Sunday, February 1, 2009

Front-loading faculty work

In a recent exchange on the value of on-line repositories of learning modules (like MIT's OpenCourseWare or Rice's Connexions) Michael Bassis, Westminster's President wrote that were he teaching sociology, he would use these sites as a source of content, so that he could use more of his time to facilitate learning, especially by mentoring students.

His ideas got me thinking about how regular use of sites like this would change faculty roles, and what could be done to the structure of higher ed to make possible those sorts of changes (and the improvement of learning that they promise).

I'm particularly interested in the structural changes that would make all sorts of active learning more likely, not just the use of digital repositories. It occurs to me that many of these reforms (service-learning, problem-based learning, learning communities, building a course from a digital repository) shift a substantial amount of faculty work from during the semester to before the semester begins. You have to build partnerships, design complex problems, mesh syllabi, discover the electronic resources well before the first day of class.

If it is true that active learning requires much more advanced preparation, then one thing higher ed could do is change the calendar, so that faculty are present on campus for a month before fall semester begins (not three days as is the case at Westminster), and that they have a month between the end of fall and the beginning of winter semester. Anything less means that faculty exploring active learning methods are doing it on the fly, and that they are tempted to fall back into lecture/discussion at the the first sign of real difficulty.

1 comment:

Bryce said...

Gary,

I'm just starting to learn about Open Educational Resources (there is a faculty member in IP&T here that is very involved in the Open Learning efforts). How do you think the current economic climate might impact this movement? In some ways it seems like Universities might be hesitant to provide free access to learning at a time when budgets are strapped. But, at the same time, if the learning is free but the degree is not then maybe it isn't much of an issue.

That raises a whole set of other questions for me. If Universities are more about degrees than learning, is Open Learning the beginning of the end to the Academy as we know it? I might be exposing a great deal of ignorance with these questions, but I was just curious to see what your thoughts were.