Saturday, March 8, 2014

Strategic Design in Online Education: A New Mindset

In my last post I suggested to you that in order for online education to evolve into a more profound education experience for students, we need to create a culture of innovation. This shift not only impacts students but also online teachers in the way that they design courses and assess progress made by their students. One of the barriers to this happening is that many societies of our age have become very cynical about the future. This has the effect of creating a society at war with itself. Any suggestions that are made that are innovative that could impact education and society as a whole are too quickly dismissed or they are studied to death. This attitude is systemic not only in society as a whole but runs throughout the school systems. In such a cynical mindset,school becomes a place where the dreams and the imagination of young people about the future go to die.

This is not to suggest that every innovation that comes along should be adopted but we should follow one of the important principles of brainstorming and that is to not dismiss new ideas immediately but instead to strive to garner as many new, innovative ideas as possible. What is needed to begin this process is a change in mindset that takes us away from the pervasive cynicism that creates a society that constantly complains of the shortcomings of their lives but stifles every potential solution with the idea "it probably won't work". The change in mindset that I will describe involves changes that look at habits of the mind that are important to students and teachers and change in the structure of online courses.

Habits of the Mind, as described by Art Costa and Bena Kallick, describe a set of 16 attitudes that students and teachers should adopt in order to function effectively in a culture of innovation. These habits described below are not new but how they might be applied to the online environment is new.

  1. Persistence: One of the great problems that has its roots in a society with a cynical mindset is the fact that students when confronted with dealing with a difficult issue are quick to give up. Unfortunately, as a society, we are all to blame for this. Too often teachers and parents are enablers of students' lack of persistence. What students need are real models and examples of persistence and the fact that persistence often leads either to success at the task or the development of a alternative approach to meeting the task. NASA adopted a phrase that describes a type of mindset that needs to be more fully accepted. That phrase was:" Failure is not an option!".  The history of our nations have many examples of persistence and how it paid off. Unfortunately, we too often present these examples as exceptions to the norm rather than emphasizing that this should be the norm in our societies. Within the context of the online environment, we have before us a rich well of resources but how often do teachers and students stop after a couple of Google searches?
  2. Managing Impulsivity: Collaboration in an online environment can produce great results when properly moderated by a teacher but there is always a tendency of students to cut each other off before what they are saying is fully explained. Patience is important in this environment as much as it is important in a regular brick and mortar school. The difference is that in an online environment there is even a greater potential for distraction. For example, in a collaborative discussion there is always the chance that a student will go to his or her Facebook account to check to see what is up or become embroiled in sending messages to people who are not part of the collaboration. The role of the instructor should always be to make sure that every student is addressed by name which re-emphasizes that this is not an event in which you can be anonymous and that your contribution is vital to the success of the group.
  3. Listening to Others with Understanding and Empathy: One of the great problems of our age is that we have taught students to be narcissistic about life in our societies. It is again a product of a cynical society that we have students who have become self-absorbed and have an attitude of self-entitlement. This becomes quite evident in their relationships with their instructors, peers and parents. This is something that they have learned by the adult models in our societies. As adults consider this question: When we give to charitable causes, do we do it anonymously, not expecting any recognition or tax receipts from our government? In order for students to listen to others with understanding and empathy they need to consider the welfare of others more important than their own at the particular time in question. That involves developing the discipline of self-sacrifice for a greater good.
As you can see from the first few habits of the mind, they are attitudes that educators and students alike need to adopt if we are going to foster a mindset that is conducive to a culture of innovation. The next few attitudes tie in very nicely with the very heart of innovation and how a hierarchy of thinking skills such as Bloom's Taxonomy needs to change to incorporate to fit with a culture of innovation as it applies to online education. This discussion is for the next segment....

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