This week’s articles were an interesting excursion into the world of open courses and the role of new technologies in higher education. Honestly, the concept of open courses was new to me up until last week’s GRAD 602 introductory session. Open courses offer a new way of breaking out of traditional boundaries of higher education, allowing knowledge to be disseminated and learned in a new, innovative way by promoting “collaboration, responsibility, and a commitment to seeing that we can accomplish our goals together.” (p. 32) As a student, I have little experience with online or open courses, and I do have to admit that I tend to be somewhat skeptical when it comes to online learning. Although I like the idea of “unbundling” information and knowledge, I do think that learning requires a certain amount of in-class, instructor-guided teaching, which may not be conveyed as effectively in online settings. This, of course, also depends on the teaching content and the student population. The traditional classroom is an environment, in which certain norms, expectations, and rules exist about how to communicate with other students or with the instructor. The “virtual” classroom, however, is a somewhat new territory. That is, rules, norms, and expectations about how the learning process is supposed to unfold is not yet clear – at least not to me. Cormier and Siemens, for example, talk about open curricula and how important it is for learners “to contribute to the formation of the curricula through conversations, discussions, and interactions.” (p. 36). However, do we really know how to converse, discuss, and interact on an online platform? Sure, most of us have social media accounts. But, that does not necessarily mean that we are efficient online-learners and communicators. Does it?
I like Cormier & Siemens’ discussion about the new role of educators, including “amplifying, curating, wayfinding, aggregating, filtering, modeling, and staying present.” (p. 36) In my opinion, in an online environment, the teacher is a moderator and facilitator rather than a disseminator of information in the more traditional sense. The article on “New Media Technologies and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning” is a nice complement to Cormier and Siemens discussion, as it emphasizes the balancing act of combining traditional, institutionalized learning tools, such multiple-choice exams, with new learning needs and technological improvements. Clearly, there is no best way of managing and developing a prosperous learning environment, as it is contingent upon the students’ needs, their engagement and unique contributions, and the general type of content.
Overall, it is an exciting and challenging time to be a teacher in higher education. More than ever before, it is important to be aware of our roles as educators, take advantage of new technologies in a way it makes sense, and avoid the ones that do not. I see a clear shift toward student-centered learning – away from the teacher-as-entertainer concept of education. That is a good thing. Because in the end, we are all students thriving to learn.