“Programs in 2015 would be easily recognized by online students from the year 2000; many continue to utilize the same learning management system they did over a decade ago and none have attempted to reinvent online learning based on what current technology is capable of, preferring to continue to deliver a faithful replication of on ground higher education: the weekly lecture, discussion and assignment. A failure of investment coupled with a failure of imagination.”
– Ryan Craig – Forbes Magazine
“Read, post, respond” was a perfectly reasonable format for online and blended education for a while. The novelty of around-the-clock access to discussions, the ability to easily print out and read articles or to click through PowerPoints was enough. Students who ventured into online were still beholden to ponderous technology. Dialling up, starting downloads, then going to get a coffee, all standard practice.
In my youth and even in recent adulthood, authoritarian systems dictated to us. We read the newspaper in the morning and were beholden to TV schedules in the evenings. My TV had three channels until I was 14 when we got out fourth; called, with sparkling originality, Channel 4. When my kids want to watch seven episodes of 13 Reasons Why, they do. When they want to connect with people, pretty much anywhere in the world, they do. When they want to develop competencies they Google.
Meanwhile at our institutions we persist with the same tools, technologies and forms of instruction antithetical to student interests and preferences. Blackboard was founded in 1997 and while the capabilities and features have certainly been augmented, the fundamental instructor strategies and training has, if anything, ossified. These ambiguities suggest that business as usual (traditional education) should be analysed against emerging technologies, developing innovations and disruptive means of delivery.
We have been lazy. It worked for a while but we must acknowledge the Copernican shift in our “consumer” demands. As privileged educators and ivory tower dwellers we have to get over the fact that we are no longer at the centre of the Universe. We have paid lip service to Student Centricity for so long we have not actually thought about what it means for a decade or more.
The centrality is represented by the notion of “me being in control.” It accentuates the ability to meet core psychological needs of mastery, autonomy and relatedness. Mastery energises and motivates, autonomy provides choice and freedom from control while relatedness ensures that we feel that we matter to ourselves and to others (Rigby, 2014). I think we can accept that education is suffering from a significant amount of deferred maintenance.
While we should certainly be building on inherent strengths, we should also be exploring the Copernican revolution and what it means to our instruction. We should be really putting the student at the centre of their studies; encouraging their autonomy and choice and facilitating their engagement with publisher-quality materials, shaped by emergent principles of learning science, delivered with sides of responsiveness: narrative, competition, cooperation or challenge. As Neil Niman, Associate Dean of Academic Programs at the University of New Hampshire, reflects: “We have not engaged students in a way that has made their educational experience a personal one with demonstrable benefits and a clear rationale for how it is going to make them more successful.”
The potential of interactive technologies to encourage students to engage with course materials and take an active role in learning is clear. This kind of engagement correlates with elevated retention of core course concepts and understanding. We are seriously short-changing our students if we don’t look at what motivates them to engage with games, social media and gamefully designed apps and on-demand, any time / anywhere, always on technologies. To not even be in the conversations is inexcusable.