Turbulence and Transformation: One Professor’s Journey into Online Learning

Turbulence and Transformation: One Professor’s Journey into Online Learning

Frederick C. Buskey (Western Carolina University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-985-9.ch012


The chapter uses kayaking as a metaphor for describing the lessons learned by the author as he worked towards helping future school leaders develop ethical understandings in an online course. The chapter describes basic challenges of teaching online, guiding principles of transformational learning, and defines ethical leadership. The author describes key online learning components, including the role of the instructor as facilitator, using engaging and challenging content, establishing a strong learning community, deep reflection, and practice of learning in the real world. The author also shares specific examples of course structures and assignments and observations and reflections from participants in the course.
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We live in an age of abundant opportunity. I teach in the mountains of Western North Carolina, amidst the Appalachians and the Smoky Mountains, where numerous rivers flow. They alternatively ease their way across valley floors, twist thrillingly around mountain spurs, and cascade turbulently down rocky slopes. This is kayak territory. The kayak and the rivers that carry it have become the metaphor for my teaching and learning. As a newcomer to the professoriate and to online education, I have journeyed like the kayaker on a river of teaching opportunity, alternatively crashing, hoping, and exalting in the thrill of the ride.

Like the kayaker in rough water, I have been turned upside down by “flaming” discussion posts or by my own course mismanagement; I have shot the rapids of raging discussion threads, not knowing where things would wind up but hoping that they would smooth out in the end; and, much more frequently, I have exalted in the growth of course participants, including myself. This chapter describes my journey as an online instructor in personal terms. The chapter also identifies salient features of this river of learning.

Western Carolina University is a regional comprehensive university located in an isolated western North Carolina. The university is the primary service provider for preparing school leaders for 17 rural counties. With the move to an online principal licensure program in 2005, the institution’s base of service has expanded to nearly every county in the state. Over 200 students come from different backgrounds and with different experiences seeking licensure to become school principals. They are committed to “making a difference” in their schools. They come from different teaching environments, rural, suburban, and urban. Course participants have varying ethnicities, beliefs, and experiences as teachers and school leaders.

This chapter shares my search to create a transformational experience in an online course that leads course participants to take action to improve their schools. The course, EDL 620, was originally designed as an ethics and law course for aspiring school administrators. I purposefully redesigned the course when I took it over. By using Jerry Starratt’s (2004) book Ethical Leadership, I hoped to change participants' concepts of ethical leadership by weaving understanding and experience into action on issues of social justice. The goal of facilitating personal transformation in sixteen weeks in an online course has forced me to explore a variety of approaches and to develop an emphasis on reflective practice and risk taking. Learning to build a course that served the needs of the learners has been like learning to navigate the rapids during a rainstorm.

This chapter is designed for those who are new to online teaching and for those who wish to transform both their own teaching and the learning of people served in their courses. The chapter explores the nexus of online teaching, principles of personal transformation, the artistry of teaching and the topic of ethics. I will take readers through an analysis of key elements of EDL 620, a course in Western Carolina University's online Masters of School Administration program. It is not my intent to propose a single best model. Instead, I hope to stimulate reflection and curiosity and to the reader's perspective by sharing what has worked for me.

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