Informal Interactions and Faculty / Student Mentoring

I just finished listening to a webinar about UCF’s blended and online learning efforts. It was a webinar entitled Net Pedagogies: New Models of Teaching and Learning, and it is part of one of the newest MOOCS (CFHE12). I appreciated the many specific and practical aspects that were shared, especially the different types of faculty training that they have designed in order to meet different needs (designing and teaching a new course, teaching a course that was designed by someone else, etc.). Many of the model and ideas that he shared speak directly to how I spend much of my time as an AVP of Academics for Continuing and Distance Education.

So, in the spirit of this blog (musings), I allowed myself to wander into another area. I continue to value the perspectives of faculty who are skeptical, cynical, or downright adversarial to online learning. There is much good that comes from listening to and learning from what is sometimes coined as neo-luddite perspectives on online learning. Given that I work/serve as a liberal arts University, one of the more compelling critiques and lamentations relates to faculty-student relationships. Some of our “best” face-to-face faculty are identified as such not simply on the quality of their courses and the extent to which the faculty member embodies Chickering and Gamson’s principles of effective teaching. “Best” also includes a wide variety of other activities:

  • spending time having informal conversations with that student who is feeling out whether or not this might be a discipline to which they want to devote much of their life
  • having informal chats at the coffee shop or pub
  • one-on-one assistance with the struggling student, blended with a good dose of encouragement
  • inviting students over to their house for optional book talks and discussions of “hot topics”
  • participating in community activities with / alongside the students

In essence, they lament the loss of what they consider to be a valuable mentoring relationship that thrives upon informal and spontaneous interactions. Can the students learn as much or more from an online course? That is not contested by some. What they lament is the loss of something that lured these professors into teaching at a liberal arts institution.

I often respond by noting that I am not advocating for removing such dynamics. Rather, I seek to increase access and opportunity to other learners by offering another type of learning environment. Some of those interactions will not happen with learners in online learning environments, but other benefits will come to these new online learners. There are affordances and limitations to all learning environments. The challenge is to discern which affordances are most critical for a given learner at a given time, and which limitations we can live with for the sake of the affordances. These is not a single decision, but a habit of thought that must be continually revisited by all stakeholders, especially the learners themselves.

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About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is a President of Goddard College, author, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, and Adventures in Self-Directed Learning. He is passionate about futures in education; leaner agency, educational innovation, and social entrepreneurship in education.