I’ve just returned from a conference jointly sponsored by CSSHE (Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education), COHERE (Collaboration for Online Higher Education and Research) and CHERD (Centre for Higher Education Research and Development). Its title was “The Future of Online and Blended Learning: Strategy, Policy, and Practice”. Along with Mary Power and Scott Anderson, I had the opportunity to learn about how blended and online learning are, or will be, supported and shaped by upper level policy decisions and through faculty development programs that are provided by teaching centres in universities and colleges across Canada.
I wanted to share my main take-away from the conference; invest in people.
Our grassroots approach to supporting blended learning at UW seems to be working as well, or better, than what is happening at other institutions. Rather than just applying large amounts of money to the development and ongoing support of a few “flagship” blended courses, or having pockets of course developers working in isolation in Schools or Faculties to develop programs of blended courses, UW provides support for the development of blended courses more broadly. Through CTE and ITMS (Instructional Technologies and Multimedia Services) there is support to design courses that represent a range of “blendedness” and that align with the discipline and objectives of instructors who choose to use online components in their courses. We do this through our CTE faculty liaisons and through my role as an instructional developer of blended learning, as well as through the technical support provided by the UW-ACE help team. These people are knowledgeable about teaching and learning, bring a range of expertise to the job and adapt their practices in response to the needs of the students at UW.
Mary and Scott presented a session called “One Model for Success: Supporting Blended Learning through Faculty Liaisons” where they shared how liaisons promote technological and pedagogical best practices together as “one stop shopping” when they consult with instructors and how the physical placement of the liaisons within the Faculties increases their visibility and accessibility and facilitates relationship building. They spoke about how they function as neutral and objective consultants within their Faculties and how, through their own networks, they can share what works well, and what doesn’t, in blended courses. They talked about how they collaborate with the folks at ITMS, work on technology-related committees and how their input promotes better decisions around UW’s support of technology.
Reactions from the audience? Many commented on how lucky we are to have this model, that this seemed really different from the strategies used on their campuses and how this approach must have involved some risk and vision on the part of our upper administrators.
Of course there are challenges. As Mary and Scott pointed out to the crowd, there is just too much work now. The liaisons have become victims of their own success. We are all struggling to continue to support this model and its original intent because as the number of blended courses grow and the number of faculty using UW-ACE increases we are strapped to provide the same levels of pedagogical consultation and support that we did when these (mostly part-time) roles were envisioned in 2001. My hope is that in this atmosphere of cut-backs and fiscal restraint that we can maintain this vision and even increase our support at the grassroots level, in people.