National Distance Learning Week Spotlight

By November 11, 2016Faculty & Staff

In honor of National Distance Learning Week, Dr. Rick Chaffee, a faculty member at Union, provides insight on the topic of on-line teaching & learning.

It would seem that on-line teaching could be as effective as classroom based teaching in courses that deal with objective material. That assumption makes sense. However, in human relations based courses, the assumption seems to be that face-to-face is more effective.

I would like to share my surprise at the effectiveness of on-line teaching especially in courses related to interpersonal relationships such as leadership, negotiation & conflict resolution, leadership ethics and diversity.

I teach in the undergraduate programs of Organizational Leadership and Business Management with Union Institute and University. Prior to teaching on-line with the University, I taught face-to-face on corporate and military sites over a thirty year period.

When the University changed my teaching assignments from classroom to on-line instruction four years ago, I was skeptical. However, over the last four years I have discovered an intimacy to on-line teaching that I could not have anticipated.

When the University changed my teaching assignments from classroom to on-line instruction four years ago, I was skeptical. However, over the last four years I have discovered an intimacy to on-line teaching that I could not have anticipated.

When the Kolb model of adult learning is used in courses whether on-line or face-to-face, there is connectedness and community.

The richness of the Kolb model arises from bringing together, an academic field of knowledge on the one hand, and the rich personal and professional experiences of adults, on the other. As students and faculty share with each other their own experience related to the ideas from the readings and lectures, not only is it possible to connect in a profound way with each student but the students connect with and learn from each other. Assignments typically include a short summary of key concepts followed by examples that connect the concepts to their own life. Adults may never have known these terms or theories before, but they discover they already know them experientially. This approach generates confidence and a sharing of insights with one another. What adult learners value most is that they can use these insights the very next day at home or in their workplace. In a way, this is a case study approach but the cases come directly from their own lives.

The second factor that contributes to effective on-line teaching in social science related courses is a recognition that growth in relational effectiveness is an intrapersonal, soul searching process (Bennis, Kouzes, Posner, Chaleff, Ciulla, Covey, Burns, etc.). For example, in a leadership ethics course, we study the corrupting influence of power. Power is like a drug. In our role as a parent, spouse or as a leader in an organization, it is easy to be seduced by our power. Participants are asked, which of the three corrupting influences of power must they be careful of in their own life? Leadership begins with self-understanding which can done remarkably well on-line.

At the core of human relations is an internal process. Conflict resolution begins with emotional intelligence, recognizing the fight and flight responses inside, not acting on the urge to get even, and doing our best to find a resolution based in fairness. There is something inside us that knows when we are acting with integrity. This kind of internal process followed by the sharing of insights, works especially well on-line.

Negotiation is another crucial human relations skill. As participants reflect on their past negotiation experiences, they recognize that good outcomes, the quality of their relationships, and their sense of peace inside, depend on an internal commitment to fairness as a way of life. Again, this reflection and sharing can be done as effectively on-line as face-to-face.

Most adults recognize that it is connecting or reconnecting with their integrity that is at the heart of any course related to effectiveness in human relations… work that can be done beautifully in an on-line format.

These intimate on-line courses create an opportunity for students to test the possibility that openness and a commitment to fairness bring about better outcomes and better relationships. They test this proposition in their own lives and report the results of their experiments to each other during the course.

To my surprise, I have come to love teaching on-line and have received feedback from a number of students that these human relations courses have been the most meaningful they have had in their college careers regardless of format.

My experiences over the last four years has convinced me that human relations courses, taught on-line, can be very effective, as effective as those I have taught face-to-face. In addition, the corporations that send me their students that include United Technology (UTAS), Ben & Jerry’s (Unilever), and the Vermont Army National Guard, consider an on-line degree equal to campus based degrees.

Union is distinguished as the pioneer in adult education, perfecting on-line and traditional classroom instruction for the busy adult.

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