and costs next to nothing on top of what you’re already paying! Offer a course, throw some PowerPoints and some exams, and Wowee! you’ve just offered a great online course!
No you haven’t.
Just because it’s cheaper to offer classes in these virtual rooms, this doesn’t mean you can cut corners. The cost is still the same. You just spend it differently. Not on bricks to start, not on something immediately tangible, but on something stronger than a thing that could come down in an earthquake.
When you build a physical classroom, the teacher walks in and knows how to use it, knows how to write on the board, knows how to interact with their students, knows how to open a book and knows their subject area to a tea. In the online environment, your instructors still know their subject areas, but many don’t know how to navigate this new environment as an effective instructor and your students don’t know how to be effective learners.
You are no longer charged with building capacity in the physical sense, but in the cognitive sense. You are enabling students and instructors to interact in a space that costs a fraction of what it did before, but in order to enable them to do so, you must invest in pedagogical training for the instructors, computer training for the students and access to supporting technologies through infrastructure and hardware.
The best part of it is, as the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trend continues to grow, you don’t even need to pay for computer labs anymore. Hire an instructional designer and multimedia developer to build courses that are run entirely on a tablet or smartphone, and encourage your faculty to move to OER and save your students millions of dollars per quarter.
This is where education is headed, to robust, high quality learning experiences in a virtual space, one that still requires expert teachers, not robots.
This is what building capacity looks like in the 21st century, but ground cannot be broken when your eLearning Team is stuck in the 1990’s, still considered part of your ‘Information Technology’ department. The valuable work that these people do is not in equipment purchased or in online courses added, it’s in providing learning opportunities for instructors and by extension, great learning experiences for your students.
Give eLearning your support, allow them to do their jobs, because we all want to increase access and the quality of learning for students, we just get frustrated when we’re hired and our bosses don’t really understand what we do for a living.
Your friendly, neighbourhood eLearning Person