Reflecting on the Joint Academic Senate/ Administration Retreat on Online Learning, Part 2

In Reflecting on the Joint Academic Senate/Administration Retreat on Online Learning, Part 1, I provided an overview of the morning presentations that took place on Friday, May 17. Below, you’ll find my summary of the topics that were discussed throughout during the day in breakout sessions I attended.

If you were also able to attend the retreat, we’d love to hear your impressions of the day; if you were unable to participate, we welcome your questions!

Culture Shift. Much of the day focused on the disconnect between enthusiastic faculty who want to experiment and innovate with their teaching, and the current reward structure that privileges research over teaching. Hybrid and online education requires a rethinking of pedagogy and curriculum, and faculty need more support to embark upon such a time-consuming project.

  • Rewards. In the assessment breakout session, we considered potential ways to reward innovative teachers, including metrics to describe learning (something more than course evaluations and grades, most likely derived from learner analytics), and the potential of an innovative course counting as much as a research paper publication in the merit evaluations. Some argued that because UC Davis is primarily a research institution, faculty should rightly focus on their research (while our students benefit from interacting with accomplished researchers).
  • Support. The general feeling was that ATS and CETL provide excellent support of faculty teaching with technology, but faculty will need additional support if faculty are to become further involved in online and hybrid learning initiatives. Faculty also expressed interest in pedagogically-focused teacher training activities, and in a centralized online space where teachers can share tips and tricks.

Students. We need to clarify what students expect from a college degree and to what extent they feel comfortable learning in online environments. We cannot assume that students will embrace hybrid teaching initiatives just because they are “digital natives.”

  • Preserving Mentorship. One concern about online learning is that it may limit or minimize the student-mentor relationship that we so value in higher education.

The Budget. Bob Powell reported that $10 million will be allocated to online initiatives; a third or a quarter of that money will go toward developing a hub for cross-campus registration, and the rest will be invested in developing and evaluating courses.

  • Participants expressed strong support for a testing center, and for an expansion of the Provost Hybrid Course Award, but some also expressed reservations if available funds would be best invested in individual course development.

Cross-campus registration. (a) Should we allow students from across the UC system to enroll in online courses offered by UC Davis? (b) How would this work, especially with regard to the sharing of local resources?

  • In the breakout session I attended, participants expressed both support for and concern about inter-campus enrollment in online courses offered at UC Davis. On the one hand, it may seem logical to offer only one general education course for all UC students instead of having redundant departments across campuses; on the other hand, there may be value in resisting the standardized courses across campuses, as diverse faculty are crucial to fostering a productive intellectual community.
  • A related conversation stressed that UC Davis should not primarily use online initiatives as a way to reach more students; it should rather be a way to engage students more effectively so we can facilitate better learning. If that better learning involves a larger community of learners, then reaching more students is fine, but we need to focus on quality rather than quantity.

Defining Online Education. In the breakout sessions I attended, there was some surprise at the wide range of teaching approaches that qualify as “online education.” Personally, while I appreciate the need to define our terms before we make plans, I think leaving this definition open is important for innovation.

MOOCs. I was surprised at how few conversations steered toward the popular topic of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. Generally participants felt that MOOCs are an interesting phenomenon that may change the types of materials our students study (e.g., replacing textbooks), but that MOOCs will not fundamentally change our approach to higher education. Instead, faculty expressed greater interest in exploring hybrid approaches and then possibly considering online approaches later. The closest we came to discussing MOOCs was considering whether UC should offer a smaller-scale MOOC for UC students through the cross-campus enrollment initiative.

For me, this retreat was a fascinating conversation about the potential and the problems of online education, but, really, it was a day about teaching. As one faculty member put it, “Today has been exciting because we felt the materiality of transdisciplinarity. It is exciting to connect with people from other departments who are also excited about innovative teaching.”

I was inspired by how many faculty members on this campus are passionately dedicated to giving their students the absolute best learning experience possible. As our conversations about online education continue, I hope we remember to keep our focus on the students and on the teachers. Digital tools are only valuable if they support best practices in teaching and learning.

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2 thoughts on “Reflecting on the Joint Academic Senate/ Administration Retreat on Online Learning, Part 2

    Paul Craig

    (May 30, 2013 - 10:24 am)

    Fun conference. Very little about what interests me most. I’m an Emeritus Prof, and I’m spending lots of time auditing classes/lectures that interest me. I find this use of time far more satisfying than TV. I expect there is a huge non-academic/post-academic audience for university level material. I polled a few fellow retirees. I started by asking what kind of material they’d be interested in. [e.g. genetics; politics]. I then asked if they’d be willing to pay. Answers were ‘yes, if the course is good’. How much? Perhaps $100 or so. It’s way to early in on-line education to constrict the discussion. We don’t yet know what works and for whom. Perhaps this audience is worthy of a niche??

    Jhon Vesto

    (November 3, 2013 - 10:02 am)

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