Finding Yourself in the Trends: Using Reflective Discourse to Meaningfully Integrate Research in Your Online Learning Operation
Concurrent Session 9
How do effective leaders effectively integrate high-level research on online learning into decision making? This session explores how reflective discourse within a professional network can provide support and structure as leaders contextualize research for their own institutions and take a nuanced approach to data-driven decision-making.
As online learning has matured and become more pervasive, different reports and studies have sought to quantifying overall trends for online learning in higher education and provide insight into effective strategies for implementing and sustaining high-quality online learning. Examples of this research include the annual report tracking distance education conducted by the Babson Group, Pearson, and the Online Learning Consortium, as well as the Changing Landscape of Higher Education (CHLOE) report produced on behalf of Quality Matters and Eduventures, currently conducting its fourth survey. Information on distance learning is now included in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), managed and collected by the National Center for Education Statistics. These reports and data sources provide rich and extensive information that can be used to support strategic planning, develop metrics for benchmarking and internal evaluation, and inform meaningful conversations with institutional stakeholders.
How do effective leaders translate this research into practice? Online leaders must not only spend time evaluating the overall trends in the current landscape of online learning, but also contextualizing that within the constructs at their institutions and those of peers and competitors. How do considerations like mission, size, location, sector, research activity, teaching loads, faculty buy-in, student demographics, and countless others impact an evaluation of overarching trends in the landscape?
Just as importantly, how do leaders safeguard against echo chambers and institutional blinders when attempting to analyze and respond to data trends in the research? When findings are a shock or feel counter-intuitive, what is a way to explore those surprises with curiosity and receptivity, rather than defensiveness and suspicion? Without support and a strategy, this reflection and engagement can be overwhelming, a series of unproductive rabbit holes and digressions, and take more time than anyone reasonably has to commit.
Intentionally engaging in reflective discourse with a trusted group of colleagues from different contexts provides the strategy and support necessary to effectively evaluate and integrate data as a leader to support strong, informed decision-making. Reflective discourse is process of constructing and evaluating knowledge in collaboration with others. Reflective discourse, as coined by Mezirow (2000) for adulting learning theory, is “a specialized use of dialogue devoted to searching for a common understanding and assessment of the justification of an interpretation or belief. This involves assessing reasons advanced by weighing the supporting evidence and arguments and by examining alternative perspectives. Reflective discourse involves a critical assessment of assumptions” (p. 10-11). Successful reflective discourse relies on empathy, a willingness to interrogate norms and assumptions, and a commitment to consensus-building.
This session will be facilitated by an inter-institutional group of online learning leaders currently engaged in research investigating how different institutions have organized operational and functional areas that support online learning. The group is in the initial stages of developing a qualitative study to better understand the how institutional and organizational characteristics affect the culture, strategy, and success of online learning enterprises at different institutions. Reflective discourse is a strategy this group has used, both as researchers and practitioners.
Reflective discourse emerged as an important strategy to address the unwanted influence that anecdotal experience and institutional assumptions can have when crafting research questions and protocols. However, it quickly became clear to group members that the benefit of engaging in reflective discourse extended beyond the refinement of the group’s research activities and into the individual practice each undertakes as a leader in their respective institutions. Analyzing potential research questions specifically focusing on the successful administration of online learning from different institutional lenses provided members new insights into challenges unique to their context and those shared across institutions, creating a bridge between research and practice.
This session explores the value of engaging research through reflective discourse for higher education leaders seeking to bridge research and practice. Facilitators will provide an overview on the concept of reflective discourse and the group’s experience with the process. This will include concrete examples of how the facilitators have operationalized their collective learnings as administrators and leaders. Attendees will then be invited to engage in similar reflective practice scenarios to analyze and share their own insights from their specific institutional context and practice and work together to identify shared challenges and important differences. Facilitators will provide guidance on how to effectively incorporate the principles of reflective discourse as attendees and provide curated practice scenarios from recent research studies.
In addition, the researchers are currently engaged in an active research study on the effective administration of online learning within institutions of higher education. In preparation for a qualitative phase, the research team is currently analyzing secondary data sources and intends to share preliminary findings with the audience as part of structuring the examples for reflective discourse. With the permission of the audience members, facilitators will document the commentary in the workshop as an additional source of insight for implementing future study phases.
Meziro, Jack et. al. (Hg.) (2000): Learning as Transformation. Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Progress. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 3-33.