Downsides of Curricular Innovation

In innovation in teaching, teaching with technology on December 17, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Escape buttonDoes innovation mean dumbing down?

The National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT) urges institutions to develop low cost, effective methods to deliver course content and improve learning. Efficient uses of technology are integral to that process.

But what if the technology is a substitute for professors? That is one of the greatest fears of academics-that faculty will be replaced with professors in a box who do not “teach” and that instead serve as reviewers similar to instructors in correspondence courses.

In the article A Curricular Innovation, Reexamined, an Inside Higher Education special report on a for-credit set of courses organized by StraighterLine, the organization raised questions about the use of technology in teaching. According to the article, the courses are cheap (unlimited for $99 per month, $399/course, or 10 for $999) and are accepted for credit at some institutions. The report highlighted some positives-individual tutoring and the ability to self-test for improvement and some negatives–older course materials and significant numbers of errors.

I think that quality can be incorporated into online courses. The report reminds me 50s Robotthat we need to be vigilant to be sure that online materials must be checked for rigor. The report also reminds me that face-to-face courses are seldom rigorously evaluated and should be subject to the similar oversight for quality.

Have you ever presented materials (PowerPoint slides, handouts, exams), that had errors? Have you ever said something in class that was wrong and later had to correct it? In a face-to-face class, the only people who know you made those errors are the students who saw the materials. Seldom do our peers review all our materials and note errors. In an online class, those items are memoralized electronically in the course and thus errors can be more easily identified. Since many faculty want to check online course materials more carefully, the errors become a basis for arguing that online education and materials are inferior.

So what does that mean for innovation? We must innovate and as faculty we should be integrally involved in oversight of face to face and online courses. We have to figure out the balance between academic freedom and evaluating quality, but some of the problems discovered in online courses are also equally evident upon review of face to face courses.

Let’s treat both with equal rigor.


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