Ethical Online Learning: A Town Hall

How can we effectively and ethically integrate online learning at primarily on-ground institutions? Is this a technological challenge, an administrative challenge, or a pedagogical challenge?

For our next Digital Liberal Arts town hall conversation, we will be joined by an international group with experience researching online education, teaching online, teaching MOOCs, administrating online programs, and more.

Elizabeth Losh, William & Mary
Sean Michael Morris, Middlebury College
Kate Bowles, University of Wollongong, Australia
Alan Levine, Independent Speaker and Consultant

These four have given considerable thought to the shape and nature of education in the digital age. They are dreamers, skeptics, researchers, and artists. Together, they will push us to think about new approaches to online learning. Panelists will each offer short position statements before engaging our community in an open conversation.

UMW is thinking increasingly about ways to experiment with online learning — for Summer courses and for degree programs aimed at non-traditional students. Before we travel too far down this path, I find it important to pause and consider the broader implications of this work — and to talk very directly about how this work can be done thoughtfully and ethically. Having the diverse perspectives of these four panelists will help us as we continue to create our own conversations, as we continue to not shy away from asking the hard questions of online learning, as we continue to be models for other institutions exploring digital pedagogy. We need everyone at the table as we do this work.

Some of the questions we’ll consider during the Town Hall will include:

  • What would a liberal arts online program look like? How can we imagine online learning that is “high-touch,” “socially engaged,” “critical,” and “active”?
  • How would such a program be functionally and pedagogically different than a conventional online program? What are some of the models for this kind of work? 
  • What does (and can) online teaching look like? What are the possible pitfalls and opportunities? 
  • What are the challenges in administering online programs? 
  • How can we bring students more fully into the conversation about online learning — about the changing shape of their education?

In 2012, I wrote a piece called “Online Learning: a Manifesto.” Much of the conversation has changed since 2012, but much of it is still the same. In that piece, I argue,

The first mistake of many online classes is that they try to replicate something we do in face-to-face classes, mapping the (sometimes pedagogically-sound, sometimes bizarre) traditions of on-ground institutions onto digital space. Trying to make an online class function exactly like an on-ground class is a missed opportunity. There’s a lot that happens in F2F classrooms that just can’t be replicated in an online environment, and that’s okay. Better to ask ourselves what can be achieved online and what sorts of classes (or learning experiences) we can construct to leverage the potentials of the specific interface or community.

This is the work before us at University of Mary Washington — to carefully consider the unique and deeply human work we’ve done as an institution and how we will continue to do different (but still unique and deeply human) work in digital space.

Join us for this conversation on Tuesday, November 1 at 4:00pm in the Hurley Convergence Center Digital Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public. RSVP here (not required).

If you can’t make it in person you can find the livestream here and join the backchannel on Twitter with #DoOO.

Also, mark your calendars for the next event in our Digital Liberal Arts series. On Monday, November 7th at 4pm, Nigel Haarstad will host a Design Sprint, “More than a Data Dump: 10 Tools for Creating Meaningful Interaction in Canvas.” Our plan is to take some of the bigger issues we discuss at the Town Hall and bring them to practical application.