What really constitutes a ‘true’ university experience?
The other day I received two articles in my inbox. One was titled ‘Survey: Most students say online learning is as good or better than face-to-face’ (Schaffhauser 2018a), and the other was titled ‘Survey: 7 in 10 people don’t believe online classes can provide a “true college experience”’ (Schaffhauser 208b).
What was most interesting to me is that we are still having these discussions on the assumption that online learning is fundamentally different from face-to-face learning. People are still ignoring the principle that good teaching (and therefore hopefully good learning) is in many ways independent of the delivery mode. The discussions in these articles presuppose that there are commonalities across all online courses, and that all face-to-face learning experiences are the same. But if we examine our practice, and that of our colleagues, we can see that this is far from the truth. A traditional lecture to 200 students is quite different to a tutorial in a mock office setting, and an online course with only PowerPoint files differs greatly from a fully interactive, media-rich online course with weekly webinars and discussion forums.
RMIT has embarked on a journey to blend the best of both delivery modes into a transformative learning experience for our students. With the exception of our relatively small number of fully online courses, we have the opportunity to use the LMS to support and extend our courses. Certainly, we need to review the pedagogies and the teaching strategies so that we make maximum use of the opportunities, but there are plenty of opportunities for us to seize. I don’t believe that the needs of students have changed fundamentally over the past 10 or 20 years – they still want prompt and meaningful feedback, clear expectations and authentic assessment. Students want to be reassured that the content of our courses is current and informed by both research and industry. These aspects are independent of the delivery mode, so I’m actually not that interested in what the latest surveys tell us about the value proposition of online courses. I’m interested in supporting academics and teaching staff to leverage the affordances of the LMS to benefit our students, and this is what I believe should constitute a ‘true’ university experience.