Here’s Phil, summarizing Colorado State University – Fort Collins’ Pat Burns on the decision-making process that led them to both switch LMSs and join the online education consortium Unizin:
Q. [paraphrase re. 30-minute decision meeting] It doesn’t sound like there was a lot of room for faculty buy-in as part of the process. Could you talk about whether this will happen later?
A. The negotiation was a consortial negotiation. It really wasn’t possible to involve the faculty in that negotiation. We have a fairly good trust relationship between faculty and administration at CSU. We had an open forum on that, and we had a question and we explained it really wasn’t possible since Unizin was structured as a consortium, and the negotiations were proceeding as a consortium.
Imagine trying to make a decision that was so vital to CSU’s teaching and learning experience in the real world (say, building a new classroom building) without consulting faculty. The brouhaha would be worse than if you mixed up everybody’s parking spaces.
Perhaps everything will work at fine up north because the administration there cares about its faculty and its students alike. But what if they don’t? They certainly don’t everywhere else. I know nothing about the University of Maryland University College except that it’s the online arm of the Maryland system. OK, I know that one of my friends stopped working there (he was actually a department head) because he didn’t think they were serious about education. This article, by a Interim Provost/deanlet there, demonstrates why I think he was right to do so:
“Until now, institution-wide changes in the faculty role have been the exception, the provenance of that seemingly marginal group of not-for-profit and for-profit institutions serving adult students. But the margin has become the center, and the reality is that any large-scale migration to online education, adoption of open educational resources (OERs), competency-based education or many of the other changes being explored almost necessitates further unbundling of the traditional faculty role.
By the same token, enterprise-wide reforms will not succeed unless faculty are included in the conversation. Institutions must be able to clearly explain why they’re unbundling, and what those new “bundles” will look like.”
The author goes on to note that “every serious party admits cost reduction must be part of the equation.” I guess that makes me a jolly joker. No, scratch that. I agree that cost must be part of the equation, but I’d like to look at a few other cost centers besides faculty salaries.
There are some incredibly talented and dedicated people teaching online right now. I just think of all the incredibly dedicated online teachers I’ve come to “know” through the Interwebz: Laura Gibbs, Lisa Lane, Shane Landrum (just to name a few). You don’t have to follow any of them very long to see that they can do wonderful things online, including countless wonderful teaching strategies that can only work online.
But what if the people who control the medium by which dedicated online instructors interact with their students won’t let them do their thing their way?
Some of us are employed by universities that have academic integrity. Some of us are employed by universities that don’t. Some of us are employed by universities that might have academic integrity now, but do you know if they’ll still have it if their financial stability is ever tested? If there’s one nice thing about working in academia it’s that your boss usually doesn’t act like your boss, but that, of course, is changing rapidly, and when your boss really starts acting like a boss then you know you’re in trouble.
Online education (and to a lesser degree even regular education conducted online through a learning management system) offers plenty of new opportunities for your boss to be bossy. As my friend Kate explained back during LMS week:
But as we move towards a more competitive system, with tighter budgets and higher expectations for quality, we should probably notice that the LMS is also a performance monitoring system for teaching. Minimally this is being introduced through the development of institutional threshold standards for online learning practice, while the attention of analytics tools is technically towards the evidence of student engagement with learning. As more routine teaching shifts online, there is nothing whatsoever to inhibit the development of LMS analytics for staff performance evaluation—including of casual and sessional staff.
Sure, monitoring you means they can tell that you’re doing a good job, but have you ever considered the possibility that that your means and their ends might not be the same? You care about education. If your employer doesn’t, your talent and skill at teaching online will become irrelevant online. It might even actively hinder your career.
Or consider the implications for academic freedom of teaching online. Thanks to big data, they can tell (and maintain a record of) everything controversial that you might possibly tell your students. They certainly never could have done that much to protect their “brand” before higher education moved online. Then there are the many intellectual property issues that arise in higher education that would never be an issue in a face-to-face class.
I can feel the earth move under my feet right now. Unfortunately, earthquakes like this one are going to swallow up deserving and undeserving teachers alike.
PS Yeah, I wrote a post with this exact same title once on the old blog, but in my own defense that one was on an entirely different subject. New blog. Old title. At least I picked a different video this time.