New directions for POT

Yes, we can certainly avoid the obvious jokes, but POT means Program for Online Teaching, the faculty volunteer program I’ve been directing since 2005. We began as a group of online instructors frustrated with the “training” being provided to those starting to teach online. These trainings mostly consisted of teaching faculty how to use technologies the college had purchased (later the LMS) and plug things into it. We wanted to have faculty consider their pedagogy first, then make the technology work for them.

We began by offering workshops through our college’s own professional development program, and gradually these expanded into full workshop days. We also created a website, and posted videos and materials from our workshops there. Faculty have found the site useful, but I’ve been maintaining it pretty much singlehandedly for the last few years. All of us who work as POT are college instructors with large responsibilities for teaching, departmental work, and disciplinary study. Many have joined us from outside our home college. Since 2010, we have offered the POT Certificate Class, an online course mentored and moderated by like-minded experts and teachers from around the globe. The class, too, has taken much time and yet no one has ever been paid to help. (Many of us are of the “sure, I’ll help you move if you feed me pizza” model of social responsibility.)

In the meantime, the field has changed. Since 2005, “instructional design” and “educational technology” have become their own disciplines, offering PhDs all over the place. Sponsored companies have been founded to host online courses on proprietary platforms. Administrative careers have sprung up in deploying and managing stables of online instructors at for-profit universities, offering “team-created” courses where the faculty member is only a “discipline expert”. “Best practices” have been promoted based on principles derived from the research of these new doctorates (many of whom used small sample sizes, creating their principles of whole cloth).

It is a world in which POT now appears anachronistic, encouraging what I call “artisan” courses, built as creative endeavors by individual instructors trying to translate their teaching strengths into the online environment. These courses are pedagogically and philosophically the opposite of the canned, instant-feedback, publisher-created “packages” and team-built classes and MOOCs that are now pervasive. Like artisan breads and hand-made cabinetry, these courses require more work to make and are individual in design. Their quality cannot be determined by a list of “best practices”, but by the love and attention that goes into their creation, and the passion and dedication of the teachers who are teaching within their own design.

We have watched these artisan principles undermined not only by forces beyond the institution, but by faculty new to online, who have been encouraged to think along cookie-cutter course lines. Classes where most of the content comes from a publisher course cartridge are being held up as models, locally and statewide, as online initiatives are developed to create more standardization and “accountability”. Faculty now come to POT hoping for “how to” workshops (“how do I get this to work in Blackboard?”) rather than approaching us with pedagogy they want to develop online. The POT Cert Class, which is free, global, and at the moment unsustainable, is being used by some to assure “training” rather than pedagogical preparation. We find ourselves in the position of providing a free service rather than a model, a service which surely should be funded by the state if “training” is so important.

My colleague Jim Sullivan and I have decided that the answer to all this training, standardization, and dependency is primarily journalistic. With all the information out there on “how to”, and all the institutional and administrative backing for training and standardization, it is important that we share, publicly and convincingly, the meaning and methods behind our “pedagogy first” approach. So we are changing the POT website, always in WordPress’ blog format anyway, into the Pedagogy First blog. Here we hope to invite the people for whom “pedagogy first” is the natural approach, to write and discuss. We will ask many of the wonderful people who have mentored and moderated our POT Certificate. We will ask folks to share their talents and techniques as well as their perspectives.

Because when mechanization encroaches on creative endeavor, it is important for artisans to articulate why their way is better, what value is added by their efforts.

Artisans unite.

4 comments to New directions for POT

  • […] batch world of local community and wish that that too could be a reality for education. I read a great blog post by Lisa Lane on the idea of “artisan courses” in distance education which are the […]

  • Lisa,
    I love this post. Thank you for articulating what I believe too about the importance of NOT starting with the technology and backing up. (And I am all for ‘backwards design’ when the emphasis is on the learning NOT on force-fitting technology). I also bristle at starting with standardization as a goal. I appreciate certain ‘efficiencies of scale’ that are important to students and their experience when in exclusively online programs – but there really is no substitute for the voices of the teacher/faculty and the students.

    Artisans. Yes.
    I had similar thoughts a while back when welcoming a faculty group into a new cohort here:

    Thinking abt words like 'craft' and 'artisanal' as they apply to teaching while prepping to welcome #su2sup Faculty Fellows tomorrow.— Cindy Jennings (@cljennings) January 8, 2015

    I’d love to see you write more/describe that idea more fully.
    Meanwhile, I look forward to reading/following Pedagogy First.
    All my best,

  • United. Always been.

    Now what?

  • Great post. Also a sobering post, as you’re fighting a battle that just keeps spreading. Augmentation of intellect, or automation of “learning”? On my good days, I feel that there are enough of us fighting for augmentation that we can make a difference. On my bad days, not so much. These are wicked problems indeed, problems we can’t solve with “solutions” driven by vendors who are driven only by providing returns to stockholders. Yet deep knowledge of the nature and power of computers and networks is criminally absent from higher education. So we’re sitting ducks when vendors come with their shiny little solutions.

    Thank you for fighting this good fight, and for narrating your work here.