Online Learning in Higher Education
One of the many impacts of COVID was the rise of online learning. As colleges and universities shifted from in-person classes, many faculty and students discovered online learning. For those of us who have been doing this a long time (since 2000 in my case), we know that one of the benefits of online learning is that you can create a class once and re-use it multiple times, even with different faculty teaching. Often online courses are designed by someone else and the teaching faculty have little to no control over the set-up of the class. I refer to this as a class on “lockdown.” It can be frustrating to the faculty who feel that they do not have the ability to personalize the class with their insights and experience. What most people miss, though, are the many ways that lockdown can be bypassed to allow personalization.
Professor as Facilitator
In a class on lockdown, the assignments, course content, discussion questions, and virtually every other element of the course comes pre-built and unchangeable. In this model, the professor is regarded as a facilitator who answers student questions, participates in discussion boards, and provides grades and feedbacks on assignments. While these are important valuable tasks, they also limit the ability of a faculty member to inject the course with their expertise and subject matter knowledge. They also prevent the instructor from personalizing the course to reflect their personality and the needs of the students.
For most of my higher ed career I have served as an administrator. We have very good reasons for locking down a course. It saves time for faculty as they do not each need to design a course from scratch. It helps ensure a consistent curriculum and student experience across sections. In this model, instructional designers can be used to create high quality, multimedia content. The practice of a pre-constructed, master class used by all instructors of a class provides a quality foundation for online learning. The problem is when that foundation also becomes the ceiling, and individual faculty do not have the ability to change anything in the class to go beyond the supplied materials.