25 October 2016 Register to receive our free newsletter by email each week
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The students are online but are the lecturers?
While universities and other tertiary institutions increasingly expand their e-learning and online capacities, they often fail to back up the educational technology with adequate lecturer knowledge to deliver it effectively and sustainably.

A solution to this dilemma was offered at the conference of the International Council for Open and Distance Education – ICDE – by Joy Mighty, associate vice-president for teaching and learning at Carleton University in Canada, in a presentation titled “cuOpen: Building capacity for blended and online teaching and learning in Canadian post-secondary institutions”.

The 26th ICDE World Conference was held at Sun City north of Johannesburg from 14-16 October and hosted by the University of South Africa under the theme “Growing Capacities for Sustainable Distance e-Learning Provision”.

Tertiary education institutions provide plenty of development opportunities for face-to-face interactions with students, said Mighty, but little is on offer on how to actually teach in blended and online contexts.

“Everyone knows there has been a massification of higher education with an emphasis on increased universal access but there are barriers to sustainability.”

One of those barriers is educators themselves, argued Mighty. Lecturers often exhibit negative attitudes towards online teaching while also having few opportunities to teach in online and blended contexts.

In addition, there are often no professional certificates available for such teaching.

cuOpen – Teaching the teachers

In order to address this failing the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities awarded Carleton University CAD225,000 (US$172,000) in funding in February 2014 to create a Certificate in Blended and Online Teaching programme.

Subsequently, Mighty and her team developed the certificate programme cuOpen. “It’s an open strategy with a variety of tools – a platform for e-text books, course modules, open access publication and repository.”

Carleton’s repository of open educational resources includes materials and modules licensed under Creative Commons available on the cuOpen website in editable formats which can be adapted according to the needs of other institutions.

A multidisciplinary team created 11 blended and online modules which include: online teaching skills; online course development; assessment in online environments; communication strategies in online environments; online learning communities; interaction, engagement and motivation; and the role and use of gamification in education.

“The course is 35 hours in length and combines theory and practical application,” said Mighty. “By the end of the course students will have developed a course and taught the course they have developed.”

“And it’s free,” Mighty added. “All materials are free and it’s unbranded so you don’t have Carleton all over it. It’s modelled on best practice so that people can adapt it themselves to their needs.

“We’ve had good feedback – some universities in Ontario have used it in part or whole.”

“But there are challenges,” said Mighty. “It is resource-intensive in terms of staff and you also have to battle negative attitudes to online courses. There are also different entry levels of people coming onto the course.”

“For it to succeed it requires institutional adoption plus you must maintain content that’s relevant and continue to update and upgrade,” said Mighty. “It cannot be done without strong administrative support and buy in, and it requires dedicated resources.”
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