MOOCs, SoTL and the System

In my last post, “The System, Stupid” I stated that we face a formidable challenge in higher education because the method used to evaluate a faculty member for his or her worthiness has little or nothing to do with the institution. Instead, the focus is on the contributions to the discipline. If the desire is to do something for the campus, getting a critical mass of faculty becomes more difficult if the work they need to do for the campus is not valued by their disciplines.

Until the method to evaluate faculty for their worthiness changes, what are we to do? One idea I have has to do with the teaching component of research, teaching and service.

Conversation About Teaching

In the 2013 “ELI Online Spring Focus Session: Learning and the MOOC,” a comment I heard about the positive effects of MOOCs had to do with the rising conversation about what constitutes good teaching and how to achieve it. An example provided was the rise in the use of the “flipped” classroom. This is positive, but a flipped classroom takes a lot of work compared to what it was flipping. Referring to my previous post, I expanded research, teaching and service to be:

  1. Research activities
  2. Teaching obligations
  3. Service committments

Spending more time on the effort needed to effectively flip a classroom goes beyond the measurment of meeting an obligation. The additional time and effort will come from 1 of the other 2 areas of evaluation, and this will be to the detriment of the faculty member.

Some may be taking exception to my expansion of teaching to include “obligations.” Some departments, colleges and univesities take teaching effectiveness and the ongoing professional development this requires very seriously. I am making a broad assertion. Exceptions always exist.

For many faculty, poor teaching evaluations are used if the department, college or university wants to get rid of the faculty member. If the faculty member is otherwise valued (i.e., does valued research in and service to the discipline), then poor teaching evaluations are likely overlooked. Why? Because the metric is meeting teaching obligations.

If the method by which many faculty are evaluated remains in place, there is no professional reason to modify teaching methods.

Conversation About Learning

What is needed is a conversation about learning. Learning encompasses both research and teaching. Rather than viewing research and teaching as distinctly separate components, evaluating them under the umbrella of learning allows for more flexibility. Some value the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), but what if this were a requirement? What if half of the published articles necessary to achieve tenure were on SoTL? What if a tenured faculty member were required to produce every other publication on SoTL? This would be a way to fold in the effort required to learn, develop and implement more effective teaching practices within an existing evaluation system.

Some may argue that SoTL is not producing new knowledge in the discipline so it should not count the same as research that does produce new knowledge in the discipline. This is a consideration. Should the production of new knowledge in the discipline be the only knowledge of value, or is producing new knowledge for the discipline also of value?

What do I mean by “new knowledge for the discipline?”

The concept of a flipped classroom is not new. I do believe it is “new knowledge” for some. If effectively using a known concept in a discipline that has not used this concept before leads to a published article in a peer reviewed journal, should this not be valued by the discipline? What about the various ways a flipped classroom could be studied relative to a discipline?

Although what I have written in this post does not change the underlying systemic issue, I do think requiring SoTL as part of the research activities of a faculty member helps with a major component of a college or university – teaching effectiveness.

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