Reflections on Online Teaching and Learning
By Chris Grevesen, Ph.D.
Dean, School of Graduate Studies
The most enjoyable part of my job as Dean of the School of Graduate Studies is interacting with our Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) students. At the Woodland Park campus, students frequently drop by my office to seek assistance or just to say “hello.” To ensure that I have the same level of engagement with our online M.B.A. students, I try to teach online courses whenever the opportunity arises.
My first exposure to online teaching and learning was in the late 1990s. At that time, online instruction was a path-breaking educational innovation. After all, the World Wide Web had only been introduced to the public in August of 1991. I decided to raise my hand for a chance to be an early adopter of this new teaching format. The training was intense, and I felt overwhelmed at times by an unfamiliar technology and pedagogy. To complicate matters, my first online course would be offered in an accelerated, seven-week format – about half the time that I was used to having in my traditional on-site classes.
Once the course started, however, my apprehension faded, and I began to realize that online education offered some very distinct advantages and exciting possibilities. I was immediately struck by how “democratic” an online class could be. Discussions were not dominated by one or two alpha students; indeed, they weren’t even dominated by the instructor. Every student, from the most extroverted to the shyest, participated enthusiastically in the course. Moreover, my students and I spent considerable amounts of time in these discussions, which rivaled in-class dialogues for their scope and rigor. When the course ended, one of my students, a young woman from Alaska, whom I had never met in person, asked me for a letter of recommendation. To this day, that letter is the longest and most detailed reference that I have ever written. Despite the distance that separated teacher and learner, our online course experience had allowed me to know her work just as well as if she had studied with me in a physical classroom.
Almost 20 years later, in the summer of 2016, I decided to teach Organizational Behavior and Leadership, the first “core” course in the online M.B.A. program at Berkeley College. Thirteen students and I met every day in cyberspace to explore theories of organizational commitment, job satisfaction, decision-making, motivation, change management, and transformational leadership. We discussed books, articles, and videos by leading management thinkers; and we analyzed case studies about real organizations faced with challenges. It was not unusual for the 14 of us to generate 150 posts per week in our discussion forums. What made these posts so impressive, however, was the eagerness of these new M.B.A. students to go above and beyond the demanding course syllabus to find and share links to additional research that took our discussions in new directions and to new levels.
Most of these same students joined me in the fall of 2016 to complete a Practicum course in Organizational Behavior and Leadership. Our mission in this course was to work together one-on-one to develop an original case study that applied theories and concepts from the course to an actual workplace scenario that each student had experienced. We took a “building block” approach to the project, beginning with brainstorming discussions and a proposed topic synopsis. We then prepared an annotated bibliography and a detailed outline before writing our drafts and final papers. In their reflective essays at the end of the course, students said that they learned a great deal from the Practicum experience: about the writing process, about organizational theories, about workplace dynamics, and about their own leadership styles and philosophies.
I was fortunate to have been assisted in developing and teaching these online M.B.A. courses by several talented colleagues, who exemplify the commitment to academic quality and learner support for which Berkeley College Online® is recognized year after year. Lamont Eddins lent his skills in instructional design to create a robust online learning environment where students could easily access course information and resources. And in the Practicum course, students benefited from the personalized attention and expertise of Online Research Librarian Julie Hunter.
I look forward to teaching online again so that I can improve upon my courses and collaborate with my Berkeley colleagues to offer students additional academic services. Online courses have a well-deserved reputation for making higher education convenient for busy adult learners, but they can also be powerful vehicles for teaching and learning as my experiences in the virtual classroom have taught me.