Let's make a deal.  Preparing instructors for a blended world.

Marcus Popetz
Jun 8, 2020 2:58:45 PM

Onsite or online, in the classroom or via Zoom, higher education has always been about one thing: the exchange of ideas. 

But today, new contingencies (let’s call it what it is: a startlingly pernicious pandemic) are changing what it means to “teach.” Online instructors, instructional designers, professors on the tenure track, and adjuncts who are often teaching at multiple institutions are all struggling to support the exchange of ideas in whatever ways they can. 

As I write this blog, it’s still unclear how colleges and universities will structure their fall semesters in 2020. Some have announced they will be guided by the Centers for Disease Control as they open their campuses to residential students. Some are reimagining their academic calendars, turning summer sessions into an integral part of their planning to accommodate students. Still others have announced they will deliver courses fully online. 

All of these options—even the most traditional ones—will require asking your faculty to think differently about how they teach. While some schools with a robust online teaching corps might be in better shape, all schools right now are scrambling to figure out a way to train faculty in the “new normal” (yes I said it) of some form of blended, hybrid, or all-in online teaching. 

 And they’ll need to do it in the next 8 weeks. 


Okay, take a breath. And let’s return to what we know is core to higher education: the exchange of ideas

What if that exchange moved beyond ideas to actual practice? What if we could implement a true work exchange among those whose job it is to help students learn? What might that look like?

When it comes to teaching, it’s no secret that a hierarchy exists at most higher education institutions. It’s literally built into the tenure and promotion process. And that hierarchy has grown deeper as adjuncts and graduate students continue to take on increasing teaching loads. 

Today, institutions have an opportunity to address some of these structural tensions, because today, all of these cohorts will need to depend on each other to make learning happen. 

Work exchange, simply put, means putting into place a method whereby instructors with expertise in online learning can exchange that expertise—and the teaching artifacts they’ve developed—for the expertise of traditional instructors—and the teaching artifacts they’ve developed. 

In practice that might look something like this: a “bricks and mortar” classroom instructor records her lecture on Pre-Raphaelite art and makes it available to an online instructor teaching a course on the Industrial Revolution. In exchange for that valuable content, the classroom instructor, who is now teaching at least some of her courses online, receives help and training in how to facilitate a discussion in an asynchronous environment. 

Or, an online instructor with a fully developed syllabus on the Industrial Revolution, including content pages for the LMS, and discussion prompts and assignments for the online discussion board, exchanges some of those artifacts with the classroom instructor to adapt. In return, the classroom instructor spends time in her colleague’s online classroom, guiding discussions, and adding her own perspective to the class, creating a richer experience for all. 

I realize there are hurdles, but the benefits might just help to overcome them. Instructors unfamiliar with the world of online teaching might just be willing to give up “ownership” of some of their course material for online assets that are already created. And the online instructor might be a little more welcoming of her “bricks and mortar” colleague if she receives not only some great additional content, but a new level of respect. 

Yes, this vision is a bit utopian. But it’s also practical. Your faculty needs to be trained in new teaching methods, quickly. And right now, new methods, new solutions, and new ways of thinking are all on the table. Seize the moment. And use it to promote a more equitable way to promote a true exchange of ideas.

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