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Multilitteratus Incognitus

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Synchronous, online learning, and "remote" learning

The question of synchronous sessions in online learning has been swirling in my head over the past few weeks.  So has the term "remote" instruction (🙄).  I usually tend to sit on the sidelines these days, maybe throwing a few potshots on twitter here and there when I have time, but this article on IHE today was one where my eyes rolled too hard, and there was an audible grunt in the room...

First of all, I guess I should explain my aversion to the term "remote" instruction.  Our field, distance education, has many terms to describe learning at a distance that actually mean something, and have actually had decades of research behind them!  Because the existing terms mean something, and usually have legalistic implications, it's like administrators are using a synonym for "distance" in order to avoid any sorts of contractual agreements that they have made.  For instance, at my institution, if a faculty member develops an online course from scratch (for the first time), they are entitled to a development stipend. There is a process behind this stipend, which includes working with an instructional designer and getting a Bootcamp version of the skills one needs to teach online, but it exists, and it takes time.  In the times of COVID19, timelines are compacted, and such processes are too long, and money is often too short.  So, instead of calling these classes online, they euphemistically call them "remote" in order to avoid paying any stipend.  The "right" course of action would be to negotiate with the faculty union about this.

The second issue that I have with the designation "remote" is that it seems to denote a "less-than" term for distance education.  It's OK that this course stinks because it's a "remote" course.  I wholeheartedly disagree.  I think the correct term for a rushed course is an emergency online course, not a remote course.  Online courses can stink.  And, some do! But to claim that we don't want to call what we do classify what we do in an emergency online learning context as online learning because that's not what online learning is,...well, that's just silly IMO.  We did start off with emergency remote teaching when this started, and why we picked the wrong word - picking remote over emergency - is beyond me. The word emergency should be enough to denote that what's happening is not necessarily the most fully fleshed out, but it is the best we can do in with the time and resources we have at hand.  Furthermore, emergency remote/online/distance learning is perfectly fine when you have one week to make the pivot.  Come September, if we're all still quarantined in place,  distance learning should not be emergency anything!  We should use the summer to plan for good online learning and to build out student supports that may be lacking at the moment!

Finally, there is an aspect of synchronous often tied with the affinity of using the term remote learning. Many people decided to just move their lectures into zoom.  Hey, a 45-minute live session might be OK three-times per week for one class; multiply that by 4 courses for a full-time student. However, sitting in front of a computer for 9 hours per week on zoom sessions that might not be needed, and then being in front of your computer for all assignment (plus all the distractions and poor internet that you might have at home) and it doesn't make for a conducive learning environment.  That said, we do have the option for synchronous online meetings. Online courses aren't designed to be strictly asynchronous or self-paced.  Furthermore, just because mixed-mode institutions have ignored their online learners for the past decade doesn't mean that online or distance learning is inflexible and doesn't adapt to the changing needs of learners. It doesn't mean that there is a lack of community, and it doesn't mean that distance education cannot create co-curricular opportunities.  Just because you have ignored some or all of these possibilities doesn't mean that they don't exist, and it doesn't require that you create a new term to describe them.

In the end, what I am seeing with remote learning is the same thing we saw in the 2012-2014 MOOC Craze years, where what we knew about online and distance education was summarily ignored due to the new shiny.  Did we not learn anything from that experience? ❓


Your thoughts?


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