Pessimism and the POT Cert Way

cc Todd Morris via Flickr

The whole thing is going the wrong way.

Educational research clearly indicates that effective online teaching includes elements such as professorial enthusiasm, use of multiple tools appropriate to the pedagogy, personalized attention to the students, guided pursuit of student interests, and collaboration, even to the point of creating online communities for learning.

Market forces clearly encourage the use or purchase of set systems to house online courses (Coursera, iVersity, Udacity, Instructure), taught through easily standardized modules that don’t need much monitoring, with flexibility and convenience the prized elements for consumers (oh, sorry…I meant students). They offer products, processes and support that will save universities money while they make money through their product. It is in their interest to have only their product in use, if possible tied in with their own support structures to provide a seamless experience for their…um, students.

Market forces do bow to popularity, of course. Online tools that are used by large numbers of people are integrated or plugged in to the systems. Google Docs, Facebook, and LinkedIn can be part of your class, even in Canvas! (Gosh, that’s exciting.)

So, back to that research (and you thought I’d forgotten). The approach promoted by the POT Certificate Class emphasizes the pedagogy of the individual instructor, supported by the use of appropriate tools. Everything I’ve worked on for the past decade has been in the direction of empowering instructors to empower their students to learn, by emphasizing the instructors’ knowledge and approach, realized through cool web tools that the fit the task.

But the tools will not be there if the market forces prevail in education. They will become expensive (think Ning) or unavailable. Faculty who design their own courses, and teach them using tools that fit their imagination, will become fewer and fewer. It won’t be worth the time to create a course in such an old-fashioned way.

Governments and universities are clearly aligning themselves with market forces, in desperation. That desperation is not just financial. It is, ironically, based on lack of knowledge. Little consideration is taken of the research. Market forces, in the forma of educational product companies, couch their products in the illusion of innovation, but what they offer is packaging. They make the process of learning so much less messy.

Trouble is, learning is messy. It can’t be broken down into outcomes and modules. Teachers know this, and the research shows it. But all that can be ignored, and so much money (and hassle!) saved, by having assistants facilitate carefully packaged courses instead of faculty teaching them. No need for faculty – they can be replaced with “content experts” on teams of course designers (yes, I know, it’s already happening, in lots of places).

So ultimately, programs like our Program for Online Teaching Certificate Class (now between semesters) will become anachronisms, teaching skills that are no longer used, like penmanship and typesetting. And by then, there won’t be many pens or typesets to choose from anyway. It will all fade away.

5 thoughts on “Pessimism and the POT Cert Way

  1. Sadly, Lisa, I agree with you 100%.

    If you look at it one way, I am “cutting edge” at my campus, probably more aware of online tools and more experienced with them than pretty much anybody. On the other hand, I am a “dinosaur,” an anachronism, just as you say.

    So, I hope I will be allowed to keep on teaching, because I know that the students are just looking to see what they can learn, and they know they can learn a lot in my classes. I would gladly carry on teaching these classes, becoming more anachronistic with each passing year… a tiny voice in the wilderness crying “Oh look at all the cool stuff we can do…!”

    The one way in which I would insist that I am not an anachronism is that the types of tools and the social/creative experiences I want to share with my students have a lot more in common with the jobs they might have in the future – more so than a multiple-choice quiz, that’s for sure!


  2. Lisa, I see a new horizon. Some countries do educate and teach their children better than other countries. In Europe in politics and public discourse quality of education is more and more important. And quick courses of commercial providers are not the solution for a better educated youth. Maybe this is a little spark of hope in the dark days before midwinter. πŸ˜‰


  3. A few days ago my 14 year old daughter says, “I need a blog.”

    To appreciate that I have to go back about three years when I first started the POT Cert class and DS106. I was so excited. So darn excited I not only bought my own domains, but I bought my daughter one as well. I actually got her her first and last

    I was so excited!

    She had no idea how she might use it. I was dismayed.

    I let the domain expire. Now she wants it back.

    I guess my point here is that it is possible that the humans will prevail against the big companies and common sense will someday become more important than money. And maybe the ones who will make it so are those of us who still value community over structure, creativity over facts, and friendship over pay raises.

    I for one am willing to roll in the mud. And I will laugh with all my friends in the beautiful mud till I depart this earth.


  4. Thanks Laura, Jaap and Todd!

    @Laura I also am happy with my “artisanal” courses – right up until they tell me I have to use a system of their choosing. But if all the training is to use such systems, eventually the artisanal course will not only be an anachronism, it won’t be permitted.

    @Jaap I hope you’re right!

    @Todd The makers of these products would agree with you – most were startups at one time, and there will be more. But the only reason educating new online teachers has been allowed to go free-form has been lack of interest in the possible market. Now that commercial MOOCs and the sudden journalistic interest in online ed has made this a topic anyone can opine about, the mudholes are getting harder to find.


  5. I participated in POT two years back and have always been interested in the concept of MOOC. POT is very unique and transformative, I use my POT experience every day. It is the combination of environment, book, web-resources, web-tools and tasks that is a winning combination. I hope more people will take notice and participate.


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