Humanizing Learning for All: Considerations for Large-Scale Online Design Initiatives

Humanizing Learning for All: Considerations for Large-Scale Online Design Initiatives

Carole Hunter (Charles Sturt University, Australia), Louise Hard (Charles Sturt University, Australia) and Fiona Douglas (Charles Sturt University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0968-4.ch010
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This chapter examines the complexities associated with achieving large scale change in online learning in a way that is humanizing for all stakeholders. Whilst rapid changes in online learning over the past decade have resulted in a more personalized and inclusive learning experience for students, leaders of these initiatives often fail to put in place strategies to ensure the change process itself is a humanizing one for those involved, including academic leaders and educators. Part of the reason for this is arguably the increasing and pragmatic need to achieve outcomes within short timeframes; this is compounded by the diverse skill base, influences and perceptions of individuals involved in changes of this kind. This chapter examines these complexities and offers strategies for humanizing large scale change in online learning following lessons learned from the Online Course Innovation project, a faculty-based initiative to redesign over 280 subjects in a two-and-a-half-year timeframe.
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Organizations are communities of human beings, they are not collections of human resources. (Mintzberg, in Rourke, 2010)

Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are at a critical juncture. Increasingly, the sector is being commodified and marketized, with changes to government policy, the mainstreaming of alternative providers, and a more open marketplace driving competition between institutions to unprecedented levels (Teelken, 2012). At the same time, the sector has experienced a series of “disruptive moments” (Christensen & Eyring, 2011; Bass, 2012), including the widespread introduction of online learning, social media, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and competency-based education. These have challenged institutions to rethink traditional practices, and reconsider what the University might offer in terms of student experience and outcomes.

In such a climate, many HEIs are making important decisions about the kinds of strategic initiatives that will distinguish them from others in the sector. The perceived economic imperative to respond to disruptions in a competitive market has given these initiatives an added sense of urgency, with significant, large-scale changes in online learning and teaching practice at various institutions now a regular feature in the news and social media (Cameron, 2014; Higher ED IQ, 2014; Dodd, 2015; Redrup, 2015). At the coalface, academic leaders and educators often feel overwhelmed, given the multiple expectations placed upon them. Even the most passionate educators can feel disengaged through the process (Teelken, 2012).

This chapter explores the complexities and challenges of large-scale change in higher education through a faculty-based project to redesign 280 subjects for the online environment over a period of two-and-a-half years. While simply moving online is hardly a ground-breaking activity in today’s climate the mentioned large-scale undertaking is significant in that it aligns with the increasing recognition of a key long-term challenge for universities: moving from pockets of innovation to enabling the introduction of existing innovations into everyday practice, and regarded as mainstream (Hill, 2015). It is significant in its size and impact, as well as the short timeframe in which the changes were required, thus serving as a mirror for the kinds of issues that will potentially challenge other large-scale initiatives in online learning.

Charles Sturt University (CSU) is an Australian multi-campus university located in regional New South Wales, and at a strategic level, has long referenced its provision of distance education as a major aspect of its role as a higher education provider (CSU, 2013). Beginning with a correspondence model comprizing solely mailed print packages, this has evolved over time to incorporate residential schools, and over the past decade, an increasing use of the online learning environment. Yet, as is the case in many institutions, this transition has been sporadic and uneven across faculties and schools, with pockets of innovation developing amongst individual academics and disciplines, rather than through any coordinated, large-scale initiative designed to achieve a collective and consistently high quality outcome.

In July 2012, a memo from the Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor charged faculties with the responsibility of achieving the “...phased introduction of online equivalents in 2013 and 2014 with no printed guides and notes to be available after 2014” (official communication, July 25, 2012). How to achieve this objective was up to individual faculties to determine and implement. The Faculty of Business, through its Online Course Innovation (OCI) Project, used this as an opportunity to explore large-scale change, its complexities and challenges, and the kinds of strategies put in place to ensure that the change was inclusive of the needs of all stakeholders. This meant balancing the change requirements, while also respecting that the human experience is central to the change process.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Teaching and Learning Regimes (TLRs): Local ‘rules, assumptions, practices and relationships related to teaching and learning issues in higher education’ ( Trowler & Cooper, 2002 , p. 221), which may clash against the changes to teaching practices expected of academics as part of a new initiative.

OCI: Online Course Innovation, the name of the project discussed in this chapter.

Sessional Staff: Academic staff who are not on permanent or continuing contracts, often referred to as “casual staff” countries/institutions.

TPACK: Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge is a framework by Mishra and Koehler (2006) that outlines the kinds of knowledge needed by a teacher to ensure effective pedagogical practice in a technology enhanced learning environment.

Humanizing: Being concerned with the interests and welfare of humans and, for the purposes of this chapter, specifically those impacted by large-scale initiatives. To humanize is to ensure that those involved are able to learn through the initiative in a way that fosters dignity and fulfilment in their professional lives.

Massification: The expansion of provision and uptake of higher education.

MOOC: Massive, Open, Online Course, an online course that is openly accessible with unlimited participation.

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