The Unexpected Online Learning Pivot: Faculty Persistence Through the Swerve and Dangle

The Unexpected Online Learning Pivot: Faculty Persistence Through the Swerve and Dangle

Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6944-3.ch002
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The COVID-19 pandemic that swelled into an economic maelstrom during the year 2020 also focused a direct hit on higher education. As faculty and students were heading into spring break, the seismic impact of impending changes were realized. Within the digital age, the technology has raised an ever-increasing recognition of differentiated styles of teaching and learning, yet so many faculty held tightly to the traditional face-to-face instructional environments. Yet faculty persistence won the day, reflecting the ability of higher education faculty to succeed through the swerving road of the unknown, the tightrope that they walked dangling daringly over the online chasm of understanding. This chapter focuses on the initial foray into the principles of instruction, followed by an understanding of the differentiation between optics and outcomes, developing strategic priorities, an understanding of nuanced teaching and learning, and the gratitude and understanding conceived through critically reflective pedagogy and journaling.
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The COVID-19 pandemic that swelled into an economic maelstrom during the year 2020 also focused a direct hit on higher education. As faculty and students were planning and heading off for spring break, cities, states, and countries were beginning to realize the overwhelming health situation that had spread without restraint into every corner of every country throughout the world. Local, state and national leadership were warning the citizenry to stay at home, to ensure gatherings did not occur so as to support the spread, businesses were shut down, and even schools from elementary and secondary school to technical colleges, community colleges and universities were unable to offer face to face courses in the middle of the spring semester. The faculty with online instructional experience, whether blended or flipped or fully online courses, were in a stronger situation than their faculty colleagues who had previously proudly stated their never online stance in public venues and derided the concept of online instruction as lower quality and less than in experiential engagement and learning. Now that all institutions of learning were locked down for all but essential personnel, the faculty with online experience swiftly moved their courses into a fully online learning environment situation, supporting and guiding their students into a successful experience as the spring semester closed out.

Many students had no previous online course experience and required emotional support, coaching, and motivational guidance, as students new to the online experience tested the viability of this new space in which learning could occur. Faculty with prior online experience enhanced their courses with different forms of motivational supports, including additional self-regulation tools and guidance, including significant personalized engagement with students so as to develop a level of self-efficacy in the student’s online experiential learning. The asynchronous tools were strongly implemented by the faculty, creating additional video lectures, micro-assists (Crawford, 2020) to support the student’s progression through the course experience, and innumerable interactive resources that are available within the online environment, as well as in-course discussion boards and messaging mail. Along with the asynchronous tools was the implementation of synchronous tools, including telephone calls and video conferencing events that were informal as well as formal.

As a faculty member who has years of experience instructing face to face, blended, flipped and online styles of course engagement, the author was one of the very lucky amongst the faculty who was already comfortably ensconced in the online learning world and was able to swiftly move non-online courses into fully online educational experiences without a severe level of angst. The author had also worked to create a strong community of learning within the semester’s courses, so the students were comfortably transparent and communicative as we pivoted into a fully online learning environment. For this reason, as we returned from the extended spring break period and engaged within the course’s online learning environments, the author reached out to my students with a request for guidance. Namely, our online course was primarily asynchronous in nature, although the author was in each course for hours each day. What the author wanted to know from our course colleagues, was how to best support their comfortability in our online courses as we progressed in this unusual second half of the spring semester together. Did our course student colleagues desire that I schedule formal mandatory or non-mandatory video conference events on a weekly or bi-weekly basis? Did our student colleagues desire that the author hold video conference-based online office hours each week, in addition to the normal time and effort that the author spent within our online course space? The author requested guidance from the student colleagues in each course in an attempt to not only reflect a sense of their own control within the learning environment but that the author was clearly engaged, available, and that nothing had changed from earlier in the semester’s efforts. The feedback that the author received was surprising. Only one person was very nervous about moving fully online and wanted to ensure that the author was available to her, asking to set up video conference office hours. All the other students communicated that they were already overwhelmed with overactive faculty in their other courses, who were mandating weekly video conference events, were scheduling individual video conference meetings with each student, and online office hours. The response that author received quite clearly was along the lines of “please, no more!”

Key Terms in this Chapter

Traditional Face-to-Face Learning: This term is normally associated with the bricks and mortar world of the physical space in which teachers and students come together for the instructional events.

Principles of Instruction: The basic understandings around the process within an instructional effort, towards a student successfully learning the information and achieving the designated learning objectives.

Online Learning: This term is frequently associated with learning management system software that houses an all-in-one approach to having all subject matter materials, communications, directives, and assessment tools housed within one location. It is important to recognize that online learning is a differentiated environment from other forms of learning engagement, wherein the teacher rethinks their role and the role of the classroom environment.

Lesson Plan: This is a procedural understanding of progressive effort within the instructional environment. This is an outcome-based understanding associated with how people learn. There are innumerable different types of lesson plan models, although the models are all similar in nature.

Quadruple Loop Learning: This is a theorized next step approach towards engagement within Argyris’ (1990, 1999) loops of learning that have traditionally been labeled as single loop, double loop, and triple loop learning towards achieving results. This quadruple loop level is focused upon social engagement and community engagement, beyond the four walls of the classroom environment and into the real-world implementation and deeper understanding of the subject matter under study.

Philosophical Beliefs: The viewpoint and belief system of a person, around how that person believes that people learn, how to “best” learn subject matter, and the roles of the teacher and student in the learning environment.

Faculty: These are professionals who are not only subject matter experts, but have accepted professional service roles that normally hold the responsibility for teaching, research and service within the higher education organization but also within the profession at the organizational, local, state, regional, national and international levels of scholarly engagement.

Spiral Engagement: This is an engaged movement between the different loops of learning as well as the overarching results of the learning experience. This emphasizes the engagement between loops of understanding, wherein the learner may move between the loops of learning.

COVID-19: This is the name of the global pandemic that struck in 2020 and developed into new strains at the beginning of 2021. This pandemic shut down larger cities due to the influx of severely ill people who overwhelmed the traditional medical system.

Higher Education: This is the post-K-12 teaching and learning organization that is not mandatory to attend but is an optional additional academic learning opportunity for the citizenry. Community colleges and universities fall within this umbrella, including technical colleges, non-profit and for-profit organizations.

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