By Dr. Joe Mills and Dr. Clayton Kuklick, Graduate School of Professional Psychology
Pre-pandemic education was a world many educators and students were used to. The absence of comfortable routines—the pre-class coffee, the pleasant walk to class, the spacious lecture theatre—made the shift to online teaching and learning all the more difficult, and we know many peers who are relieved to have “gone back” to old routines. But we like to believe these thoughts are held by educators who simply haven’t experienced all that online teaching and learning can offer. One thing is very clear: online technologies are here to stay, and pretending they don’t exist and hoping the world reverts is like pushing back a tsunami.
All of us in DU’s online Master’s in Sports Coaching (MASC) program view online technologies as offering greater spaces for immersive, engaged learning. Central to delivering online content and designing learning activities is its asynchronous nature. Learning doesn’t start in Room B-1345 on Tuesday mornings at 8 am, and finish three hours later. Learning is ongoing and the fact our students engage at inopportune moments—washing the dishes or while eating dinner—is, to us, very exciting.
We use Canvas’ discussion boards to integrate, develop, explore, and connect the content to other concepts, topics, and disciplines, and also students’ real-world experiences and contexts. Therefore, we also use as many technologies as we can to communicate and engage learning within and outside of the formal discussion boards, in a constant asynchronous fashion. These technologies include WhatsApp, Marco Polo, FaceTime, MS teams chats, Voxer, texts, and videos. And because students are online anyway, even in face-to-face classes, everyone is more likely to participate.
The value of cross-unit collaborations
Progressive learning theorists have for years advocated changing higher education’s focus from learning content to learning how to use that content by connecting and blending knowledge across concepts, topics and disciplines. The French philosopher, Jean-Francois Lyotard argued in 1978 interdisciplinary studies were the future, because everyday life does not operate in silos, even if the higher education knowledge driving it does. Well, now there is a resource allowing those progressive learning strategies to happen. And it’s online.
Given online’s vast storage spaces, we have integrated two such strategies into our program. Firstly, we have redesigned the home page of each course to make every piece of information students could possibly need instantly accessible (no more than three clicks).
Secondly, to increase dialogue, discussion, interaction, and engagement we have adopted MS Teams as a learning community in what we hope is a safe, secure, stress-free space for students to informally chat outside of any perceived pressures of the classroom.
Taken together, weaving across disciplinary silos where any piece of knowledge can be quickly and easily found, and wrapped in safe discussions, a raft of positive pedagogical processes become available: exploration; clarifying terms; resolving ambiguity, misunderstandings, practicing, developing ideas and blue-sky thoughts, imagining possibilities, sharing jokes, building networks and collaborations, and making cross disciplinary connections, to name only a few.
Streamlining information to deepen learning and build communities
There are so many online technologies today that if we adopted them all, our students could be overwhelmed with choice. Therefore, we carefully and critically judge the technologies we adopt, streamlining their use. In this way we ensure there is no replication, confusion, or wasted time trying to make the technologies to work!
In online spaces, possibilities to innovate, and extend or deepen learning are endless. And by example, the following are just some of the ideas we are currently considering.
- Implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles to create accessible environments for all courses.
- Strengthening DEI outcomes and engagement across all aspects of our program.
- Increasing standardized tools and teaching templates for learning activities to be used by instructors in any course.
- Supporting communication outside of the classroom through Microsoft Teams.
- Utilizing new features in Zoom to offer video creation technologies, communication visuals, and engagement.
Our next big questions are considering how to develop MS teams to integrate into Canvas and Zoom to connect teachers and students in particular courses or groups. We are also considering how to develop multimodal approaches to create groups, file share, and facilitate video interactions. Finally, we are also investigating a research platform to share cutting- edge ideas, collaborate with peers in other disciplines, build relationships and networks, extend the research into communities, engage with students, showcase work, build relationships, market projects, increase revenue, and leverage the program’s knowledge.
Driving the research our students do, is a new Applied Sports Coaching series of courses, in which students are supervised through an Action Research project, applying concepts or topics from the program that are meaningful to them, in any community and context of their choosing. We have noticed our students are all excited by these opportunities as they see how they can positively impact their communities, build networks and collaborations, and conduct interdisciplinary and group research in teams.
Final thoughts: taking an online lead
There was a time when education meant “expert” teachers giving students knowledge, and testing how much was given in an exam. Those days are gone. Online technologies’ vast storage spaces mean endless fluid, flexible and cost-effective possibilities for learning, research and the development of knowledge.
Thoughtful, careful, and judicious online design can produce giant learning safety-nets because any information can be found in seconds. Simply put: you can’t learn until you do, and you can’t do until you can find. Students are then freed to explore and blend knowledges across disciplines and their own contexts, and in turn, become the creative, fluid problem-solvers unafraid of any situation in our increasingly complex and fragmented society.
Knowledge is our asset, and online gives us the abilities to develop, use and share it, and alongside OTL, we are looking forward to exploring future possibilities.