Senate Academic Planning

Queen's University

Senate Academic Planning

Comments on APTF Surveys

25 Responses to “Comment”

  1. Ralph Whitney says:

    Three years ago the Department of Chemistry agreed to a proposal from CDS to offer on-line versions of our 2nd year on campus organic chemistry courses, CHEM 281 and CHEM 282. CHEM 281 does not have a wet lab component to the course, only a virtual “lab skills” tutorial so the conversion of this course to a full on-line course was not a problem as the course curriculum did not change, only the method of delivery.
    CHEM 282 however has a wet lab component to the course, so the Department decided that a course code change was necessary since on on-campus course with a wet lab is not the same as an on-line course with a virtual lab. However CDS went ahead and started offering the on-line course as CHEM 282 (for two years). This past year the Department finally managed to get the course code changed to CHEM 285 in spite of opposition from the Faculty Office.
    As Chair of Undergraduate Studies I spent two years sorting this issue out on behalf of the Department and based on this experience believe that more oversight is required in the introduction of on-line versions of on-campus courses.

  2. Anthony D’Elia says:

    I am very concerned about the University push to Blended Learning and online courses. I tried to fill out the survey but found it biased and leading. As undergraduate chair, I have had legions of students in my office complaining about the Blended Learning courses that they have taken. They all made it clear that this is not why they came to Queen’s. Blended learning can work for certain subjects but it is a recipe for disaster for the humanities. Moodle and internet resources are wonderful, but at the end of the day students want live lectures (with visuals) and the social learning experience of a seminar. I was told last year by a senior administrator that we cannot take USAT scores on face value, maybe, but we cannot ignore them either, when traditional lecture and seminar courses in my department consistently get scores in the upper 4s, and on campus students avoid the online courses at all costs. We are obviously doing something right, why ruin it by cutting contact class hours or imposing group work/self-assessment, which students hate? Queen’s students are smart and know when they are being hoodwinked.
    I think that Queen’s should continue to make use of online resources and that faculty be encouraged who wish to experiment in different pedagogical methods. But we should be very careful not to lose what makes Queen’s special, and that is the on campus experience; the social dialogue element of learning that cannot be substituted online.
    If we have to increase enrolment for financial reasons, we should put our resources into building more and larger classrooms, and hiring more faculty. At the end of the day, this is why students come to Queen’s — otherwise, they would stay home and do a degree online at Athabasca or Phoenix, or take online courses at Yale, Stanford, and other wealthier universities with whom we cannot compete.

  3. Christopher Fanning says:

    I agree wholly with Prof. D’Elia. I would add that Moodle is the most unfriendly technology I have ever tried to use, and that support for it at Queen’s is wholly inadequate. I believe that, if we must have them, online courses and blended courses should be distinguished with a different course code.

  4. Mark Jones says:

    I agree with Professors D’Elia and Fanning. And I hate to say it, but the new “Survey for Quality Assurance in Online Courses” is a mess, as I explain at: I hope that the APTF will give up the surveys and publicize this website instead.

  5. Emily Hill says:

    I wonder who devised this survey.

    Below is the second question in the survey, followed by the only four possible answers.

    Tony D’Elia is absolutely right: this and other questions are indeed BIASED and LEADING to the point of insult, especially considering that our university is paying someone to perform this consultation process.

    2. Do you think that there should be a requirement for Faculty level approval (e.g. Curriculum Committee) when a residential course (face-to-face or blended) forms the basis of a fully online (distance) course? (select all options that apply)

    No: such changes are consistent with academic freedom
    yes if it changes the learning objectives
    yes if it changes how the learning objectives are assessed
    yes if it changes the types of activities in which students are engaged

  6. Elizabeth Hanson says:

    I concur with everything that has been said above, particularly the comments of Professor D’Elia. The survey is tendentious and manipulative. It should be taken down immediately and redesigned.

    In this respect the survey is consistent with every other aspect of the push for an expanded blended and on-line pedagogy that I have encountered insofar as it is both intellectually dishonest and embarrassingly reductive in its understanding of what a university education is, though I sometimes have difficulty deciding whether it is dishonesty or cluelessness that is determining the conversation.

    I use Moodle in every course I teach and find it valuable. I can well see that there are certain subjects, especially those involving a strict sequencing of steps that might be better taught on-line. There are also very information-saturated subjects that might benefit from a blended delivery. Where this is the case the faculty initiatives (note the small ‘f’) should receive support.

  7. Michael Mombourquette says:

    I too agree with previous statements by E. Hanson, T. D’Elia adn Emily Hill.
    1. The “Survey for Quality Assurance in Online Courses” was very poorly done. It appeared to be designed with the basic assumption that the blended courses is a good thing with no room for dissenting voices allowed. There were numerous questions asked that I could not answer because of the ‘implied’ answers that were burried there.
    2. While some people learn well locked in their rooms looking at their computer screens, I do not and I know that if I had been faced with these on-line courses as an undergrad, I would have hated every moment of the experience. I found it nearly impossible, as an undergrad, to learn by reading the text book and I know from comments my own students give me that I am not alone yet these blended courses seem to leave students with much more reliance on learning from the book and less learning by listening and participating. Perhaps they should just register at Athabasca university. At least there, they know what they’re in for.

  8. Elizabeth Hanson says:

    I read Mark Jones commentary on the survey at: after I posted above. I recommend that everyone take a look at it. It captures why the survey is not just tendentious but incomprehensible.

  9. Maggie Berg says:

    I want to agree with everything that has been said so far. I also want to thank Mark Jones for his commentary on the survey. I tried to answer the questions in such a way that would register caution is employing “blended learning,” but I gave up in frustration. I am very concerned: it has been said again and again that if we don’t think carefully about how to use technology, then it will use us.

  10. Concerned says:

    I too agree with the comments posted above. Most of our “traditional” courses are indeed already blended courses utilising technology that enhances the delivery of material while maintaining the social contact and motivating experience only gained from face to face lecture formats. To try to label our “traditional” courses in the way elements of the administration is doing is disingenuous in the extreme.

    I’m concerned that we will be in a race to the bottom rather than one to the top if we adopt the form of blended learning being proposed currently. No top-class university uses this particular format of teaching. I can’t imagine students of Ivy League universities or of Oxford or Cambridge accepting reduced contact time with instructors as a benefit or advantage in their study environment. Nor can I imagine that parents of students undertaking courses in the proposed new format being entirely happy when they learn that up to a third of the time their offspring should be interacting with instructors is spent in front of a computer screen instead.

    I have no doubt that the financial gains from this experiment will be huge. I also have no doubt that the reputation of Queen’s will suffer in the long term. Is short term financial gain worth the march towards mediocrity?

  11. Patricia Rae says:

    I endorse the critiques of the “Survey for Quality Assurance in Online Courses” voiced by others here. What we really need to be doing is asking how far we are prepared to go in pursuing blended learning as a cost-saving measure. The survey bypasses that question altogether and, with its vague and misleading definitions, seems designed to solicit support for further virtualization from those who see any kind of use for it in their teaching. Let’s be clear: Instructors who use technology to enhance and build on what they do in class time are to be commended and we can all learn from their example, but the practice of reducing contact time (even eliminating it) by substituting a “virtual” component is what really needs to be examined. If we don’t hold on the line on this matter we may find that the best students no longer choose Queen’s.
    Having said all this, I would also like to say that all “non-traditional” courses, that is to say, all correspondence courses, study-abroad courses, and online courses, should be vetted by a committee at the Faculty level. We owe it to our students to ensure that they are not getting credits for courses that are “lite” versions of on-campus courses. It should be possible for others who share this view to express it on this survey without being coerced into accepting the assumptions behind the multiple choice questions.

  12. Dean Tripp says:

    I was involved with the Psych 100 redesign with several of my colleagues.

    I was and still remain very concerned about the University’s push toward “Blended” and online coursework. I taught for a year in the new Psych 100 course to be fair to the process and to see if it was a format that I could feel comfortable with. After completing the year, I had decided it was not for me… not the manner in which it was projected to move in the near future. Let me say first, that I really did like the small group learning opportunities afforded in the newer version. I enjoyed dropping in on the students as they learned and discussed and found the process new and stimulating. However, the drastic reduction of face-to-face time with the students was almost uniformly unpopular amongst those students contacting or engaging me concerning their class experience. The format was very unfamiliar from their High School experiences and many complained about feeling unprepared. Uniformly, there was not one student I had chatted with about the course format that enjoyed or felt benefit from the projected “on-line” learning hours they were suggested to apply to the course. They uniformly answered that they really just “did not do them”. I have concerns that moving to greater on-line content in such a popular course is the wrong direction for our students and what they are prepared for and actually want from their education.

    Recently, early in the year, I was providing talks to incoming students and I had several Gaels come up to me and comment that they were in the Psych 100 that I had taught. To a person, they were very unhappy with the course design and complained most about not having greater contact with the professors, and that the on-line experience was not pleasant, the suggestion of online testing was also greeted with negative comments.They all made it clear that this is not why they came to Queen’s.

    Let’s be clear, I am all for the use of technology and even social media in broadening the education opportunities of our students… but where is the data from our students and their opinions? I am curious why there has been no exit polls or feedback provided directly from students? If there has been, and I have missed that, I apologize and would certainly like to see and discuss them.

    I do believe that Queen’s should continue to use online resources and that we should experiment in delivery. But we should be careful to actually assess changes and do this as an ongoing quality assurance procedure… that has to be student focused and informed by their opinions and desires to some significant degree.

  13. John Dewey says:

    One thing that is making this discussion so very difficult is the absolutist attitudes of too many of those who are speaking up—a criticism that I would extend to some of the comments that have been made here. This attitude is evident not only in the persistent “us and them” approach to discussions with those working in administrative positions (notwithstanding that they are faculty one day and administrators the next), but also to this whole subject, which is too often portrayed as some apocalyptic attack on core educational values. It is because of this absolutism that I am not offering my real name. I know full well that I would immediately become the enemy to some people for having the temerity to disagree with them. In the interests of the academy, such intolerant, illiberal childishness really ought to stop. But in the meantime, I am cheekily using the name of the great pragmatist educational reformer, to frankly offer a few of my thoughts.

    Let’s start with the survey, which is nowhere close to being as bad as some people have suggested. I found Mark Jones’s high-handed dismissal of it as a mess particularly rich, given some of the poorly worded motions he has offered to faculty board. In those circumstances, people try to read past his wording to see what his intention is, and sometimes even vote for the motion because of sympathy. Similarly, the survey may have faults, but why all the paranoia? If you read it with a hostile mind, every time you are not happy with the framing of a question, it is naturally going to appear to be the work of a malicious cabal. But how about trying, instead, just for a second, to be respectful enough to assume that those who drafted the survey are ALSO concerned with academic standards. People can’t be really so insufferably, arrogantly self-righteous that they cannot bear to admit this possibility, can they? Read with an open mind, the spirit of inquiry represented by the survey is manifestly to find out where people want to draw lines in terms of the assessment of various approaches to teaching and what their reasoning is about that. They are clearly looking for ways of drafting policy that will address most of the many different opinions about this matter; there is really no basis at all for assuming that they have already made up their minds, although there is plenty for suggesting that those who are being so critical of the survey have.

    The assertion that the “real question” we should be asking is “how far we are prepared to go in pursuing blended learning as a cost-saving measure” is specious. The assumption here is that every movement towards using online resources is inherently a compromise—and this is demonstrably not so in every case. The real real question is how far the use of online resources can abet our academic objectives without negatively distorting or otherwise interfering with these. And there are almost as many answers to that question as there are courses in the university. D’Elia’s blanket declaration that in the humanities, blended learning is a “recipe for disaster” is an arrogant and close-minded generalization: many courses and many faculty members in the humanities are enjoying success with experimentation in this area, so he should speak for himself.

    Undeniably, there are many cases in which face-to-face contact in the classroom offers the heart of an educational experience, which, accordingly, should remain free from meddling. Robertson Davies said somewhere that, if nothing else, the live lecture provided students with the edifying spectacle of a great thinker thinking aloud, and there is something to be said for that—when the lecturer is indeed an outwardly dynamic thinker. Now, personally, I very much enjoy the traditional classroom and I believe I am highly successful in those circumstances: for what it’s worth, I consistently receive excellent evaluations and I’ve won teaching awards. But there are many other faculty members —often quite brilliant thinkers in other venues— for whom that sort of instruction does not work so well. Moreover, live lecturing/discussion is only one sort of tool, and just because I do excellent work with a hammer, that doesn’t mean that I can’t pick up a saw or a drill when the occasion seems appropriate. I’ve been integrating some online resources into my courses, because I think they provide the most appropriate tools for the job. Well, using more than one sort of tool is what blended learning is all about.

    So, why is a clear definition of “blended” not offered in the survey? Well let’s try to dispose of the idea that the simple definitions are manipulative, which is, to be blunt, an asinine conclusion to draw. Do people really think that where brevity is used it must be proof of some conspiracy? A moment’s thought shows that the problem with creating an extended definition of blended courses is that the more that is said, the more murky the question becomes, because there are enormous differences in the composition of blended courses. In the same department, one faculty member looks at her subject and feels that online activity offers only a minimal opportunity, that it can be “blended” so far and no further, whereas another feels that there are many, many opportunities in her course. Yet both might be creating blended courses. Yes, it is true that the university is interested in whether there are opportunities for increasing online courses, but again looked at objectively, it is obvious that the opportunity for transforming a course into something suitable for distance learning is going be rather more available in some blended courses than others, and Brenda Ravenscroft or anyone else has acknowledged this point ad nauseum. (By the way, it seems oddly hypocritical to me that virtually the same people who sanctimoniously dismiss the Blyth courses “on principle” as elitist courses for the rich also object “on principle” to the university’s foray into online learning, which inherently appeals most to those who cannot afford to attend university in person.) In short, blended courses do not allow for a definition that is any more extensive than the one the survey offers, given the differing blended models, while one faculty member feels that the online resources should replace in-class learning hours, another feels that online work can only replace what would have been private study hours.

    So, how should the viability of these blended courses be assessed. Well, as my remarks have implied, these matters are really best decided by the faculty members in question. Ralph Whitney’s comments at the top offer a good example. In some Chemistry courses, a virtual lab can work; in others, only a wet lab will do. To a non-Chemist, it might come as a surprise that virtual labs are a possibility at all. To be sure, it is vitally important that Continuing and Distance Studies follows the guidance of the department involved (and here I complete agree with Whitney’s indignation that CDS seemingly had proceeded for two years without regard for the will of Chemistry on the matter). But by the same token, it makes no sense at all for a committee of people who know little or nothing of the subject to look at a course and declare whether or not it should be in-class, or blended, or online, on the basis of nothing more than their ideological biases towards or against online learning. It is all very well for the curriculum committee to be ensuring that such things as the basic arithmetic of learning hours and the descriptions of courses and programs are adequate. But for a committee of nonspecialists to interfere with a faculty member’s informed judgement about how best to teach a course, including what tools to use, is, at worst interference with academic freedom, and at best, tasteless insolence.

  14. Chris Moyes says:

    I had not intended to comment on the comments but it might be helpful to address a few issues.
    This survey is not about Moodle. We will incorporate comments about Moodle into the previous survey that addressed Technology and Support. It is fair to say at this point that folks are reasonably happy with D2L and MedTech but very unhappy with Moodle. For those of you who have missed this survey, we have reopened it until Jan 7.
    This survey is NOT about your impressions about whether the University should have policies about the future of online learning. This is a survey of your impressions about the current practices in relation to quality assurance. I am sorry that many of you don’t like our survey. It was designed to answer questions that have emerged in our reviews of current practices.
    I understand that this is an issue that has inspired a great deal of dialogue (to put it politely), however I am troubled by the comments about perception of bias. Perhaps it is helpful to explain a bit more about the question provided as an example of bias.
    In recent months, there has been extensive discussion at Senate and FAS Faculty Board about new online courses being offered through CDS using the same course number as an existing traditional course. There were many arguments made for and against. Forty or so people voted on a related motion at Senate, and sixty or so at FB. However, we have close to 400 faculty in Arts and Sciences, and about 800 total. It struck us that there has been no assessment of how faculty at large feel about this, asked in a venue where people can express opinions easily and freely. We created the simple question below, which is basically asking “Do you think the current practice is okay, or do you have an issue with it, and if so, why is it a problem?” It is unclear to me why this question is perceived as biased. Is there an option that we have neglected in asking how people feel about an existing practice?
    Do you think that there should be a requirement for Faculty level approval (e.g. Curriculum Committee) when a residential course (face-to-face or blended) forms the basis of a fully online (distance) course? (select all options that apply)
    No: such changes are consistent with academic freedom
    yes if it changes the learning objectives
    yes if it changes how the learning objectives are assessed
    yes if it changes the types of activities in which students are engaged

    As stated above, this is NOT a survey that is intended to address if you think online teaching is good or bad, or what the university policy should be. It seems that many colleagues have used this survey to comment on where we should go with online learning in the future. As stated in various venues, the next survey will be asking questions about long term policy. Feel free to submit questions that you think will do a good job of assessing people’s opinions about where we should go with online learning.

    Enjoy your holidays.

  15. Mark Jones says:

    Response to “John Dewey”: To attack others by name from behind a pseudonym is the act of a coward. You object to my calling the Task Force’s December survey a “mess,” but even you can’t defend it. You therefore plead for “sympathy”: “how about trying . . . to assume that those who drafted the survey are ALSO concerned with academic standards.” So let me explain, “John”: my critique of the survey is not about its authors or what they are privately “concerned with.” It is about the survey itself. I don’t doubt that the authors are “concerned.” But surveying takes more than a good heart; it also takes intelligence and skill. This one has gone out to several hundred professional people and is at best a waste of our time. At worst (should the Task Force choose to dismiss the critique), the survey threatens to misinform our Academic Plan with nonsense supplied on the basis of mis-definitions, ambiguous questions, and inadequate response options. The problem is not in the intentions of the surveyors but in the quality of their instrument. In your references to “paranoia” and to my “assuming that they [the Task Force] have already made up their minds,” you are merely projecting your own assumptions. My critique of the survey neither says nor implies anything about the Task Force’s intentions or prepossessions; it is focused entirely on the inadequacy of the survey itself as an instrument. Nor have I disparaged the Task Force anywhere else.

    I cannot make sense of your paragraph 3 in substance. But I wince again to see respectable respondents attacked by name from behind a pseudonym. It is a first principle of surveying that you don’t argue with your input. In paragraph 4, you congratulate yourself on your teaching gifts and lament that they are not shared by “many other faculty members.” Given your name, I suppose we should trust you on this.

    Your paragraph 5 defends the December Survey for not defining “blended learning.” You call the incomplete definition a matter of “brevity.” That is incredible. The Survey is asking for responses ABOUT blended learning, and it defines it in a way that is at odds both with the Arts and Science definition and with Arts and Science practice. The Survey gives the impression that any “traditional” course in which “online materials” are also used is to some extent “blended.” But in Arts and Science, since 2011 at least, a “blended” course has been by definition one in which online components are introduced TO REDUCE face-to-face class time. An excuse of “brevity” is ludicrous; the survey’s abridged definition saves six or seven words at the cost of introducing a fatal ambiguity into its central line of questioning. Moreover, you go on to show that you still don’t understand the definition. You say that if one faculty member adds a little online activity into a class and another adds a lot, “both might be creating blended courses.” That proves to your satisfaction that “there are enormous differences in the composition of blended courses.” But it is not true. I already cited two definitions from Arts and Science in my critique of the survey ( Here is a third, from a Queen’s Journal article of last March, based on an interview with Brenda Ravenscroft herself: “Aimed at large first-year courses, the [blended learning] program emphasizes online readings and assignments in conjunction with decreasing the number of lectures and the number of hired faculty needed to teach courses” (, emphasis added). This seems simple and clear enough. Yet you can conclude that “blended courses do not allow for a definition that is any more extensive than the one the survey offers.” So how and why has Arts and Science been using its more rigorous definition for the past two years? The Senate Task Force needs only to acknowledge that definition and come up to speed.

    Your concluding comments on infingements of academic freedom follow from your misunderstanding of blended learning. No one is proposing that committees sit to approve the tinkering that a faculty member does with her course–whether she changes a text or adds online materials–so long as the course she teaches fulfills the calendar description. The point is that this is NOT blended learning. When we speak of “blended” variants needing course approval, what we mean is that when the course is institutionally changed to replace class-time (and sometimes professors) with online components, and when the course is thus advertised as “blended” (according to the FAS definitions of that term), then what we have is a “variant” of a course, and it should be vetted by a curriculum committee for academic equivalence. Once that has been done, the instructors of that course will have their academic freedom to work and play within the course definition, as is the case with every “traditional” course on campus.

  16. Darko Matovic says:

    First, thanks for testing my math skills before letting me leave a comment. This already speaks volumes about the attitude towards the participants to this forum (the need for captcha is understandable and enough, but to ask me how much is 5+3, wow!). This reflects the level of discourse that the survey itself sets. As the question above, it is insulting to the intellect, but what really worries me is that no matter what, its results will be used to whatever ends the instigators had in mind. Let me start with “blended”. What on earth is meant by that. Are you serious to call anything that has online component as “blended”. This is like saying that any course that requires reading and writing skills has a literacy component. In this day and age ALL COURSES ARE BLENDED if we are to take your definition. That means you already input on us, the responders, a serious bias. Without going into many other worrisome details, many of which were voiced in the comments submitted so far, I demand that the very content and approach to this survey questionaire be debated at the earliest opportunity in the Senate. As it stands now, its existence is deeply negative (i.e. it is much worse than if it didn’t exist at all).

    Happy holidays to all

  17. Darko Matovic says:

    My math skills being tested again, I have to get back to address Chris Moyers’ clarifications.
    It is encouraging that you are sorry that so many people developed the negative attitude towards the questionnaire, and I hope you will also look into survey to find why, not suspect that respondents didn’t get it. I’ll illustrate my concerns using your own example

    “Do you think that there should be a requirement for Faculty level approval (e.g. Curriculum Committee) when a residential course (face-to-face or blended) forms the basis of a fully online (distance) course? (select all options that apply)
    No: such changes are consistent with academic freedom
    yes if it changes the learning objectives
    yes if it changes how the learning objectives are assessed
    yes if it changes the types of activities in which students are engaged.

    I would like to answer positively to options 2, 3 and 4, but I am allowed only one selection. So, if I circle answer 2, I imply that I am fine about the assessment and student engagement. If I ask 3 I imply that I’m O.K. with changing learning objectives or student engagements. This is gross distortion of my intended response wich would be I am concerned if it changes learning objectives, assessment, student engagement, but also I am concerned with integrity of student assessment, with undermining the human component of learning, the rapport with the students, etc. etc.

    Further repulsion to the questionnaire is created by having the same answer set to each question. Imagine if we gave students a multiple choice questionnaire at the exam, where each would have the same answer options:
    a) Correct
    b) Incorrect
    c) Mostly correct
    d) Mostly incorrect

    I leave it to the questionnaire creators to muse about student disbelief in facing such an exam.

  18. Chris moyes says:

    Darko, the question you mention actually gives you the opportunity to select all options. That was stated in the question. Not sure how that affects your position.

  19. Darko Matovic says:

    Chris, you are right. I was just about to write a mea culpa on that issue. The other objections (the limitations of the same set of questions and the bias created by the broad definition of “blended”) remain.

    On the positive side, the problematic questionnaire seems to elicit more attention to the whole issue of online learning.

  20. Phileas T Barnum says:

    John Dewey,

    I believe the definition of “blended” is actually key here and leads to the “us vs them” attitudes you are seeing and are likely to see continue through this debate.

    I don’t believe any of the definitions of blended courses taken by many of the people commenting here have the removal of lecture time to be replaced by online learning time as a component. I also don’t believe any instructors are unwilling to embrace change if it benefits our students.

    The definition taken by Queen’s though does not appear to be one that has been widely accepted elsewhere. Anywhere I have seen this particular definition of blended learning mentioned, “the bottom line” has been one of the top reasons given for adopting the practice.

    I also chose my screen name carefuly.

  21. Lindsay Davidson says:

    Hi all

    It’s great to see such a spirited discussion on the pros and cons of different instructional methods. One thing that I love about Queen’s is the number of people passionate about how they teach. I’ve been thinking of how to define different types of learning, particularly thinking about an intersect with technology, which is a set of (ever changing) tools that we all use one way or another. Here are my current ideas:

    1. Traditional learning – no technology; face to face lectures, seminars, tutorials, labs, etc
    2. Technology assisted traditional learning – LMS used to assist with administrative tasks; content delivery still face to face
    3. Technology enhanced traditional learning – LMS used to provide enhancements such as additional resources, formative assessment opportunities, discussion boards
    4. Flexible learning – content delivery occurs face to fact but also presented in technology enhanced format – provides flexible learning experience depending on student preference
    5. Blended learning – content delivery partially or totally shifted online with high quality content incorporating interactive formative assessment; face to face time used differently to allow problem solving, extension of concepts
    6. Fully online – course given entirely online, incorporates high quality content, formative assessment, summative assessment, peer and faculty interaction

    I think that (as some have pointed out) most of us do a minimum of #2 (some sort of online descriptive presence). My preliminary thoughts are that this is a useful minimum to aspire to as it has the potential of making somewhat transparent a short description of what we teach (as a Departmental calendar has done in the past). There are other advantages – ease of administration and the possibility to help people introduce pedagogically advantageous elements such as objectives and linkage of objectives to assessment (which many do anyway, but this could help novice teachers to include these from the get go).

    Blended learning (#5) is particularly interesting to me because of the potential, in some classrooms, to raise the bar of student preparation/participation/active learning by requiring some independent content ‘consumption’. The classroom remains the place to make sure that the content is appropriately ‘digested’ and perhaps to ‘use some of the nutrients’ to build higher level learning skills. (I fear, that in my early teaching, student were often bulemic with the knowledge I ‘gave’ them). That’s what happens in my class of 100. I also think that it helps address the challenge of the much larger course – how do you give feedback to individuals if you are teaching 1000. Technology can help here, if we are able to put in the up front effort of developing the tools. I suspect that we need some help to do this well and your thoughts on this are one of the main things our task force wants to hear about.

    Fully online learning is the last option – this will never replace F2F, but does have its role for some disciplines and situation and learners. The research on online suggests that it works for particular types of students and learning styles. But for many of us (myself included) it is a bit of a new frontier.

    Anyway, I would echo Chris. There is no evil agenda here. Our task force does include folks interested in (perhaps passionate about) both pedagogy and technology. So tell us what you think – in free text if you don’t like the surveys – and help us to make something great!

    Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays to all


    PS the math quiz is because some of the rather disturbing spam that was filling up this board before you all came…

  22. Lindsay Davidson says:

    (Thank you Sidneyeve). Here is a really good graphic about blended learning:

  23. Mark Jones says:

    Lindsay Davidson’s staged gradation from “traditional” to “fully online” modes is helpful. But

    (a) I think it would be found that most so-called “traditional” courses at Queen’s already use online and other technological supplements, and not just for “administrative tasks” but also for pedagogical “enhancement.” And

    (b) Davidson’s definition of “blended” as involving “face to face time used differently” is still not technically accurate in reference to usage at Queen’s. For our Arts and Science definitions and usage consistently emphasize that “blended” means not just using face-to-face time differently,” but REDUCING face-to-face time (see sources at the end of this post).

    Both (a) and (b) are important considerations in the context of a survey meant to inform recommendations for blended and online learning. For if most “traditional” learning at Queen’s is already supplemented by online materials, where exactly is the need for “blended” courses, as our institution has defined them?

    The answer is that the need lies in cost-cutting, not pedagogy. As the Arts and Science memo “New Initiatives” says, with “blended” learning “there may be savings in teaching resources. The Faculty believes this is a cost-effective way of managing enrolment. . .” (see sources below).

    Davidson says that “blended learning” “helps address the challenge of the much larger course – how do you give feedback to individuals if you are teaching 1000.” Well, maybe one prof shouldn’t be teaching 1000 students. GIVEN the 1000 students, a blended model might make things more manageable. But the other way to put it is that “blending” is what lets you put the student count up toward 1000 in the first place. It’s about cost-cutting, not pedagogy.

    The real question is why Queen’s has chosen to use “blended” learning to justify REDUCING the contact hours. Davidson finds this model “particularly interesting . . . because of the potential . . . to raise the bar . . . by requiring some independent content ‘consumption’.” But “requiring some independent content ‘consumption’” is what “traditional” courses do in requiring some independent reading. And in those courses there is no presumption that the outside reading time can be tallied up as “learning hours” and traded off against contact hours. The students get both the “independent content ‘consumption’” and their full lecture or seminar contact time.

    In sum, I recommend that Queen’s revisit its definitions of “blended,” as given in the sources below, and use the online components to supplement rather than reduce contact time. Then it would be about pedagogy. But this is what is happening already (and very commonly) in those “traditional” lecture and seminar courses where instructors have quietly added online components. To put it differently, why not just get rid of “blended” as it is now defined by Arts and Science, and go with Davidson’s model 3, “Technology enhanced traditional learning”?


    i) “The online component of a blended course–-frequently basic content delivery–-is primary, not supplemental . . . . CONTACT HOURS ARE USUALLY REDUCED in comparison to fully in-class courses, and THERE MAY BE SAVINGS IN TEACHING RESOURCES. The Faculty believes THIS IS A COST-EFFECTIVE WAY OF MANAGING ENROLMENT while enhancing the quality of teaching and learning.” (“New Initiatives in Online Learning in Arts and Science: Information for Departments and Instructors” (February 2011) (, emphasis added)

    ii) the “blended model generally includes online materials that REPLACE lecture-style delivery of fundamental content, fewer contact hours” (“Faculty of Arts and Science Call for Proposals for Course Re-Design” (2 May 2011) (, emphasis added)

    iii) “In Arts and Science a blended model generally involves moving fundamental knowledge acquisition out of the classroom—using interactive online materials to deliver enriched content, to guide students through the textbook, to verify comprehension—and devoting classroom time to applying, integrating and synthesizing the knowledge. This model is sometimes referred to as the “flipped classroom.” While blended courses have the same number of student learning hours as traditional lecture courses, THE NATURE OF THE LEARNING HOURS IS DIFFERENT AND FEWER CONTACT HOURS ARE INVOLVED.” (Queen’s Faculty of Arts and Science, “Blended Learning,”, emphasis added)

    iv) “This course is a ‘blended model’, meaning that weekly hour-long lectures and
    weekly hour-long small-group “Learning Labs” are supplemented by self-directed
    learning. Self-directed learning involves keeping up with textbook readings, and with
    the course notes on Moodle for that week’s lesson.” (“Read Me First: PSYC 100/6.0 PRINCIPLES OF PSYCHOLOGY,” Fall-Winter 2011-12, [Note: in this case, contact time appears to be reduced from the traditional 3 hours weekly to 2 hours weekly; contact time with the actual professor appears to be reduced to 1 hour weekly.]

  24. Leda Raptis says:

    I absolutely agree that the only good to come out of the questionnaire is that it creates lots of discussion. However, we all have to see if all this thinking and talking and worrying does any good at all. The fact that it is still being discussed shows that we will all be ignored quite likely and Queen’s will become just a cheap, online University like many others.
    The problem is that doing on-line courses is not such a good cash-cow. MIT has ~1,500 online courses, quite good ones some that I looked at, and for free! Who would want to come to Queen’s for on-line courses?

    Over the years I have seen education being eroded. Over the years labs in Life sciences disappeared, with nary a peep from anybody. Now that courses become online too, we have to draw the line somewhere.
    One of the courses I teach (Micro451,Virology) used to have wet labs. Then no labs. Then no TA at all, I do everything myself. To help the students understand, I prepared demonstrations myself, and the whole class of ~50 paraded in front of my lab microscope. Still I would never say that the “outcome” is the same, no way! Saying that the outcome is not as good, I do not consider it as a slight to me, and it has nothing to do with my “academic freedom” either. If I do not have the freedom to spend at all, then what does academic freedom have to do with it? Why would anybody bring “Academic freedom” or “slight to faculty teaching on-line courses” up, is beyond me.
    The sad truth has to come up to the open. It is not our fault if the quality of education AND research is going to the dogs. The sooner we identify and talk about the real issue, the better we will be able to face it and deal with it. 5 departments did not merge to “increase collaborations” and grad programs do not fuse to “increase trans-disciplinarity”.
    How can we increase enrolments to get more money? We could hire adjuncts for example, also grad students that need classroom experience, to run basic courses with no labs, ort even basic labs that grad students would be able to handle. My postdoctoral fellow is applying for jobs now, they ask for teaching experience, that she never had the chance to have. That would bring money in, without too much investment. Otherwise, in on-line exams that are not proctored, how do you know who is taking the exam?
    How can we run labs that are on-line? It is possible, but not cheap. We could hire videographers to do it. I can eg pass cells, photograph what they look like etc etc, and someone videotapes it, someone that knows about lighting, angles etc. A 12-minute video I prepared cost ~$4,000 and it took a whole day, a roomful of equipment and 4 people, plus the time of cutting and pasting. But, it can be done, surgeons can be trained like that, even pilots on simulators. Still, you cannot reproduce smells with a video, or touch eg cells to see that they are soft and mushy and easy to kill. But, only when this happens, can we say that the course is “equivalent”. I am sorry, but hiding the fact that a course is on-line and with no lab from potential students, is simply not ethical.

    (As Darko pointed out, can you please leave the arithmetic question out? The site has to become idiot-prof-proof! )

  25. Brian E. Butler says:

    I have just discovered this forum and I’m pleased to haver a chance to comment.

    One concern I have is about “evidence-based” methods. Everyone has evidence to support their methods. John Dewey and Maria Montessori had it. So did B. F. Skinner with his ‘programmed learning’. Perhaps the best supported was the Mastery learning methods proposed by behavioral psychologists in the 1960s. Quite simply, “evidence-based” does not butter the parsnips.

    On the other hand, each of us has a huge repository of evidence called ‘experience’. As Donald Schon (1983) reminds us, in The Reflective Practitioner, we learn to teach by teaching. We learn what works for us and for our particular topic. There is no “one size fits all”, either for instructors or for courses.

    It makes sense to develop on-line courses but the way to do it is to (1) get experienced instructors (not novices), (2) show them resources and methods that can be used, (3) let them develop a course that they think will work and then let them run it a few times.

    Unfortunately this means that we need faculty that will commit to a course and won’t be rotated in and out. But no course works if faculty are changed willy-nilly.

    It is wrong to suppose you can develop a course format that is independent of the particular instructors. The behaviorists tried it with their ‘teacher proof methods’ and it didn’t work for them.

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