When MacArthur Geniuses Teach Online

The genius of online learning.

September 26, 2013

This week the new crop of MacArthur Foundation Fellowships (the "Genius Awards") were announced.
Imagine how happy I was to find that one of the faculty in the online / blended program in which I work was named as one of the recipients.
Jeffrey Brenner is a guest instructor in the online portion of Ethan Berke's Population Health and Preventive Care course in Dartmouth's Master of Health Care Delivery Science (MHCDS) program.
 We often hear about the advantages that online learning provides for students in terms of flexibility and work/life/school balance.    
For the MHCDS program this is no doubt true, as our students are leaders and emerging leaders in health care - working insane hours in high responsibility and high stress jobs while simultaneously completing our rigorous Masters program.
What we talk about less is the ability of online programs to integrate different types of faculty into the teaching experience.
Dr. Brenner (our students know him as Jeff) works closely with our students.   He intensively collaborates with our learners via asynchronous (blogs) and synchronous (Adobe Connect) learning platforms.   Jeff gets to know each student as an individual, and plays a critical role in mentoring them as they develop their course projects.    
Given his schedule (genius award grantees are busy folks), it would be difficult for Jeff to come to campus for each class.  And even if he could come to campus, the students' interaction with Jeff would be limited to the class meeting times.  
In our online class environment Jeff can interact and collaborate with the students on the asynchronous platforms (in the blogs) at all hours of the day.   The synchronous learning platform (Adobe Connect) puts the students' faces and voices and Jeff's face and voice together - a learning experience that feels like a seminar.
The genius of online learning is its ability to transcend limitations of time and geography.
All the press about online learning lately seems to concern MOOCs, coverage and commentary that totally misses the point that the real shift in online learning is not about scale but about intimacy.

Both learning technologies and our understanding of effective pedagogy has advanced to the point where we can create the authentic teacher / learner relationships with online learning, once possible only when all parties were face-to-face.
In the case of Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, our students are fortunate enough to have the opportunity not only to learn from, but get to know personally (and build a professional network with) a MacArthur Genius Award winner.  
How cool is that?


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