Sent in response to my boss’s “Merry Christmas” email

I work online teaching new faculty to teach online for a public college in a part of the Midwest with deep Bible Belt roots. My boss sent a “Merry Christmas” email to all of our online faculty who are scattered across the country, and even a few outside the country. This was my response.

Dear —

Your cheerful holiday wishes — while undoubtedly well-intentioned — ignore the diversity among our online faculty. I know from personal experience teaching nearly 200 new online faculty at our college that our faculty come from a variety of cultures and perspectives. I have taught many Christians, but I have also taught Jews and Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucians, Wiccans, humanists, and atheists. While my courses are secular, the people who take these courses are encouraged to be open about themselves to create a genuine human presence in an online setting, and in that process they often reveal part of their cultural background, sometimes including their religious or spiritual affiliations. I am inspired by this, reminded that one of the wonderful things about online education is that it opens us all up to a much wider world of experience than we might otherwise encounter in our everyday lives. This is a valuable thing for us as educators and for students at our college. I am sometimes concerned that the college and its leadership have a blind spot with regard to diversity that prevents them from recognizing its inherent value in education. That’s what crosses my mind when I see holiday wishes expressed that invoke mainstream traditions without also being fully inclusive. At a public college like ours, and especially in an online program such as ours that has a broad reach beyond the immediate geographical and cultural region, it is my hope that we can recognize and encourage diversity through greater sensitivity to the full spectrum of human experience that our faculty represents.

Sincerely wishing you and your family a joyful holiday season.



1) Trust me. I know how to use at least two different learning management systems, including the one at our school. I can train you to use at least a dozen different technologies to help you create interesting multimedia or content for your online course. I’m familiar with all the things that do…

All five … wow, do I relate!

Assessment for online teaching and learning

Discussion post from a professional development course for online community college teachers on assessment, grading, and feedback:

The administrators want “data” they can show to their “stakeholders” (not my favorite word) to demonstrate the “effectiveness” of teaching and learning. As you know, I take a rather … ahem … non-traditional approach to this topic, which is one of the reasons I was asked to develop this course. My own personal view is that “data” that show that students scored 80 percent on a test before, and then 90 percent on a test later, doesn’t really say much about the effectiveness of teaching and learning, unless what you’re teaching your students to learn how to take multiple-choice tests.

There are a whole series of issues here involving test validity, levels of knowledge that can be assessed, learning domains, learning styles, expectations of the discipline, accreditation requirements, learner preparation and prior knowledge, and so forth. Most administrators are not “real” educators <grin> and come from the epistemological view that quantitative data from test scores are an objective measurement of real learning. I take the view that assessing through multiple choice tests — especially in areas such as the humanities — is never truly objective, and is probably not even measuring the learning that actually happening.

We have to play the hand we’re dealt. If they want multiple choice tests, give it to them. It is very unlikely you will persuade a committee to take an alternative approach, since these tests are cheap and easy to administer, and everyone can agree that 90 is a higher score than 80 (probably the real reasons they are used). So I give them all the spreadsheets they want. Then I go about subverting the system by focusing my efforts on authentic assessment models, such as student portfolios or whatever. A funny thing happens. The administrators who really lack the imagination to see assessment as anything but a spreadsheet get an opportunity to see what authentic assessment looks like, and they love it! They want to host portfolio shows and invite their “stakeholders,” and put student videos on the campus YouTube site, along with PowerPoint presentations and photographs of smiling students with their projects, and otherwise show the world what their students can actually DO!

So that’s my strategy. Give them what they ask for, then SHOW them what my students can actually DO. I don’t know if they ever really understand it as being “real” assessment, but they usually dig it and can see the benefit to the institution (whether or not they see the benefit for the learners). I’d rather work the fringe, wiggle through the gaps, and play within whatever sandbox they give me, than try to get them to imagine something about learning they’ve probably never experienced themselves.

The line for co-conspirators forms to the left. :-)