Edmundson then goes on to ask the question: Can online education ever be education of the very best sort? This is a valid question and one we should continue to ask, but what irks me is the assumption that a lecture class is the gold standard by which education should be measured. Just this week Cathy Davidson argued that “If we profs can be replaced by a computer screen, we should be.” She makes many excellent points about the need for education reform and how/why online education will be a major player in that reform but she also points out that lectures are an economic expedient but not good pedagogy. Davidson points out lectures may (if done well by the expert performers Edmundson lauds) be entertaining, but research shows students do not retain information presented in this format or understand how to apply it. Just yesterday Matt Reed agreed with Davidson and noted that lecture has never been “a particularly effective way to teach.” Online classes can be and are designed and taught in similarly ineffective ways all around the world, but as Davidson and Reed point out there is also great potential for innovation in both the traditional classroom and the online classroom if we adapt to new circumstances and knowledge and employ new strategies and new tools. Whether we like it or not, times are changing and we profs need to reform and “turn into the skid” or the university will indeed be torn apart as Edmundson so fears. The fault will not be with online education but will instead be with profs (and institutions) that refuse to evolve and grow.
The idea that Edmundson presented which really made my blood boil is that an online class cannot be a genuine intellectual community because it is a monologue rather than a dialogue (ironic much?). He goes on to describe online education as anonymous, sterile, abstract, and lonely. I thought my head my spin off my shoulders after reading this opinion which was apparently formed after watching a pre-filmed online class. Well, of course that model of online education is not as rich as the live lecture (which is already pretty ineffective) but apparently Edmundson is not aware of the tremendously rich and varied pedagogy taking place around the world that harnesses the power of technology to make online and blended classes exciting and challenging places to learn. It makes me wonder how Edmundson would respond if his students present such a poorly supported argument.
I would urge anyone who questions the exciting class design possible in online and blended classes to visit such collectives as HASTAC and Hybrid Pedagogy to find overwhelming support to counter the idea that online education is anonymous, sterile, abstract, and lonely. I strive to make my classes an interactive community with dynamic, collaborative projects and my class activities and assignments are constantly evolving inspired by the amazing work being done by my friends, peers, and colleagues around the world. This is an exciting time to be an educator and I believe our students are enriched by the experience. Sometimes my class activities and assignments don’t work out as planned (or hoped) but then that was true when I taught face-to-face. Often my online space is messy but then so was my traditional class space – we were often loud too. But this week, our first week of classes at my institution, we have begun building a community. I shared personal tidbits about my hobbies, family, and dog and invited students to share as well. As we interact as a group, we have talked about favorite books, movies, TV shows, and video games as well as tattoos, crafts, and pets. We are finding out who is creative, who is nervous about technology, and who is incredibly busy. After only three days, 22 students have posted more than 150 messages to each other in our Community forum. Sure I have included some prerecorded videos to explain assignments but there are no lectures. Instead we will continue to share, discuss, challenge, and question – and I know that I will learn from my students just as they learn from me and from each other. I don’t know how Edmundson defines a “genuine intellectual community” but I’m pretty sure we’ve got one going on and I know we are not alone.