As one of the instructors of OLC’s Advanced Online Teaching Certificate course, I catch myself thinking about ways in which digital pedagogy is advancing online education. Over the years, my focus has been on mobile learning and enhancing the online experience through the device’s ability to connect learners to the course, each other, and the world. Mobile learning has a limited trajectory and one can see the end at the beginning. Smartphones and other devices have become an ambient part of our culture with most of us needing less and less guidance in using them for personal or educational reasons. The only downside for me has been that my “forgot my wallet, I’ll catch you next time” line has run its course!
I wonder – what aspects of online learning have become so normative that continual emphasis actually inhibits forward progress? Granted, there will always be the need for some out-of-the-box instruction. So, what is the new normal? We can spend time raging against the learning management system, but there has been enough ink spilled over, and promises made, of a post-LMS world, I think I’ll wait for the Netflix series on that one and focus on how we teach within systems instead.
Often, I have used artifacts of the traditional college classroom to depict an outdated environment in which we are sometimes subjected to predictable modes of delivery and experience. At the same time, I have used artifacts of the online classroom to justify a similar experience (for example, the ubiquitous ‘post a discussion response and respond to two of your peers’ assignment), thinking the online medium somehow offers a unique experience because it is navigated through an LMS in an asynchronous (but still predictable) manner. So if we look past predictability, where is digital pedagogy taking us?
Digital pedagogy is pushing the online community past predictability, and the good news is that it isn’t threatening. In fact, it is liberating. It offers an opportunity to create learning experiences rather than offering course delivery based on familiarity with particular methods or models. This type of change is evident in many ways in our daily lives – online learning just happens to be one of them. Recently, we got rid of our microwave and we are likely not going to replace it. I liked the convenience, but I like the experience of preparing and cooking meals more. As I scanned the ESPN app this morning, I saw that they are no longer offering a print version of ESPN the magazine. It was a “sign of the times” according to the explanation. In online learning, experiences have become a focus of importance, and the distinction between the big three (classroom, hybrid, and online) is becoming less clear. A sign of the times.
In my approach to online teaching, I have reframed my own use of the word “mobile.” Instead of centering on the device, I center on the learner and the opportunity to achieve the course learning objectives in ways that are more inclusive of digital pedagogy. As I envision ways to continue to innovate and create, the learning environment becomes part of the process rather than the object. One way I like to do this is to allow the course culture to develop. It goes against many (ok, most) of my natural inclinations but I have found it to be very productive and it has allowed the formation of some very rewarding online experiences.
One experience in my graduate online course, Introduction to Research Techniques, started me down this path. I used to require a one-minute paper at the end of the second week of the course. This allowed me to get a quick pulse on how well the students were grasping the actual research process. I kept the learning outcome the same, but allowed them to choose the manner in which they demonstrated mastery using a form of digital media. The learning artifacts that I received were amazing. I got 80’s video karaoke, poetry, a teacher-podcast, and one video in which the production value was so high, the entire class requested the student teach a how-to module for the class. At our end-of-class residency session, the students organized a media awards show and developed criteria for mastery that I now use for all my media assignments.
Another learning activity I use asks the student to create a module banner for the upcoming week. I set up groups of 4 to work on the banner, then I have them assess it with their created criterion. I review it and and affirm the one to post in the course. Then, I provide an authoring citation for the selected banner. This allows students to have a published learning artifact and participate as co-creators of the course content. It requires intentionality and planning, but allowing the course culture to develop then guide the learning process provides a richer environment.
As an 80’s geek, I interject my vibe and personality into the course. That engages others as well gives ‘permission’ for interactions in the online environment to be personal, have history, and bring our stories together. Then, adopting the proficiencies of the class becomes a natural extension of our experience. It has been fun engaging learners as they transfer learning experiences through a different lens, and what better lens than the 80’s, right?! Allowing the course culture to drive implementation does at times bring out my inner instructional designer, whose desire is to keep more control of the learning experience. While it can be uncomfortable, intentionally designing to promote digital pedagogy offers a richer experience.
An approach like this doesn’t have to be complex, but it takes work to make it successful. When I used to train aspiring bodybuilders, the ones who were most successful were not those who were looking for a quick success, but rather the ones who were willing to work hard at the fundamentals over time and see how their body responded. There is no magic pill, book, or aspiring catchphrase here, but an approach that utilizes the online environment to engage digital pedagogy in any learning environment. In the upcoming Advanced Online Teaching Certificate course, we will be collaborating in ways that allow skilled online practitioners to engage in digital pedagogy and advance their online learning skills.
Scott Hamm, Director of Doctorate in Leadership, Director of Online Education, Assistant Professor of Education, Hardin-Simmons University; Advanced Online Teaching Certificate (AOTC) Instructor, OLC