Monday, August 16, 2004

Effective for Whom?

I'm reviewing this online course from University of Vermont called "Teaching Effectively Online," designed to help UVM faculty make the transition to online teaching. As I read the assignments and reflect on this idea of "teaching effectively," I struggle with the idea that "effective" means something very different depening on your context.

We lead instructors to read what others' have done--"read these 'best practices'," we tell them, "and you'll know what to do yourself." These "best practices" (I prefer the term "effective practices") are in all the articles and on all the web sites that we use as resources for this kind of thing (among them, the Sloan Consortium web site and Educause).

What I find lacking in these listings and descriptions of effective practices, though, are contextual descriptions and things to help the reader understand the circumstances under which the practice was effective. Even when the effective practices resource includes some contextual information, few tools are given to the reader to help them examine their own context in comparison and make some decisions about how to migrate the effective practice to their own environment.

For institutions, such contextual information might include student demographics, financial resources, staffing, etc. For faculty members, such contextual information includes content area, number of students, type of technological tools, teaching style. Without comparing these contextual factors--between the effective practice example and the target school or class--it's difficult to figure out how best to integrate the practice, and impossible to predict whether the practice can be successful.

What's needed is a set of tools that allows for more in-depth analysis of effective practices, and thoughtful planning for integration of such practices.


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