The role of faculty within traditional teaching institutions worldwide has always been multidimensional, involving administrative duties, research responsibilities, and a commitment to community service in addition to teaching. In the majority of institutions, this teaching role of faculty has remained unchanged for decades. In fact, most faculty teach the way they themselves were taught using the tried and trusted Socratic transmission paradigm in which sections of academic content are divided into 50 minute lectures and delivered to often large groups of passive recipients. There is simply very little incentive to make alterations to a teaching model that has been in place for hundreds of years (Buckley, 2002). Present day faculty culture often values research, productivity, and quality over high quality teaching and student evaluations tend not to reward faculty prepared to experiment and take risks with models of learning that differ from the students’ previous learning experiences. Things are changing and the use of “chalk and talk” as the primary means of content delivery is being replaced at some institutions by more collaborative, interactive approaches to learning that are supported by course management systems and the numerous recent innovations in e-learning technologies, such as electronic books, text messages, podcasting, wikis and blogs (Kim and Bonk, 2006).
The growth in distance education, online courses and computer-based learning promises to add a new dimension to the role of faculty and serve as a catalyst for a change in learning paradigm. This explosion in computer-supported education is being driven in part by the increasing demand from the expanding number of “tech-savvy” students in the education system. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 56% of all 2-year and 4-year Title IV-eligible degree-granting institutions offered distance education courses in the academic year 2000 – 2001. A 2003 survey of online learning (Allen & Seaman, 2003) revealed that over 1.6 million students took at least one online course during Fall, 2002. A subsequent survey, the fourth reporting on the nature and extent of online education (Allen & Seaman, 2006) revealed that enrollment to online courses continues to increase. In fact, almost 3.2 million students took at least one online course in the Fall of 2005. These students are largely undergraduates studying at Associates institutions (Allen & Seaman, 2006) and are part of the computer-gaming generation, continually “on the move”, often only finding time for study between social and sporting activities. For this generation, to be out of touch, to be disconnected from their community of friends and families is simply uncool. Not surprisingly, these students have high technological expectations of their faculty. Furthermore, in the new millennium the number of nontraditional students returning to education either full-time or part-time is increasing as distance education programs become more successful at marketing their product (Carnevale & Olsen 2003). These nontraditional students return to education after raising a family or seeking additional qualifications and professional development opportunities whilst holding down a permanent job lured by the increased flexibility that online programs have to offer. Having more life-experience these students are often more mature, more demanding, more focused and more highly motivated than students on a more traditional, linear educational path (observations confirmed by Dutton, Dutton, & Perry, 2002). They benefit most from a learning model that is increasingly flexible and can accommodate outside commitments. The expansion of computer-based learning may also be driven by institutional pressure to increase students’ educational opportunities and, at the same time, bring in more revenue by removing the limitations of bricks and mortar, thereby allowing for unlimited class sizes. However, the thinking that online learning is cheaper for the institution than the traditional paradigm is a widespread misconception and seriously flawed. Institutions may even embark on a computer-based learning adventure for no other reason than not to be left behind by others. In fact, today the education market place is becoming increasingly congested with private institutions, for-profit universities, and corporate giants competing with public institutions for market share.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Blended Courses: These courses utilize a combination of different delivery modalities, combining face – face with online delivery as appropriate.
Collaborative Learning: A model of learning that involves groups of students working together on a project or assignment. In this model, communication between students is crucial to a successful outcome.
Asynchronous Discussion Forum: The asynchronous discussion forum is at the heart of many computer-based courses. It is the place where student – student and student – faculty interaction occurs and learning takes place. The participants in the discussion need not be present in the learning environment at the same time and make contributions to selected threads as needed.
Flaming Episodes: Inappropriate, rude, or hostile exchanges that occur in asynchronous discussion groups.
Transmission Paradigm: A model of learning that involves one-way teacher-led delivery of academic material, most often in the form of a 50 minute lecture, to a group of passive learners in the absence of interaction.
Faculty: The collection of teachers at a school, college, or university.