Digital Pedagogy: Personalization As a Means to Equity

The first article I read this week was by Tauber (2013), in which they consider the future of online education. One point worth considering is the idea of personalization as a tool to facilitate student engagement digitally. For instance, massive open online courses (MOOC) are becoming increasingly popular among adults who want to learn a new skill or advance their knowledge in a certain area. This is great when we consider accessibility to higher education, however, the retention is low (90% of registered students do not finish a MOOC course). So, Tauber (2013) suggests course personalization as a way to remediate the lack of student engagement online.

Stommel (2013) further supports this point by stating that “students and learners should be central in mapping the terrain of digital pedagogy.” In regard to institutional learning, Stommel (2013) agrees that digital learning must deviate from a systematic blueprint to learning. Instead, digital pedagogy has “electronic elements.” As technology advances, so will these elements. Morris (2013) speaks to the flaw in systematic thinking as online educators try to relocate their classrooms by using already created lectures and assignments to “create a slideshow or a video or a piece of audio, load it all up… there you have it: online learning.” This copy and paste approach to teaching online takes away the opportunity to discover one’s digital pedagogy.

Relating back to my first point about retention, educators may risk having little to no student engagement if the content is not suitable for the online format. Personalizing the course to suit the needs of one’s students also requires engagement on behalf of the instructor. I know in my department we have what we call “shells” for each course that is taught in our department. These “shells” are Google drive folders that all of the graduate teaching assistants and faculty have access to. These are updated routinely by a graduate assistant. The idea is not only to update material, but also to make sure that material taught is cohesive across different sections for a particular course. I even learned recently that there is a certain percentage of content that each instructor MUST adhere to. This was a surprise to a lot of us because we didn’t think the courses we taught were so standardized.

If we consider a “process of unlearning, play, and rediscovery” as Stommel (2013) suggests, then we also must think about what it means to teach from a place of equity versus equality. This means unlearning what “works” as you enter a new semester, which is easier to do earlier on in your career because you have little to no experience teaching. Furthermore, we have to learn how to play or be spontaneous with how we deliver our content. Some weeks you may have a lecture, other weeks you have the students create a blog post. Or perhaps, you have them choose how they want to learn more about a particular topic. If you wanted some sense of structure, you could provide options. The point is that we are opening ourselves to the possibility of rediscovery, especially for ourselves as we find new ways to educate topics that we teach regularly or have expert status on.

2 thoughts on “Digital Pedagogy: Personalization As a Means to Equity

  1. shoagland

    Hi Stephanie, thanks for your post! My comment pertains to the increasingly popular MOOCs that are being developed and made available online. I agree with you that this format is great way to make knowledge accessible to everyone! I did not have the grades (much less the funds or academic drive) when I got out of high school to attend an ivy league institution and learn from the best, and I’m sure my situation also applies to 99.999% of others. However, because of the MOOC environment, I was able to take a computer science course online for free through Harvard and it was GREAT! I learned a ton, I learned at my own pace, and I am still building upon foundational knowledge that I learned in that course in the research I do today.

    This course that I took was more or less the “upload the pre-recorded lectures and learn on your own” type of format. But it worked! The reason why I think it worked for me is because I was genuinely interested in the subject material. I knew I wanted to learn computer science, why I wanted/needed to learn it, and was disciplined enough to take the time and learn it on my own. I guess what I am saying is that I think some of the issues related to whether or not students actually learn/retain information from MOOCs could be related to the fact that they may not be in the right classes. If students knew what they wanted to learn and sought after classes that provided them with that knowledge, then I’m sure the success of these classes would look different. Thanks again for sharing your post!

  2. Sara Lamb Harrell

    Hi Stephanie,

    You are bringing up a lot of important questions when it comes to engaging students online. What was particularly interesting to me was the shell-concept used by your department. I mean, I”ve heard of “course shells” before, but in my experience it has meant cloning a class on canvas (or elsewhere) for the next iteration. I really like how course material is shared among all instructors and GTAs–the first thing that comes to mind is how nice it must be for rising scholars and future professors to see how courses are taught, what is taught, and all the content that flows with that. It’s the radical transparency that I like. In my experience, instructors don’t share course material until they’re passing the course off to whoever is teaching it next…and of course some material is kept, but more often, courses are completely retooled/reimagined. When you talked about how instructors must keep to the shell a certain percentage, it made me think about accreditation standards and mindfulness about consistency in the program, and I think those are two healthy benchmarks. How often do shells get retired or renovated?

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