It is common for schools to allow teachers a great degree of latitude in designing their online courses. Providing such freedom is good as many teachers are professionals and know what they want to do. However, when you scale this level of autonomy over dozens or even hundreds of teachers, it can lead to chaos for several campus stakeholders.
I say this because if everyone is doing what they want, everyone is adjusting to what everyone else is doing. Given that communication is more problematic over the internet because of the loss of body language and other informal means of communication, allowing everyone to teach as they see fit is administrative chaos often.
This post will look at how institutions need to have a general format for presenting and interacting online to reduce the variability inherent with human nature. One particular way of designing courses will not be encouraged. Instead, the point is that the institution needs to agree on a general way of sharing content online. When institutions have an agreed-upon general instructional design approach, it helps
- Students to focus on learning
- Teachers to focus on teaching
- Support staff to focus on supporting
Students can focus on learning
In the online context, the students may be the most vulnerable to stress and failure of all parties involved. It is their job to perform through passing assessments and completing assignments. Therefore, students should focus on the content and not adjust to every teacher’s unique instructional design style.
If every teacher has their online course setup in radically different ways, students have to spend time just figuring out how a course is set up. One teacher has a link for attendance; another teacher post videos externally on youtube; some teachers communicate through the LMS while others use Facebook. This teacher uses online quizzes, and another teacher has students take a picture of assignments they have taken (this is not a joke). With all the different ways, the students’ cognitive capacity is wasted on something that has nothing to do with learning and interacting.
Again, the stress of the student can be significantly reduced from merely having a general format for the course. The use of standard blocks and activities despite content could help. Having some basic order of the presentation of activities may be beneficial as well.
Teachers can focus on teaching
Sometimes freedom can be the enemy of efficiency. When teachers can do whatever they want in online teaching, they may struggle with making decisions about doing anything. If their options are limited in a helpful way for their own benefit and that of their students, it allows the teachers to focus on becoming familiar with this new context of online teaching.
Having a general format presented by the institution provides training wheels for inexperienced teachers and restrains experienced teachers from departing to far from a standard. Of course, we all want to support freedom and innovation, but the stress of a crisis may not be the best time to have the authority to do whatever you want.
A cookie-cutter approach to teaching online may not be exciting, but it is efficient, and it removes the strain of unnecessary decision-making when there are so many other things to be concerned about.
Support staff can focus on supporting
If all the teachers are doing whatever they want online, it can strain the support staff, such as IT. IT is now being forced to provide custom-made support for every teacher’s unique ideas. Having a general approach that is agreed to can allow IT to conserve resources and work with common problems rather than individual and distinct issues.
For example, I once had to check the course design of teachers at an institution. Fortunately, it was during summer school at a small university, but it was still about 50 courses, which was about one per teacher. If I had had to provide the same support during a regular semester, it could have easily been almost 200 courses. However, if all the teachers are sharing their content in a similar manner, it speeds up the supervision process because the level of scrutiny is lower. In addition, people can be trained the distinct university style of designing and can provide feedback and that of the support staff expert.
The challenges and concerns of teaching online mean that there is a need to streamline the process so that everyone involved can focus on what they need to do. Naturally, there should be some flexibility in the design of courses as different teachers, subjects, and students have different needs. The point here is to make sure there are agreed-upon boundaries to limit the variability from course to course.