(Cross) Purposes of Policy to Promote Innovation in Online Education

Concurrent Session 6

Brief Abstract

How respectful consideration of both collegial and managerial perspectives when developing online learning policies on operations, academic freedom, and institutional risk can positively promote innovation.


Dr. Wilson is the Chair of San Francisco State University Academic Senate's Online Education Committee and serves as a faculty fellow for San Francisco State University's online quality control program, Quality Online Learning and Teaching (QOLT). He is also the primary architect of and a faculty for an innovative multi-campus collaborative graduate program which primarily uses a synchronous online format.

Extended Abstract

This discussion-that-works will focus on several real-life examples of online education policy debates in which collegial and managerial difference of perception exists around issues of time (virtual office hours), autonomy (online assignments), and outcomes (student enrollments). This discussion will reveal that a focus on the polarity around time, autonomy and outcomes can unduly hinder innovation in online education. Instead, a focus on shared interests within these areas may ultimately lead to more innovation and quality of experience for the institution, faculty, and students.

What are the collegial and managerial cultures?
In The Six Cultures of the Academy, Bergquist & Pawlak (2007) identify six competing and complementary cultures that coexist within higher education institutions, the first of which are the collegial and managerial cultures. The collegial culture, made up primarily of the faculty who align with the ideals of the disciplines they represent, focuses on research and scholarship and values autonomy and the pursuit of intellectual attainment. The managerial culture, generally composed of administrators who focus on practical endeavors that advance the mission of the entire institution, values organization, efficiency and measurable outcomes (Bergquist & Pawlak, 2007).

What is innovation?
This proposal defines innovation as creating and implementing, or simply adopting, new processes or tools in order to more effectively or efficiently help students find success. Higher education has incentivized innovation by a renewed focus on student success and pressure from alternative models of online education. Innovations can be at the classroom level, such as in the "flipped classroom" model, or they can be at the system-wide level, such as in the shift to problem-based individualized learning schedules (Khan, 2010). More indirectly, innovation may be driven by increased information (e.g., learning analytics; Siemens & Long, 2011).

What is policy?
In its broadest sense, a policy is a set of guidelines or rules that determine a course of action. In higher education, a wide range of policies are created, implemented, and updated to serve the interests of policy owners and the culture they represent. At San Francisco State University, policy that touches online education can be developed at ascending levels of authority: policies supporting operational efficiencies are created by the service provider, policies coordinating university compliance with applicable laws and regulations are created by the administration, and policies ensuring faculty autonomy and academic freedom are created by the Academic Senate.

Administrators, generally aligned with the managerial culture, see policy as a means to set and attain goals individually and for the institutionóparticularly goals that can be measured against the success of students completing their courses of study. Since completion and production are measures of success, administrators are interested in setting standards for their own work and that of faculty and students, and measuring performance based on these standards (Bergquist & Pawlak, 2007).

The Academic Senate, composed primarily of faculty who are aligned with the collegial culture, see policy as a means to not only protect academic freedom but, increasingly, to maintain a certain amount of control and autonomy to manage what has become an untenable workload in light of the ever increasing demands for output in the areas of teaching, research, service, and administrative activities. To this aim, concerned by the number of directives descending from administrative units with respect to online education, the SF State Academic Senate created a standing Online Education committee to help the campus further refine policy, "in a climate profoundly influenced by system-wide and state-wide initiatives and policy directives" (San Francisco State University Academic Senate, 2013).

What is the main conflict, or barrier, to promoting innovation?
Over the past century, the workload demands on faculty have increased dramatically (Flaherty, 2014). Whereas faculty's desire for autonomy might have been seen as a luxury that allowed intellectual engagement, faculty now assert their autonomy to effectively manage their time to achieve the outcomes demanded of them for retention, promotion and tenure. Bentley & Kyvik (2012) conducted an international study of professors and found that American professors reported working an average of 51.4 hours per week, more than any other English speaking country in the sample. Weekdays, faculty spend most time on teaching, followed by administrative tasks such as email and meetings (Flaherty, 2014). In the case of online learning, these conflicts related to time, autonomy and outcomes have manifested themselves in the following policy debates:
1. Time: Virtual Office Hours: Must faculty be on campus during office hours?
2. Autonomy: Online Course Definitions: Must faculty constrain their course design within the parameters of institutional modalities?
3. Outcomes: Enrollments: Must a faculty member enroll ever-increasing numbers of online students?

Ultimately, the goal of an innovative policy decision-making process is to move out of a traditional problem analysis tendency in which each culture examines the issue from the positive side (upside) of our point of view and from the negative sides (downside) of the other point of view. Instead, each must develop the ability to either shift from one point of view to the other, or hold both points of view at the same time, since this activity makes it is possible for the two sides to work toward a shared intention that promotes innovation and new ways of thinking (Bergquist & Pawlak, 2007).

ï Bentley, P. J., & Kyvik, S. (2012). Academic work from a comparative perspective: a survey of faculty working time across 13 countries. Higher Education, 63(4), 529-547.
ï Bergquist, W. H., & Pawlak, K. (2007). Engaging the six cultures of the academy: Revised and expanded edition of the four cultures of the academy. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN: 978-0-7879-9519-5.
ï Flaherty, C. (2014, April 9). So much to do, so little time. Retrieved November 27, 2015, from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/04/09/research-shows-professors...
ï Khan, S. (2010). Year 2060: Education predictions. Retrieved November 27, 2015, from https://www.khanacademy.org/talks-and-interviews/conversations-with-sal/...
ï San Francisco State University Academic Senate (2013). Academic Senate Policy #F13-269, All-University Online Education Committee.
ï Siemens, G., & Long, P. (2011). Penetrating the fog: Analytics in learning and education. EDUCAUSE review, 46(5), 30.