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Unlocking the Prowess of Online Education

By Dr. Scott E. Hamm, Director of Doctorate in Leadership | Director of Online Education Assistant Professor of Education, Hardin-Simmons University

Dr. Scott E. Hamm, Director of Doctorate in Leadership | Director of Online Education Assistant Professor of Education, Hardin-Simmons University

Online education has become an ambient part of the higher education landscape in the United States and around the world. While much of the traditional student enrollment numbers have plateaued, online numbers continue to see increased enrollments. Higher education institutions have a unique opportunity to offer online learning experiences that provide inclusive learning environments for the growing online and global population that it finds itself serving. 

The intersection of this opportunity with educational technology reminds me of Marshall McLuhan’s famous quote, “The medium is the message” taken from his 1964 work, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. His notion that the carrier of the message was not neutral and presented itself as a prominent part of the message merits some contemporary reflection. It appears that online education has staved off the predicted post-LMS world and, as a result, it may be a valuable medium that can be leveraged as the nexus for an inclusive and culturally competent learning experience.  Most of us would agree that smart-phones, tablets, smart watches, and the Internet of Things serve as multi-faceted connections to learning opportunities and global engagement in an anytime all-the-time connected world. However, the LMS may be hiding in plain sight as an organizing principle or starting point from which inclusive global environment can be established.

" LMS and educational technology can be a medium in which the global learner finds an inclusive environment is one that he would endorse "

An online program or course has different expectations than an on-ground experience. We all enter a learning transaction recognizing there is a host culture.  An international student who enrolls in a university outside their country of origin often seeks the differences and experiences of the host culture as part of the implicit curriculum. Online students recognize a culture of origin for the course or program, but still expect to be a full participant in the learning environment. The emerging global market necessitates a strategic approach to inclusive courses that recognize the increasingly diverse student population. 

Following are some strategic steps that any institution can take to move the needle forward without requiring a new line item on increasingly shrinking budgets.  First, adjusting the iconography of the course materials can allow a visual entry point for a student to see themselves in the course. A hospitable presence includes imagery that is representative of a global context.  Consider curriculum options such as textbooks or content generated from various countries can provide a broader view of the subject beyond a Eurocentric academic perspective. Including assign options that allow for completion from both a western and eastern background provides students with the opportunity to collaborate and gain skills necessary for success on a global scale.  

Allowing your students to share a bit of their story allows us to see a bit of ourselves in everyone’s narrative. Video sharing platforms are plentiful and most LMS’s have some sort of video capturing that allows for a low production response to some key prompts aimed at sharing our story. One strategy I will be using in my next course is something learned from Andrew Saltarelli of Stanford University where they use a value relevance affirmation activity in which they ask the student to identify the core values they hold then write a paragraph that tells how the course will reinforce those values. This has retention value, but also the value statements create a narrative of value in addition to creating a course narrative.  

I haven’t been successful in tweaking McLuhan’s quote to provide a contemporary and pithy version, but I think the idea that the LMS and educational technology can be a medium in which the global learner finds an inclusive environment is one that he would endorse.

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