Osborne ‘Riding the Bicycle’ of Online Learning at UF
Damon Osborne, Ph.D., joined UF in January 2016 as associate vice president for online learning and alternative delivery programs. Since then, he’s been reviewing UF’s current online offerings while, at the same time, planning new initiatives.
“It’s like building a bicycle while you’re riding it,” he laughed.
Osborne recently discussed his first few months in Findlay, talking about resurrecting some previous faculty training programs and looking ahead to developing a more centralized, campus-wide approach to online learning.
“We have some really good online courses here,” he said. “Our system is de-centralized, however. We need to develop a common language when it comes to delivering online education.”
Quality Matters, calling itself a “national benchmark for online course design,” could be just the common language that Osborne is looking for. Lead by Nicole Williams, Ph.D., College of Education, the UF Quality Matters initiative has established an internal system of course review using specific design standards. Several members of the UF faculty and staff have attended Quality Matters training sessions and some have become reviewers themselves.
“Right now, all online courses are subject to an internal review,” Osborne added. “We’re working toward having all of them undergo an external review process as well.”
Earning both his master’s and doctoral degrees online, Osborne understands that preparing courses in Blackboard (UF’s online learning platform) and utilizing other forms of teaching technology can be daunting for both new and veteran instructors.
He’s developing “digital badge” training, where instructors can earn badges for skills mastered. He also plans to resurrect the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) online teaching certification course with, perhaps, a different look and feel.
MOOCs or SPOCs?
Referencing the Online Policy Initiative recently released by MIT, Osborne agreed with the report’s recommendation of more collaboration among all areas that impact learning and education. Scientists, for example, would work with educators to better determine how the brain works. This could influence course design and also the best delivery method for individual learners. He also liked the Initiative’s use of the term “learning engineer.”
“We’re not talking about replacing teachers,” he added. “Online instructors, though, must know about the different aspects of how the brain works.”
Osborne has definite opinions about massive open online courses (MOOCs).
“MOOCs are a great entry point into any program,” he stated. “But how do they sustain themselves, since the courses are free? Where is the revenue stream?”
Instead, Osborne prefers small, private online courses (SPOCs) that customize learning for small groups of interested individuals, such as corporate employees who need specific skills or who work off-site and may not be able to attend classes or training sessions.
He admitted that there are some UF programs that cannot be delivered entirely online at the present time. Those classes that require real time practice, like some in the animal science and health professions programs, will still require a physical presence in the classroom or lab … at least for the foreseeable future. Still, with advances in delivery systems, things can change quickly in the world of online education.
Osborne, a musician, feels his background in music has guided him through the development of educational delivery efforts.
“A musician’s role is varied and so is mine,” he smiled. “I see myself as the conductor of an ensemble. Also, like a musician, my job requires improvisation. If you don’t improvise, things can get too rigid and unmanageable if you’re not careful.”