Framing the Challenges and Opportunities of Taking a Course Online

In her 2011 book advocating radical educational change, Now You See It, Cathy N. Davidson posits a central question. “The Internet is here to stay,” she affirms. “Are we teaching [students] in a way that will prepare them for a world of learning and for human relationships in which they interweave their interests into the vast, decentralized, yet entirely interconnected content online?” (56). Not surprisingly, Davidson does not think that most learning institutions address these questions adequately, if at all. However, online and hybrid (partially online) classes offer an opportunity to create the type of dynamic, group-based, interactive, and malleable environment that Davidson argues is a more effective model for teaching and learning in the 21st century.

Baruch College’s Center for Teaching and Learning’s Faculty Fellows seminar helps faculty develop online and hybrid strategies that the college can use for future courses, creates a community with shared resources, and encourages professors to think creatively about ways technology can strengthen and deepen their teaching. This spring semester, eleven faculty members from various disciplines throughout the college have signed up for the challenge. These faculty think beyond the classroom, out of the grid structure, and further than their specific disciplines.

Since the CTL wants to encourage faculty developing these courses to expect a certain amount of trial and error, we redefined success. Success can stem from a failed experiment by identifying what doesn’t work, or through the creation of tension–a place of discomfort for both faculty and students. This type of discomfort marks potential: when we are outside of our comfort zones our attention sharpens and our brains engage. New stimuli and novel environments inspire learning.

According to a 2013 study produced by Microsoft Partners in Learning, the Pearson Foundation, and Gallup, essential 21st century skills that successfully transition students from school to a career include: collaboration, knowledge construction, problem solving, innovation, self-regulation, the use of technology for learning, and skilled communication. Online and hybrid courses give students a real experience of the working world, in whatever form that may take. Faculty in the CTL seminar deliberate ways to achieve this through the use of technology or by capitalizing on the scheduling flexibility of blended courses. Recognizing that success in online and hybrid courses hinges upon collaboration in a variety of mediums and efficient time-management, faculty in the seminar brainstorm how to transform students into independent learners and problem solvers. In various and multiple ways, the faculty members in the CTL seminar this spring investigate the potential for online and hybrid courses to augment what already works in their classes, increase engagement, and prepare students for the dynamic challenges of the 21st century.

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