I’m happy we had three choices for our final project. The course is modeling learner-centered practices advocated by the authors of our textbooks. The first choice, developing a teaching portfolio, offers the opportunity to do something new. I have never taught for a living. Rather, I’ve worked as an administrator for the past 14 years and have never needed a portfolio. In the interest of trying something new I considered this option, but, having little teaching experience on which to base a portfolio, I decided I wouldn’t be able to learn much from this assignment. The second and third choices are, therefore, more appealing.
I had originally planned on the second option: write a research paper. This is squarely in my comfort zone. I enjoy writing and, as my learning style inventory showed, I’m a theorist who is most interested in theories and research. My other personality profiles, such as DiSC and the Focus 2 Holland Inventory, identify me as having an investigative personality and a preference for data. Indeed, my job requires me to spend several hours each week creating and analyzing data in Excel spreadsheets. Although I enjoy working with students and work supervisors, I’m equally happy searching data, making charts and graphs, and writing reports. Discovering a counter-intuitive fact brings me great joy. For these reasons, I have been focused on option two since the first day of the course, but then I seriously began to consider option three…completing the online teaching certification.
This didn’t appeal to me when I first heard about it. I work at a private, liberal arts college which has never embraced online courses. We have only recently begun experimenting with a few summer online offerings in part because we were seeing too many students take summer courses at other institutions. Tuition-dependent institutions don’t generally like to see students pay other institutions for credits. Also, I’ve had difficulty believing that online instruction can foster the same level of learning as face-to-face. The online courses I’ve taken lacked the interaction with fellow students which I find a necessity. Posting messages and replies to discussion boards doesn’t provide instant feedback or the give-and-take which allow for understanding, analysis, and evaluation. For example, I’ve not been able to participate in a meaningful classroom debate in the online courses I’ve taken. I began this course believing that online instruction was inferior to face-to-face and should only be offered when it was necessary to reach distant students. For example, the University of Alaska system has no choice but to offer distance education to native Alaskans living in far-flung villages not connected to colleges and universities by roads or rail. I’m willing: however, to be persuaded that online instruction can be equally effective. So, I’m choosing to complete option three.
Although I’m not naturally adept at using technology (I struggled mightily with the video lesson assignment), I think there is value in trying something new…to be willing to move out of my theorist comfort zone. There are other reasons for choosing this option. First, I’m in the Higher Education Administration program. Whether my institution ultimately chooses to expand online offerings, there is no doubt that online education is here to stay and will play a major role in providing access to higher education in the future. I need to learn more about it. Second, I direct a student employment program which includes training for student employees. Providing online training and education options could strengthen my ability to prepare students for success in their on-campus positions and in their future careers. Finally, I may one day choose to apply for positions at other institutions, and these institutions may expect me to manage and develop online options. Indeed, I was a finalist a few years ago for a vice provost position at a technical college. During the interview it was painfully obvious that I knew very little about effective online instruction, and I suspect the panel detected my bias against it.
Having made the decision to earn the certification, I find that I’m looking forward to learning something new, something which may make it possible for me to improve my program and, perhaps one day, expand access to higher education.