I recently had a conversation with someone who shared (unsurprisingly) that collegiate faculty often had serious objections to online learning. The loss of control of the instructor’s intellectual property, the dilution of faculty-and-student interaction, the uncertainty of student engagement, and the potential threat of the traditional higher education business model are all issues that will take some time to work through. That said, there are upsides to faculty participation in online learning.
- Acquiring new teaching techniques and staying relevant: New media competencies are a requirement for nearly every profession, and are already prevalent in primary and secondary education. The use of video, multimedia, games, slideshows, and presentations have a legitimate place in the modern classroom. Use of videoconferencing, chat, message boards, blogs, and podcasts enrich the learning experience for both the content consumer and producer.
- Self-promotion: Academic faculty – living under the guise of ‘publish-or-perish’ suddenly have a new venue to promote themselves and their research. Online learning can tie in with academic and commercial publications as well as media visibility, all of which benefit those working in academia.
- Lower the barrier to deploying new classes: Faculty engaging in cutting-edge, controversial, or emerging disciplines may not have the administrative support or student demand to support scheduling a class. Creating an online class allows an instructor to lower the barrier of entry to getting their material in front of students.
- Work-life balance: Faculty have the same challenges as any other person working in the modern economy. Consider online instruction as the equivalent of allowing an employee to work from home. Suddenly time and even place can become less important. An academic doing research in the field only needs a laptop and internet connection to teach. A new parent has the availability to take care of a child without needed to commute or spend a late night facilitating a class. Academics who are challenged by illness or declining health can extend their academic careers.
There are threats to academia from online learning, but there are also upsides.