In 2012, I asked a friend of mine, Mike Thomas, about his opinion and obstacles he saw for online learning at LaGrange College. While I won’t quote his email verbatim, here is the thrust of his message.
- An online student should never have to step foot on campus.
- Train the faculty to teach online courses well.
- Gain student information via survey to focus our offerings.
- Involve admissions and financial aid to reach out in ways we never have to enroll students from afar and help them to finance their education.
As usual, Mike hit the nail on the head.
Conversation and Questions
Why should online courses merit a physical presence? The reason students are taking online courses could be related to distance from the chosen institution. More than likely, it has to do with schedules and the fact that the institution is not open for business hours when the student is available. Why, then, should we require that a student arrive for scheduling or financial aid? To expand the thought, what about advising or office hours?
Faculty should be as adept at communicating electronically as they are in front of a class. Many of us, as faculty, accrue years of teaching time. We are adept at drawing audience responses and at responding to facial twitches or body language. However, we are rarely (if ever) trained to teach online courses. Phrases such as “I’m a really good teacher and can teach well like this, too!” are emblematic of a resistance to change. Perhaps our training style also needs to adjust to be constructive rather than destructive.
We should survey students to see how we can best serve them. National surveys reveal that most online students live within 50 miles of their institution of choice. So, let’s reach out within that range and ascertain what it is that employers want and what skills future employees require. Nimbleness should be the strength of smaller institutions; not bureaucracy.
Creativity is the name of the game. Since limits are less (if any) of a barrier now, our administrations should be creative to reach out and grab students. This implies finding and having a top-notch team who is willing to learn from data and who frequently bucks long-held strategies in order to follow where information leads them.
I rediscovered his email as I cleaned out my inbox. Three years later (slightly more, actually) and we’re still tackling these issues. We need more ‘Mikes’ in higher ed.