By Jenn Baker, Associate for Integrated Learning
Educators are flexible, accessible, and creative. They are passionate and committed. Why then wouldn’t every educator jump at the chance to use an online learning management system that can make course material accessible to more students in more places, provide more opportunities for flipping the classroom, and engage students between class sessions?
It’s not a lack of care or commitment. These are educators who have spent countless hours and great effort developing the curriculum they share with seminary students. They have plans and processes that they’ve perfected over years. They love the material and are eager to share it with students.
Still, a new learning management system is met with reluctance by some seminary faculty. It might look like procrastination or distrust of the system, dismissal of any alleged benefits or explicit refusal to use the system. However it comes across, the reasons are hidden underneath. When I meet with reluctant faculty, I hear a wide range of questions. Will I be able to learn how to do this? How will I learn? How much time will it take? Are there privacy concerns for me or my students? Will my intellectual property be stolen? Why are things changing so quickly? Are the skills I’ve perfected in the physical classroom becoming less valuable? What if I push the wrong buttons? What if I can’t find what I need? Will I appear inadequate in front of my students and colleagues? Will any mistakes I make be documented and shared widely?
Add a global pandemic, and some of these concerns are accentuated. Creating course sites and using them well takes time and effort. A comprehensive, interactive course site is created over time, with careful consideration placed on content, variety of approach, and flow. Anxiety and intimidation hinder the process.
New equipment, training sessions, and incentives can be part of the plan. Some faculty will jump into the new system, comfortable with the tools and eager to explore. They will try new things and seek support when they hit a roadblock. But, for those who are hesitant to use the system, these offerings won’t be enough. They need a partner-someone who is available, knowledgeable, honest, and creative. They need someone who can offer guidance that builds confidence.
When I guide someone through the use of a new learning management system, I must be part translator, part coach, and part pastor. I must meet each person where they are. I have to decipher what someone already knows, their perspective and goals, and any barriers that might get in the way. In every case, the goal, of course, is to create a course site that reflects their teaching style and goals for their students. But, more importantly, it is for each instructor to gain confidence in their own ability to navigate the new system and find support when they need it, and confidence that the finished product will be valuable to their students. It is this confidence that allows instructors to reflect passion for their fields in their own course sites.
When a faculty member is intimidated or anxious, I meet it with calm and curiosity. I don’t have expectations of what they know or how they should feel about the system, and I begin the dance of finding out. In the back and forth, I discover their teaching style, their goals for students, and the concerns they have. I answer their questions with honesty. I am not there to convince them of anything, but to offer possibilities that work for them and will be valuable to their students.
I work with brilliant scholars-some eager to take on the challenges and benefits of a new learning management system and some hesitant. In each case, we work together, bundling their expertise and their goals for their students, with my experience in pedagogy and online course sites. We consolidate our gifts, make a plan, and take the next steps, together. I watch faculty, previously reluctant to take the first steps, gain confidence that they can use the system and get support when they need it. When that support is available and personalized, great course sites are built.