I have had opportunities to teach fully online courses, solely face to face courses and blended courses. I have had both positive and negative experiences. I embrace the advantages of online learning for its flexibility in when it is delivered or accessed, use of discussion forums, videos, animations, evaluation, cost and time savings and hyperlinks to name a few. Saskatchewan Polytechnic has identified the “new learner” in its Strategic Plan and recognized that the traditional method of academic delivery (face to face) is no longer practical. Students are demanding more and educational institutions, driven by competition, have had to evolve to this changing trend. Saskatchewan Polytechnic have strongly encouraged all programs to use Brightspace to offer our students flexibility and more support in their learning journey. I have been using Brightspace for over 2 years now and have seen how beneficial it can be. I have all of my lectures available for students to access, have reading articles posted, use discussion forums, have them post their assignments, and have hyperlinks, videos and animations to supplement their learning. I have used webinars and video conferencing which has alleviated the stress and cost of scheduling guest speakers or experts in a face to face format. Although Brightspace was a lot of work to initially set up, I am able to same course components each year and import them in for following years and make edits. I also appreciate that I can track a student’s access to each section available online and this is where there is a lot of variation.
Some students are very active and others are not. In order to encourage their participation, I have assigned a grade with some limited success. Those who are not engaged, only participate minimally and the quality of their work is subpar. When you do make something optional, many students see this as an opportunity to not participate as it is not important enough to be a mandatory requirement. The students workload is heavy within our program and adding online content, assignments or discussion forums have been challenged because of the extra work it entails. I too feel that since I added online content to all of my face to face courses that I am working more than ever before. Because of online availability, students are emailing or posting after hours where I feel obliged to respond because I am the one encouraging their participation. Training and support is offered for instructors who want to use this online format but must be accessed on their own time. This too adds to an instructor’s workload as it can take a lot of time maintaining the content on these pages.
The success of blended and fully online learning is dependent on how engaged and self-directed the students are. Students who never log in or complete the tasks I have set out have struggled in these courses. They too are offered orientation to Brightspace as well as supports if they choose to use them. Some also have struggles if they are not technologically capable of using the new format. For the most part, I have seen more positives than negatives with using blended delivery methods and more and more courses are converting to this format. With change comes resistance and opportunities to learn. With time, this delivery method will be the norm if it isn’t already!
I do like how Oblinger and Hawkins (2006) argue that “learning is an active process” (p.14) and technology can be used to leverage this. I also like that they ask the question if using technology is an either or process. We must implement technology if it makes sense and our focus must continue to be with the learner and the desired outcome. Is technology going to lead to an improvement? I have seen the resistance in implementing technology in the dental office as well with the digital revolution. one of my first tasks when I was hired by Saskatchewan Polytechnic was to introduce digital radiography to our program and clinic. Many of my colleagues had no experience with it and were resistant to its implementation. I even had to hide the film so they did not resort back to the old ways of doing radiography! There were some growing pains but we have been using it now for over eight years and most importantly, we are preparing our students on what they will be using when they graduate. That is one thing that Saskatchewan Polytechnic does well is that they consult with industry annually to ensure they are maintaining standards and staying current. Technology is continually changing and it is a challenge remaining current not only because f the cost but the time required to be knowledgeable on the current trends. Professionally I am required to complete 50 hours of continuing education every 3 years (I usually am close to 100) and as an educator there is added pressure as we are the one’s people turn to for information or advice.