#27: Everything Old is New Again (Summer Shorts)

Welcome to Wired Ivy… Summer Shorts! Kieran thinks the new academic year seems like an opportune time to ask… are online, asynchronous, and hybrid strange new teaching strategies, or are we simply using new terminology to describe familiar techniques?

My first exposure to online learning was as a graduate student. 

Up to that point, from kindergarten through undergrad, I’d had all the usual brick-and-mortar classroom experiences public education in the U.S. offers. I wasn’t intimidated by the technology aspect of learning at a distance but, even so, I thought enrolling in an online graduate course was akin to becoming a foreign exchange student. I expected to be a stranger in the strange land of virtual classrooms.

I thought enrolling in an online graduate course was akin to becoming a foreign exchange student. I expected to be a stranger in the strange land of virtual classrooms. But the content delivery and assignments were curiously familiar. #OnlineLearning

What I experienced instead was a profound and repetitive sense of deja vu. 

Learning at a distance didn’t feel all that different to me from learning on campus. The structure of class content delivery and graded assignments was curiously familiar — same old lectures, readings, homework, papers, and exams.

I’ll grant that when attending my online classes I didn’t claim a desk in a particular room in a specific building. I wasn’t in the same physical space, yet at the scheduled time on the appointed days, I was accessing the live components of the course. The only difference was that I used my laptop to tune into a live broadcast of the lecture, or scroll through a PowerPoint deck while listening to the instructor via conference call, or to join a first-generation video conference on Skype. But no one who saw my notes after class would have been able to tell where I was when I wrote them.

Well, duh!  That’s because the channel is not the content, or the catalyst. Classrooms, whether on a campus or in the cloud, are just a venue for communicating information. What and how we teach is far more important than where. 

The education delivery channel is not the content, or the catalyst. Classrooms, whether on a campus or in the cloud, are just venues. What and how we teach is far more important than where. #HigherEd #OnlineLearning

And by the same token, just as we don’t want to eat green beans because we have a can opener, we don’t want to learn because we have computers… can openers and computers are just tools that help us to satisfy a hunger.

Pre-recorded content wasn’t a revelation to me as a new online learner.  At various points in K-12, I’d learned from taped shows aired on public television, from educational filmstrips with 45 rpm records providing the soundtrack, from 35mm film winding its way through movie projectors, and from cartridges shoved into VHS players.  

Of course, all of this content was presented in the classroom, in real time, but a student who happened to be out that day, for whatever reason, could request time to see that content later, at recess or during study hall or after school. That wasn’t an option for content presented aloud by the teacher.

By the time I started grad school, pre-recorded content could be downloaded and watched on a personal computer.  That meant I could review anything I didn’t understand the first time through, as often as I needed. This on-demand access to lectures is one key reason student learning outcomes for online courses tend to be higher than for in-person delivery, according to multiple longitudinal studies.

Don’t make the mistake, though, of thinking that on-demand course content wasn’t available before the development of VHS, CDs, DVDs, and the Internet. It’s always been a fundamental component of education. That’s a bold statement, I know, but I can back up it up with a single example.

You call it a textbook. 

I call it the original asynchronous learning technology.  

You call it a textbook. I call it the original asynchronous learning technology. #HigherEd #OnlineLearning #VirtualClassroom

For thousands of years we’ve been using books to learn when we choose, wherever we are.  After all, regardless of the media — words printed on paper or pixels on a screen — written language is a simple but powerful way to transmit information, documented by a specific person, from a specific place, at a specific time, to anyone, anywhere, anytime hence.

And while I’m at it, let me point out something I realized once I had a few online courses under my belt… so-called in-person classes have always been hybrid.  

In addition to real-time lectures, labs, seminars, and studios, students are assigned readings and homework to be completed outside of the formal class meeting time, asynchronously. Why? Because educators know that simply listening to someone and taking notes isn’t enough to ensure good learning outcomes.

Think 100% asynchronous courses are a contemporary addition to higher ed curricula? Wrong again. 

When distance education was introduced in the 1800s, all courses were taught asynchronously, by necessity, because the only feasible communication channel was the post office. As radios became a common feature in homes, educators switched to synchronously broadcasting lessons over the airwaves. Live television added visuals to the mix, and the introduction of inexpensive recording media allowed learners to choose between real-time and on-time delivery. More recently the Internet has made on-demand learning easier, faster, and cheaper than ever before.

Bottom line?  Terms like synchronous and asynchronous, hybrid and blended, online and virtual may look like uncharted territories to some folks in the ivory tower, but to my eyes they’re just a fresh coat of paint that makes everything old new again.

Let’s hear what you have to say!  Send us your questions, comments, and suggestions!  You can leave a voice message at speakpipe.com/wiredivy or send an email to kieran@wiredivy.org or dan@wiredivy.org. And help Wired Ivy grow by sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing us on your favorite podcast app. .


kjl-quilt-smallWired Ivy co-host Kieran Lindsey is a former online graduate student, occasional online educator, and current Program Director for Virginia Tech’s Online Master of Natural Resources. The Online MNR has  has evolved from in-person instruction to online, and under her guidance has grown to be the university’s 2nd largest virtually delivered graduate degree.  Kieran serves as a special consultant to VT’s Graduate School Dean on virtual programming for non-traditional student audiences, and has provided ad hoc advising on the development and delivery of online programming to colleagues at various institutions.  Kieran is also an urban wildlife biologist (Texas A&M – BS, MS, PhD), writer, blogger, regional Emmy Award recipient (documentary feature), and now a podcaster, too, as well as personal assistant to a ferociously cute wire fox terrier named Dashiell Riprock (aka Dash).

We welcome your questions, feedback, and suggestions for future episodes. Join our Wired Ivy LinkedIn Group, tweet us @wiredivy,  or look for the bright blue Talk to Wired Ivy tab on the right side of this screen to leave us a voice message!

Wired Ivy is wholly owned by Kieran Lindsey and Daniel Marcucci, and we are solely responsible for its content.   Views expressed in this podcast and affiliated media are those of Kieran, Dan, and our guests, and do not represent Virginia Tech or any other institution.  Our audio engineer is Star Path Images, and a license for our theme music, Breakfast with You, was purchased from SmartSound.

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