Edification in Online Teaching

In my education philosophy class with A. Legrand Richards, I write a reflection paper each week about something of interest to me. Here is the first in the series.

Based on my understandings of “Called to Teach” written by A. Legrand Richards about the life and educational philosophies of Karl G. Maeser, it seems that one of the primary purposes of Brigham Young Academy at its inception was not only education of students, but of teacher preparation in the “Normal School.” How different would Brigham Young University be now if every single student were preparing themselves to become teachers, and how would that change how every teacher teaches? Would the class objectives and purposes change?

I am pondering a dissertation topic that involves online and face to face teaching pedagogy. What do online teachers expect their students to become? And how is their purpose in class different than that of a traditional in-class teacher? Several years ago Russell Osguthorpe presented to Instructional Psychology and Technology students his thoughts on the question, “Does E-learning edify?” My supposition is that it can.

I define the word “edify” as Merriam-Webster does: to teach (someone) in a way that improves the mind or character.

I taught missionary lessons online and through the phone as a Temple Square missionary, with some positive results. Of course, online learning and teaching was supplemented by my investigators attending church in their hometowns, wherever they would be (Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia are all places that I taught through the use of internet).  So technically we used a blended curriculum rather than a strictly distance education approach.

If God can teach us and edify us without us seeing Him or hearing Him with our physical senses, maybe that has some application for us. God uses communication that we can understand, the Holy Ghost, and other means to teach us and reason with us. And if we, as Latter-Day Saints, are trying to model the type of teaching the Savior did, or the type of teaching the Lord currently does in our own lives, we might think twice before dismissing distance/online education as ineffective. The use of technology instruments to help others learn and be edified comes down to what is being communicated in the distance setting, and how.

BYU-Idaho Pathways program will be an excellent pilot of this principle, and I believe other institutions of higher education in the United States will follow suit of making use of technology to make learning more accessible to students and in attempting to not just teach, but to edify. It’s time to prepare graduates of our education programs to view themselves as facilitators of what students will become, rather than as simple facilitators of information dissemination. And it is important that our graduates understand that their ability to influence what students become is not contingent on whether subjects are taught online or face to face. We need to help traditional teachers get over any technological hurdles so they can harness the power of online teaching for the use of edifying.

I am helping prepare curriculum for a new class on online and blended teaching pedagogy with Charles Graham, and this has spurred me to want to share my thoughts about the effectiveness of online learning and teaching. It is not the internet that is an ineffective teacher, but rather it is how we use this instrument as a tool in our hands to shape learning experiences for students that not only change their way of thinking but also change who they are. Technology is more powerful than ever, but are the teachers being prepared to use this to change the lives of their students?

I am very interested in educational philosophy and how that might influence my paradigms about online learning and teaching. So many of these philosophers had no clue about the tools we would have now. What might an updated version of their philosophies look like when put into an online learning and teaching context?

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