Changing technology in online platforms distract faculty and students from the prime directive—teaching and learning, yet these so-called bells and whistles—most often referred to as upgrades—are continuously being added into the online Learning Management System (LMS) as part of each schools’ commitment to offer the most updated platform. A recent survey paired with current research revealed that too much rapid and ongoing change in technology is creating havoc for both students and professors alike. Most university administrators are sensitive to this matter and work with users involved to make changes and transitions easier to manage; however, responses from the survey instrument constructed and administered by these writers indicate that faculty members spend excessive amounts of time helping students simply learn the technology than teaching the topic content of the course. Further, responses showed that both faculty and students prefer change not occur as frequently so that subject matter teaching and learning synergy might be restored as the primary tenet in higher education.
About the Survey Instrument
The survey instrument was crafted by these writers and distributed using two social media outlets to a broadly targeted audience of faculty members, current students, and graduates as ten relevant questions in a five-point Likert Scale format using Survey Monkey for data dissemination, collection, and analysis. Specific universities were not targeted because of IRB restrictions; however, the number of clustered responses were sufficiently revealing with outliers considered to make reasonable assumptions in support of information provided in this article. While the instrument was not validated prior, data corroborated with previously published materials, some cited in this piece, strongly indicate that results obtained are reliable.
Metaphors, yes--but Relatable
Who can forget the always ambitious Lucy Ricardo from the classic episode of “I Love Lucy” working in the candy wrapping factory? At first, she kept up with the unending stream of candy that needed wrapping as it progressed slowly along the line; however, when it sped up, she panicked and began eating the candy she couldn’t wrap in time, or she began stuffing it into her clothes—and eventually, both. While hilarious to watch, this writer proposes that some students and faculty members feel they are unable to keep up with the rapid pace of technology as it is perpetually reintroduced and sped up into each learning platform by university leaders.
Similarly, when Henry Ford developed the automobile assembly line, his objective was to mass produce cars rapidly, reduce labor costs, and make cars more affordable. While an excellent business model of the day, workers inside Ford’s car plant were no longer expected to be skilled, but rather an ordinary link in the chain to speed up the assembly line process. Technology, even then, reduced the value of the worker by transforming a craftsman into a mechanic. Ford’s assembly line, and Lucy’s chocolate factory fiasco may be metaphors for what’s happening in colleges and universities today—as high tech is allegedly transforming scholars into systems operators.
Let’s ask respondents.
My college or university often changes how technology is used in my education
42% agree or strongly agree
I spend major time adapting to new technology when it is changed at my college or university
55% agree or strongly agree
I wish that my college or university would spend less time on teaching how to use the technology and more time teaching the subject matter
38% agree or strongly agree
I feel that each time new technology is added my focus shifts to learning it rather than learning the subject matter
54% agree or strongly agree
Just when I am comfortable using the current technology, my college or university makes another change
42% agree or strongly agree
Back to the Future
The late economist Peter Drucker predicted that by 2025 traditional bricks and mortar academic institutions would be dinosaurs, mostly due to the untenable costs to attend them, combined with the surge in popularity of online classes resulting from new technology (Wartzman, 2012). Today it’s ironic that many universities are requiring faculty to use the online grade book in their LMS with an assortment of other features in their onsite synchronous classes, so there is no escaping technology interface in modern classrooms regardless their construct. While digital record keeping is better for our environment (paperless) and easier to share and store, it seems that all of us are compelled to accept technology as a part of how colleges and universities operate today—consequently there will be related glitches that distract from teaching the subject matter. This writer receives scores of phone calls from both online and onsite students asking if their assignment uploaded successfully, not if it met criteria for covering the course objectives or was well written. Focus has seemingly shifted to piloting the plane rather than learning how it flies.
The struggle of learning how to navigate technology among all ages is real. When students register for online courses, they are not given a crash course in navigating the LMS. Instead, the student is provided with all the necessary login information and let loose to tackle their degree. The inability to effectively use or access the technology is a major drawback to an LMS (Clarke-Okah, 2009). Both faculty members and students must master how to facilitate or access synchronous online meetings, engage in live chats, make videos, audio threads, respond to automated progress trackers, IMs, access external outsourced testing sites—to name a few—while at the same time teach and learn the subject matter within the LMS.
Just like Lucy, many students are unable to keep up with these fast-paced changes. Online students have no face-to-face interaction with their peers or instructors. As a result, there is seemingly more focus on the LMS and its functionality than the topic-related content of the course. Online courses are basically self-paced, and many of them are completed in eight weeks compared to sixteen weeks term offered at many traditional colleges and universities. Speed it up! (Lucy’s boss’ last comment in the video clip).
No Book in Hand
What about books? Books are virtually no longer available in the physical form. Instead, textbooks are now in digital format through providers such as VitalSource Bookshelf and RedShelf. Students who want to highlight, turn down the corner of a page, or jot notes, now have to learn how to navigate yet another piece of software within the LMS. Recently one book distributor closed its doors three days before the term started at a university. The closing had a major impact on the student experience. Without access to physical or digital books, students were left scrambling with how to complete assignments and participate in the online forums. It led this writer to quickly develop alternative ways to provide information to students, which included creating videos explaining where and how to access the text book. But wait! Didn’t this unanticipated scramble become even more technology added into an already overloaded technology-driven environment where students are frustrated and confused? Indeed it did.
Lucy had a similar struggle in that she could not eat all the goods on the belt. The student is not able to eat the goods either. Instead, they are reaching out to their instructors, IT help desks, advisors, and tutors to assist in educating them on how to use all these pieces of technology. The LMS of today is designed to interface with smart phones so that classes can go wherever a phone signal reaches; however, not all students are comfortable going to school by phone—and the quality of work faculty members receive from students who text their discussion responses or assignments is characteristically not the best of quality. At the end of the day, students seem to be double majoring in both IT savvy and their concentration, but receiving only one degree.
Most changes in LMS technologies are cost related. Companies advertise their product as more superior but at a lower cost. However, is the lower cost more beneficial or harmful to the overall student and faculty experience—in the longer term? Is user-friendliness a variable that’s even considered? As Lucy said to Ethel while they stuffed chocolate in their mouths, clothes, and under their hats, “I think we are fighting a losing game.” Students are losing the battle at keeping up with the ever-changing world of technology, and faculty who love to teach are often piloting the plane or adding a part in Ford’s auto assembly line than focusing on what they do best. If university administrators are asked why they changed the LMS or added more technology, their reply may be a cryptic one at best.
Clarke-Okah, W. (2009, June 11). The impact of learning management systems in universities. Commonwealth of Learning. Retrieved on November 12, 2018 at http://oasis.col.org/bitstream/handle/11599/1433/2009_ClarkeOkah_ImpactLMS_Transcript.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
History104WWU. (2010, May 19). Lucy’s famous chocolate scene. [Video File]. Retrieved on November 3, 2018 at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NPzLBSBzPI
Wartzman, R. (2012). Has a college education ceased to provide a reasonable ROI? Retrieved on November 6, 2018 at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/drucker/2012/05/15/has-a-college-education-ceased-to-provide-a-reasonable-roi/#127c7d144dbd
Access to survey analytics: https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-8JQSGVN6L/
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About the Authors
G. Stan Reeley, Ph.D. Professor; American InterContinental, Charleston Southern, DeVry, Herzing, Saint Leo, Strayer
While working 18 years in healthcare administration, Dr. Reeley was invited to guest lecture at the University of South Carolina for students in its MHA program—and the teaching bug bit. He returned to school (at age 50) and earned a PhD in Leadership and Organizational Change, and has been teaching college professionally now going on 17 years. Prior to teaching with multiple online universities, he was a full-time professor and the Associate Campus Dean at Strayer University in Greenville, South Carolina where he taught both graduate and undergraduate courses in class and online. Dr. Reeley loves business, but also the arts. He draws, paints, sculpts, and has acted on stage in scores of community theatre productions. He is an active member of SHRM (Society for Human Resource Managers), and a consultant to a number of boards. Dr. Reeley graduated from the University of South Carolina with a BA in Journalism, and later earned his MA at Webster University in St. Louis in Management--and in 2006, he graduated from Walden University where he earned his doctorate.
Jordana Cornell, MBA, CPC Program Chair and Associate Professor – Insurance Billing and Medical Coding
Mrs. Cornell is currently the Program Chair for the Insurance Billing and Medical Coding Programs for Herzing University. Mrs. Cornell holds a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) with a specialization in Healthcare Management and a Bachelor’s of Science (BS) in Healthcare Management, both from Herzing University. She is a Certified Professional Coder (CPC) and member of the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) since 2003, and has over 25 years of experience in clinical coding. She is proficient with coding, billing, CPT, HCPCS, authorizations, medical records, Medicare / Medicaid, EOBs, charge entry, insurance appeals, payment posting, aging reports, HIPAA compliance, referrals, collections, and accounts receivable. Mrs. Cornell has created job aids and training manuals for new coders in the Revenue Cycle Department and coding processes. She has also trained physicians in the charge capture process for clinic and hospital charges, as well as, coding E/M services and procedures. Lastly, she has created and implemented systems to save revenue loss each month.
Mrs. Cornell has ten years of experience in youth ministry and organizing mission trips. She and her husband, Jason, have been happily married for 19 years and have one adult son. In her free time, she loves to read, ski, and spend time with her family. A fun fact … she was Miss Wooster Lake of Wooster Lake Campground in high school.