DEVELOPING ONLINE COURSES THROUGH UNIVERSITY PROFESSIONAL PARTNERSHIPS
In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we are surrounded by a plethora of digital learning spaces, and the variety of definitions of the term online learning can mean anything from synchronous, asynchronous, blended and more. In addition, the numbers of students taking online courses in post-secondary environments continues to increase dramatically, In 2013, in the U.S., 33.5% of higher education students were taking at least one online course (Allen et al., 2014). By 2015, approximately 360,000 Canadian students, accounting for 29% of all Canadian university students, were registered in an online course (Martel, 2015). Almost 35% of all post-secondary students in the USA are taking at least one online course (Hill, 2019).
In recent years, the emphasis on e-learning and digital learning environments has made the stakes for professional development even higher. Pressures on adult learners mean that learning needs to be available anywhere, anytime, and the ubiquitous presence of the internet requires learners to be critical consumers, self-directed problem-solvers, and astute designers of their own learning processes.
As such, the need for university-professional organizational partnerships has grown dramatically, with businesses and institutions of higher education searching for better strategies for employee professional learning and student development. Educators today still believe in the role partnerships can play in both teacher development and school improvement. For many researchers, too, it is currently widely held that, “school-university partnerships hold significant potential to enhance teachers’ professional development and thereby foster student learning” (Scribner-Bartholomew & Haymore-Sandholtz, 2009, p. 155).
Both collectively and individually, learners are relying more and more on communities of practice wherein they can collaboratively participate in dialogue, disrupt old ideas, think creatively and develop innovative strategies to make online learning work better. This research reports on a Canadian university Faculty of Education partnership with the professional accreditation body of the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT), as the university researchers supported teachers in developing effective online learning courses. Through the Fully Online Learning Communities (FOLC) model, teachers collaborated with university faculty to experience a model focused on problem based learning, wherein the co-design of the learning environment was shaped by social presence and cognitive presence. Through intentional disruption of previously held ideas of online learning, participants gained new understandings of how the role of teacher shifts to facilitator and the role of learner becomes more self-directed and interdependent with the rest of the learning community.