Response to Gardner’s “No More Digital Facelifts”


If the effort to transfer the old way of doing things to the new medium is a “facelift” then my classes have been lifted more times than Joan Rivers.

When I began teaching online back then, there were no course management systems, educational technologists, or PhDs in Distance Learning. All faculty who went into online teaching then were in the wild west, and all of us were trying to do the good things we’d always done in class in this magical online environment. (And it was magical – when I first wrote a bit of HTML, saved the file, and saw it in the Netscape browser, it was magic.)

As online learning grew, of course, people wanted to control it. They did this through commercial enterprises (course management systems), academic degrees to support new administrative positions, and new IT departments. The idea was not openness, it was control.

Innovative faculty, who’ve kept up with the web and its possibilities for communication and openness, have had to fight this control continually. It’s left little time for most to focus on application to their own teaching. I see so many faculty spending all their time in technology training for Blackboard (at least the ones who care about creating a good class that starts in three weeks). What starts as relief that the college will support you turns into dependency, standardization, and lack of creativity.

Gardner talks about wonderful recursive practices that I beg faculty to do, but they do so reluctantly. This is partly because they don’t understand they’re being handed a “bag of gold”, but partly because they’ve become dependent on outside controlling support structures, buried under increasing quantities of rules and regulations, and subject to a persistent administrative distrust of teaching online (i.e. the fear you’ll teach from the Bahamas instead of doing “real classroom work”).

The practices of narrating, curating, and sharing could put the control back in faculty hands. It’s true that it needs to be in student hands, of course, but for faculty to serve as a model (as Gardner writes in his article) they must somehow free themselves from the autocracy that has emerged along with the technologies.

Faculty facelift their courses to fit them into this autocratic structure. Those who have the “openness to self” and are meta-cognitive about their practice are able to do this in a way that gradually transforms their courses by taking advantage of web affordances. There’s nothing wrong with gradual change, or subversive change, especially for those starting under the pressure of administrative restraints. The steps might look like facelifts. But (like facelifts for some) they might encourage the increased confidence needed to move forward.

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