Turning education upside-down

Online College Edu Blogger Scholarship ContestNote revised @ 12:30 p.m. CDT March 12, 2009.

This is my official entry into the 2009 Edu Blogger Scholarship Contest, and I want readers to know that if I am fortunate enough to win one of the three cash prizes, I will donate half of the winnings to the Missouri S&T Staff Council. This is my effort to help give a little bit back to an organization that means so much to our hard-working staff. But, I need your help. Part of the criteria for winning this award has to do with traffic back to the sponsoring site, so please click on the image above to help out. Thank you.

I took a fairly traditional route to a college degree — community college for two years, then on to the major state university — so I don’t have a lot of first-hand experience in the area of distance or online education. But in my work as a university communicator, I’ve written a lot about the distance and online programs we have at Missouri S&T. A few years ago, our staff published a magazine all about our online education program, and I had the good fortune to interview one of the pioneers of distance learning, Professor Ken Ragsdell, who teaches in our engineering management department. And through that interview, I learned a lot about the philosophy of education — not just online education, but all education.

Ken’s first shot at teaching students from a distance came in 1973, when the dean of engineering at Purdue, where Ken taught at the time, asked him to teach a course over live television. Thirty-six years later, he’s still teaching distance courses, both online and via satellite. What he’s learned over the years may look odd to many educators, but as he told me back in 2004, “Once you slip into this world of trying to look at education in a different way, innovation looks normal.”

And what is that different way?

The professor’s role switches now from expert/judge to coach. When I was younger, I saw myself as the major source of knowledge for my students. Now I have to be an educational manager and provide many paths to learning so students can easily navigate through a course — to put the students more in control of their educational experience and provide opportunities for all students to learn and realize their potential.

You’ve got to turn the educational process upside-down and put the student at the center. It’s a bit humbling, because as a professor you lose some control. But the reward for that is better student learning and much better retention.

What online learning also does, according to Ragsdell, is flip-flop higher learning’s traditional paradigm. Universities are organized around synchronicity. Classes and semesters begin and end at specific times. When time’s up, students are judged by what they’ve learned during that period.

What would happen, though, if universities ditched the obsession with sequential education in favor of a model more in step with online education?

  • What if students could complete a course at an accelerated pace, taking the final exam long before semester’s end?
  • What if students could elect to take only one or two hours of a three-hour course, what Ragsdell calls “micro-modules”?
  • Or what if students could enroll in two courses offered at the same time? If all the material is available online and professors are accessible, there’s no reason why the paradigm could not shift.

Those are some of the what if’s Ragsdell ponders. Turning education upside-down seems to make sense.

What do you think?

Oh, and don’t forget to click:

Online College Edu Blogger Scholarship Contest


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s