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Our Foundation

We have goals for online learning, generally, that come from a very strong report from an online learning task force of which I was a part in the Spring semester. Those are laudable goals. On top of that, Dr. Gardner Campbell, with and for whom I work here at VCU, has articulated a great set of three principles that drive everything we do in the Office of Online Education.

  • Distinctiveness (Why would an off-campus student choose this course instead of one offered through another university?) – when geography (and time, to some degree) is no longer a concern, the “market” for higher education becomes bigger and more complicated. As providers of online learning experiences, we must distinguish ourselves from the rest of the field/market.
  • Deeper learning (How will the course be about more than content delivery and mastery?) – this is a nod to the work of Jerome Bruner (i.e. that learning should be about going “beyond the information that is given.”) as well as the National Research Council’s report called Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Centurywhich defines deeper learning as “…the process of developing durable, transferable knowledge that can be applied to new situations” (p. 69).
  • High student engagement (What affordances of the web as a platform of (social) participation will be utilized to move beyond didactic paradigms that focus on the acquisition of information by students?) – there is overlap here with both distinctiveness and deeper learning in that we believe that one point of distinction for us, and what will, in part, lead to distinctive learning is the strong consideration and adoption of ways that the modern Web affords social learning. Here, we look to a number of sources, but especially Henry Jenkins’ notion of participatory culture.

This “three-note chord” (as one colleague describes it) is beautiful; it’s consistent with everything I believe about how online learning can happen and what it offers. It is not, though, our “why” in Simon Sinek’s term. Rather, I think it is our “how.” What, then, is our “why?”

For that, I turn to Ted Nelson’s recent eulogy of Doug Engelbart. If you haven’t seen the eulogy, it’s well worth watching.

The most poignant moment, for me, is when Nelson says, “I used to have a high view of human potential. But no one ever had such a soaring view of human potential as Douglas Carl Engelbart — and he gave us wings to soar with him, though his mind flew on ahead, where few could see.”

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