Robert Griffiths is the Director of Digital Scholarship for the Office of Distance Education and eLearning. Dr. Griffiths has significant knowledge in deploying technology-empowered learning experiences, including spearheading the ODEE Impact Grant program in an effort to study how using technology can engage students, increase instructor efficiency, and support anytime/anyplace learning. He also oversees Ohio State’s effort for Massively Open Online Courses. Additionally, Griffiths’ team supports the online general education initiative for autumn 2014 through providing instructional design leadership to teaching faculty involved with the project.
Q: How do you see the creation of online courses, specifically those designed to be available to a wide audience through general education, as key in the present and immediate future of the Ohio State University?
Griffiths: There is a confluence of pressures on higher education. At almost every turn, decisions are being made on how to reduce cost, reduce time to degree, and accept a wider-range of qualifying activities as credits while at the same time institutions are being asked to use technology and data to prove learning effectiveness and better educate a society requiring advanced degrees to meet a changing work environment. In many ways, right now higher education is the calm between disruptive storms, but that storm is quickly approaching.
The creation of online courses, specifically those available to a wide audience, affords Ohio State an opportunity to be at the table and decide how we can meet the mission of our institution. It is an opportunity for scaled yet individualized education that allows for flexibility and greater opportunities to engage in the community.
Think of your daily experience. How often, today, do you feel tethered to the radio hoping you can hear your favorite song? How often do you purchase an entire CD just to hear one song? How often are you required to wait for the exact rerun of Seinfeld you’re hoping to watch? How often are you sitting on the front porch at 6am waiting to read yesterday’s news? Probably never.
It’s our time for students to have a premier education that meets the expectations and lifestyle they are already enjoying in other facets of their lives. We are developing the capability to do so via distance education and in a way that promotes the hallmarks of OSU’s quality and prestige.
Q: Online courses require a careful negotiation of educational technology, user experience, pedagogical tradition, and university culture. As the programs work toward finessing that balance, what do you think is most crucial? Or perhaps, alternatively, most basic?
Griffiths: A benefit at OSU is that distance courses and programs are within the same units and structure as on-campus courses and programs. That is, our distance offerings have the same approval process, the same faculty assignments, and the same assessment and review processes. One of the most basic requirements of a distance course is that it have solid, measurable learning outcomes, which is oftentimes one of the hardest things to do well – regardless of delivery medium. A positive aspect to working with GEs is that learning outcomes are already defined, and so taking the course online becomes an opportunity to consider new and exciting ways to achieve those outcomes.
Being an R1 institution, we have an opportunity to provide learning experiences to the masses and to do research on the effectiveness of our approach. Further, being one of the first introductions to Ohio State for our students, we have a chance to share how we value the learning experience in a community.
Q: Ideally, we imagine university change being driven by a multitude of insights and information sources: visionary administration, expert teaching faculty and staff, and insightful student feedback. As online education expands, how would you like to see those all incorporated into development processes?
Griffiths: Ohio State has an amazing opportunity. It is a world-class university with incredible knowledge and expertise in many disciplines with many pioneers in many fields. Obviously to become a professor, you had to spend years learning and then made a life choice to continue toiling day and night, years on end, on the quest to learn more and more about the discipline. It is that passion and energy that we want to share with our students. Instructional designers and other support staff are there to support the ability of faculty to share their passion of the topic with the students. We need to support the incredible faculty by pushing the administrative barriers and technology issues to the background and letting their talents propel Ohio State forward.
ODEE instructional designers can bring a different lens to the development process, especially with Quality Matters, a rubric and methodology emphasizing continual improvement. As part of distance education work, we are providing surveys and looking at how our course designs impact student experiences in courses. We want to provide feedback to faculty and departmental leadership with information that can empower them to make change and improve. If we can improve the least effective 10% of learning artifacts each and every term, we’re using our resources more wisely and making leaps and bounds rather than guesswork at what each term what may or may not have worked.
Q: When a student completes an online general education course, what do you hope she or he can say about the experience?
Griffiths: I’d like them to come away from the experience saying, “I have a deeper appreciation of the subject matter and how it relates to my individual interests and felt like I was part of a community that valued my and my peers’ learning experience.”