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Guest faculty editorial-Raising the bar in online education

Story by posted on December 9, 2013. Filed under Breaking News and Events. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

By Dr. Steve Clements

Eastern has a long and commendable history in distance education. From the time when courses were broadcast around the state via EdNet to full degree programs offered through Blackboard, EOU set the bar for higher education institutions in Oregon by delivering courses to students throughout the state, region and country. And while EOU continues to raise the bar notch by notch, it’s time it came up with the next Fosbury Flop, perfecting the quality and style of its online course delivery.

For the last three summers, faculty members from across campus have attended the Summer Institute for Instructional Technology. To date, some 40 to 45 faculty members have learned about and practiced how to connect pedagogy with instructional technologies such as creating narrated lectures with video capture, providing audio feedback and using Google Apps. These faculty members have taken their experiences from SIIT into courses taught both on-campus and online.

The results, I believe, are measurable improvements in the quality of the courses and the educational experience afforded to students. Thoughtful design and use of discussion boards and Google Apps improves engagement between students and instructors. Audio or video feedback provides important guidance to students as they negotiate new concepts and skills. Even a simple change such as the organization of a Blackboard shell improves engagement with course content.

Given the observable improvements, the general enthusiasm I have seen in SIIT participants and the need to carry these characteristics across the campus, I believe EOU needs a solid policy and commitment to set standards for online course delivery and structure. This policy might require:

  • a template for course shells so students encounter the same organization and basic resources in every class they take;
  • an evaluation process for online instruction that assesses an instructor’s pedagogical use of technology to achieve a course’s learning outcomes;
  • a requirement for professional development to ensure faculty are kept abreast of how new technologies are used for educational purposes; and
  • a standard in online course delivery that all faculty must achieve in order to continue teaching in that modality.

I recognize some of these elements will be controversial, but in order for EOU to continue to hold its edge, we must raise the bar a notch. Competition in the online education arena at the state, regional and national levels demands EOU pay attention to the quality of its online courses. The importance of online courses to the financial stability of the Institution is beyond dispute.

We can only maintain our status as a trend setter by ensuring that Eastern’s online courses remain affordably priced and the highest quality they can be.

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