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Resistance to Teaching Online

December 2, 2005

Christopher D. Sessums’ blog post Resistance is Useful: Thoughts Concerning How to Respectfully Move Teaching and Learning Online a commentary on education in the online age is an interesting and thoughtful piece. He concludes:

Whether you are teaching online or face-to-face, educators are presented with a number of challenges in getting students to adopt skills and demonstrate intellectual and practical dexterity of many complex concepts. We might even say, teaching and learning is all about being open to and coping with perpetual change, taking calculated risks. Many academics view online teaching and learning with suspicion, and rightly so. Today’s learning technologies will revolutionize and affect colleges and universities as we know them. Faculty and administrators should be aware of the changes technology affords and question the implications deeply and critically. This act of looking critically should not stop at the technological level; it needs to consider the entire range of operations that comprise the acts of administration, teaching and learning; from the effectiveness of tenure and promotion policies to the effectiveness of multiple-choice high-stakes student examinations.

I have been teaching in face-to-face classrooms using laptops (for the “mobile” programs) with the web and WebCT, for over six years, and I largely agree with his analysis. However, I am going to comment on two aspects that are probably beyond the scope of his article.

First, the students today write, read, and learn differently than they did even five years ago. (I have an article that expands part of this point at ) Increasingly we teachers will have to learn how to help students learn how to learn in their new semiotic landscape. And we are digital immigrants ourselves!

In addition, the students, even the technologically proficient among them – and that’s fewer than many people assume, need to learn critical thinking skills about the sea of content they swim in on the web. This worries me tremendously because so few educators are taking leadership in this vital area, in my opinion. Which brings me to my second aspect …

The web is a multi-media platform, rich in visuals and sound as well as text. Almost all educators got their credentials in a text-focussed environment. Many of them (us?), I believe, fear the web (quite rationally) because it requires abilities and even perceptual training that they simply don’t have. The story of what happened at Sheridan when we put thousands of students – and their teachers – into a mobile environmentover a very few years which I lived through, illustrates the kind of learning community that can develop and support educators in this transition, and how some adapt and some resist, no matter what the circumstances.

I agree with Sessums that the “the entire range of operations that comprise the acts of administration, teaching and learning” need both a critical examination and change as rapidly as possible.

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