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Using technology in a way that strengthens learning

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The following blog post is from a member of the CAAT-A bargaining team

Online learning has been a hot topic in recent years. Some have seen it as a panacea in its potential to make post-secondary education accessible to everyone. Others, including some administrators, have seen in it an excellent means to cut costs in a time of government under-funding.

As Ontario’s public colleges turn 50, it’s an appropriate time to assess how online learning fits into our post-secondary system. Well-designed, pedagogically-sound online and hybrid/blended courses have an important place in our colleges; however, we have seen that the quality of these courses is not the priority for administrators. Instead, management is far more concerned with the perceived cost savings that these courses can provide.

In this edition of Ontario’s Public Colleges at 50: A Better Plan and the accompanying animated video, you will see how the concerns faculty have regarding online learning are connected to the previous issues in this series.

For example, you will see how the lack of collegial governance and academic freedom gives faculty little input into the quality of online options which are being offered to students. Faculty should be the ones using their expertise to determine which courses are best delivered in an online or blended format, yet that is hardly the case. In fact, a few years ago, Mohawk College’s administration mandated that all courses be delivered in a hybrid format despite the concerns of faculty and students alike. Without collegial governance, faculty cannot safeguard the quality of education provided to students.

You will also see how the exponential increase in the numbers of college students and administrators over the past three decades, combined with the number of full-time faculty remaining steady, has resulted in an enormous rise in the number of online courses now being offered. Finally, this edition takes a look at how privatization rears its head in the context of online learning, and the resulting consequences.

Recently, I was having a conversation with colleagues about the merits of online learning in comparison to learning in the traditional classroom. A student wandered by and was asked about her impression of online learning. She said that she much preferred the traditional classroom environment because she felt more motivated to study when interacting with a professor that she saw regularly as opposed to a faceless individual behind a computer screen. This student’s experience is a reminder of what Ontario colleges once promoted – the meaningful interactions which students are able to engage in with their professors. While online learning has its place in the Ontario public college system, nothing can replace the rich, fulfilling, personal interactions that underpin the student-teacher relationship.

With the support of our members, the bargaining team is committed to protecting the interests of both students and faculty. This means using technology as a tool to enhance the quality of education in Ontario’s public colleges while preserving the vital student-teacher interactions that form the basis of a strong, successful college system.

In solidarity,

Ravi Ramkissoonsingh
Vice-President, OPSEU Local 242, Niagara College
2017 CAAT-A Bargaining Team Member