Champions Vs. Resisters: Coaxing The Dragon Over The Wall

Champions Vs. Resisters: Coaxing The Dragon Over The Wall
Before blowing a lot of hot air about moving to an online environment, institutional administrators determine whether such a transition is appropriate for their particular context. Illustration by Arab Fancy.

I’ve been traveling over the past little while and have met with several organizations and universities regarding distance education, e-learning, and technology in the classroom “stuff”. I gotta tell ya, I’m seeing a lot of fear out here.

The predominant themes of these discussions seem to fall into two categories: The Champions and The Resistors. Visions of “West Side Story” come to mind. Only this is serious life altering business with futures, children, big monies, and egos at stake. Unfortunately, there will be no elaborate musical number to wrap the story and no one goes home feeling good and fruitful. The lines are drawn and apparently no one is budging.

I’m hearing talk about change from both sides. There does seem to be a lot of talk. Talk of change. Talk of enlightenment. Talk of distance education, technology, training, and (by some) educational revolution. Yep, there is a lot of talk. More words than I can count. Big words. Little words. Smart sounding words… expensive $5 words. The kind of words you have to look up. Words that make you go, “Huh?”

But talk with no action is just the wind that extinguishes the ever powerful dragon’s flame of hope. (Psychedelic, man – in prose only).

The change agent form of the dragon has gone weak.  It’s scared and isn’t coming out for anyone or anything.  This is a problem that no one seems to be addressing.  Who is the dragon’s advocate?  Who is the change agent’s coach?  So far, no one.

So the talk continues and nothing of any great consequence happens.  The discussions, the meetings, the committee’s, and the feelings both sides have about it all. If you’ve read my other articles here, “All You Need is Love! Really?” you’ll fully understand where I think “feelings” go in this technology discussion.  If you haven’t, go over there now.  It’ll help.  It’ll clarify.

It appears, from my meetings, that more are becoming aware that there has to be some DE and Tech change at their institutions but there is such a fear in questioning if you are obsolete that a lot of heel-digging of justification has occurred.  A Lot . Much. Mucho. In other words, “Somebody had put Baby in the corner!”

Here is a tidy chart I created to summarize what I witnessed this last week.  The participants are from universities (private and public) and a number of corporations (small to large) – in other words I had the privilege of access to a lot of relevant folks.  It’s a good cross cut of who “we” – both Champions and Resisters – are.

 

     

CHAMPIONS

RESISTERS

HOW MUCH

100% technology

Most classes should be online

Technology training mandated

Student support services online

None to minimal technology

Content online as a repository only

No student support online

IN WHAT CONTEXT

All contexts

Navigational toward f2f only

Systematic functions only

Non-instructional

WHY

Accessibility

Digital fluency

Global competitiveness

Graduate relevance

Marketplace expansion

Institutional credibility

Institutional viability

Lack of research validity of proven learning gains

Digital fluency unnecessary

Compromises institutional values

Compromises instructional outcomes

 

We could all jump up and down and justify why our corners are right.  In every single instance, in every bit of conversation, in every eye-roll, deep sigh, and sip of water I witnessed resignation of spirit for the fight.  The rooms took on very tangible smell of passion, once fueled by determination and a sense of ‘right vs. wrong’, waning in the twilight of the day.  The same sad perfume of roses spent, wilting at the edges and past their prime.

What has happened?  Where is tomorrow?  Who is fighting for it? What will it take to resurrect the dragon of determination and coax it over the wall towards growth, expansion, and hope for education? What happened to our dragon?

I don’t propose to have all of the answers but I am brave enough to offer the dragon some treats.  Maybe a pat on the head and a map. My belief is that if we reframe the conversation and allow both parties to be right and wrong, simultaneously, we create an environment of potential  – the very place dragons love to frolic and thrive because, as we all learned from a particular children’s movie, not all dragons are mean.  Some just want love.

I propose a dragon friendly chart of interaction, one that takes both side’s needs and views into consideration and allows for both parties to be right while creating a workable and progressive plan.

CHAMPIONS

MODERATES

RESISTERS

HOW MUCH

100% technology

Most classes should be online

Technology training mandated

Student support services online

1-3  year adoption curve

Classes available dual-mode

Technology training dual- mode

Student support tiered

None to minimal technology

Content online as a repository only

No student support online

IN WHAT CONTEXT

All contexts

1-3 year roll out

Systematic to Instructional

Navigational toward f2f only

Systematic functions only

Non-instructional

WHY

Accessibility

Digital fluency

Global competitiveness

Graduate relevance

Marketplace expansion

Institutional credibility

Institutional viability

Onsite instructional designers

Limited outsourcing to corporate designers

Global affiliation w/like institutions

Find common value centers for expansive/sharing implementation

Lack of research validity of proven learning gains

Digital fluency unnecessary

Compromises institutional values

Compromises instructional outcomes

 

As with any polarized environment, a happy middle ground is the goal.  There will rarely be a conversion of parties – doesn’t often happen in politics and religion and it isn’t likely to happen here either.  That’s okay.  If both sides can see the hope of the middle, and resist the urge to lock themselves behind their mental and physical doors, then the dragon might come out to play.  Dragons are powerful and have a way of changing things – let them – but first make sure it isn’t going to burn the place down due to the fuel it gains from the argumentative culture of board room, and institutional resistance, debates.

It would be very easy (and oh so very foolish) to say that all courses, all institutions, and all situations are best (let alone belong) online and in a distance education environment.  There are just some teaching moments that don’t need to be there (cardiac surgery for one).

Some things just don’t translate well – and no amount of technology whoopla is going to change that.  However, some situations and courses are very appropriate for the environment and I believe they should be appropriately placed.  It’s all a matter of good design and solid pedagogy.  It’s about coming to the table and being determined to get that dragon over the wall.

Peace and good choices.

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Readers Comments

Chuck Sigmund 2012/03/26 at 4:51 pm

I too have witnessed this same back and forth between the hard-liners on both sides of the fence Dr. Maston. Having been involved in the online instructional world for almost 15 years now, it is interesting to see how far, yet how little we have come to understanding the benefits that can be obtained from appropriate use of the different instructional methods.

I would propose yet a slightly different ‘dragon friendly’ chart. whereas much of what people seem to focus on now is either cost or technical availability when deciding whether to use a FTF or online course, it is clear that these are not the criterai that we should be using. Nor is some arbitrary adoption time period. The fact is that given today’s technology and the availability of experts, both for permanent hire and as consultants, any company can quickly and efficiently convert just about any course to online. The issue at hand though is whether this is appropriate or not. Clearly the answer is no. What those on both extremes of this argument sem to be missing is that the best determinant of the type of training to be used is the actual content or material of the training itself. While some courses easily lend themselves to an online format (e.g., software demonstrations), others simply are not well-suited for this environment (e.g., statistics or many soft skills). What we as educators and trainers need to be emphasizing to our subject matter experts and to our clients is that the single most important decision we can make in developing and delivering material is which environment (and I do note your suggestion of mixed mode presentation as a very viable option) is appropriate. Frankly, once that is determined, much of the bluster seems to go out of these arguments because there really is nothing left to dispute.

CS

James Branden 2012/03/27 at 3:27 am

“What those on both extremes of this argument sem to be missing is that the best determinant of the type of training to be used is the actual content or material of the training itself. While some courses easily lend themselves to an online format (e.g., software demonstrations), others simply are not well-suited for this environment (e.g., statistics or many soft skills).”

Preach, Chuck! Preach!

Dr. Heidi L. Maston 2012/03/27 at 4:26 pm

Chuck Sigmund:

Thank you for your well thought out, and insightful, reply! I’d like to agree with everything you said – almost…

I do agree that cost and technical availability seem to run the room (and that has lead to more problems than it’s solved) but I would like to carry it one step further with this: the corporations that are being hired to create the curriculum have no real business creating academic curriculum and ‘selling it forward’. The two languages are completely different. What I found troubling these past few weeks is the number of Universities doing just that: hiring out with NO curriculum developers on-site they are just purchasing content from corporate writers.

Let that sink it.

….exactly!….

I did not, or do I ever, support the claim that all courses can/should be taught online. I gave the example of “cardiac surgery”… oh sure, I want to have the Surgeon who has the ‘high score’ in computer based surgery… sorta like “Operation” cutting me open… no way, no how! Some things are just foolishness. I’ll have no part of that team.

I believe we need to gather the parties, have a fluid discussion of potential, time, needs, wants, fears, etc. and then establish a goal. Not a hard and fast roll-out (or arbitrary deadline which, by the way, was suggestive for movement only) deadline. The conversations need to be had. Not just but in a box for later.

If we continue the way we are, we will continue to get the results we are getting. I don’t believe anyone wants that.

Dr. Heidi L. Maston

Dr. Heidi L. Maston 2012/03/27 at 4:34 pm

Welcome back, James Branden!

I wish I could say most of the parties that I have encountered have even gotten to this place of argument. You are reading ahead!

I believe it comes down to good content delivered by good instructors gets good results. The inverse is also true. We need to make sure we have the right people in place with the right materials for the right audience with the right learning objectives. A lot goes into that flow.

We need to get the right people at the table and stop allowing corporations to dictate what educators need. Educators need to stand up and drive the learning machine, not be driven by corporate profits, deadlines, and marketing goals.

Dr. Heidi L. Maston

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