Roger McHaney is a long-time advocate of online learning and has participated in past WCET Conferences.  He is the Wiki-keeper for ELATEwiki and has recently written a book entitled ‘The New Digital Shoreline: How Web 2.0 and Millennials are Revolutionizing Higher Education.’ It was published by Stylus Publishing in 2011.

The New Digital Shoreline was written after interviewing a wide range of excellent teachers, and both high school and university students. It examines how the influx of social media, social computing, content sharing, open source learning materials, and technology in students’ daily lives impact classroom expectations.

The following observation struck me during the research I conducted for this project: My work as an online teacher provided me with a robust set of skills needed for the exploration of the New Digital Shoreline. What do I mean by that?

Before Facebook, YouTube, instant messaging, and eBooks, online teachers had to create innovative ways to connect with their students and deliver high quality learning material. We discovered early in the process that online learning required far more than substituting computerized duplicates of our brick-and-mortar classroom activities. Computer-mediated learning prompted the development of new techniques, pedagogies and even learning theories.

Many of us took these challenges seriously and worked hard to integrate emerging technologies such as blogs, wikis, and podcasts into our virtual classrooms. We sought to take the best of the new and ensure sound teaching practices were maintained and augmented. We became digital mavens.

Then everything changed—the tech-savvy millennials entered the scene.  A new generation of students whose very social existence depended on technology became the primary constituency of higher education. With them came new demands that their educational experience resemble other parts of their world. First, this group has been empowered by social networking and other forms of convenient, mobile communication capabilities to try on various identities and personas. Second, they have incorporated time-shifting into their lifestyle. For these millennials, waiting is intolerable under most circumstances. Third, they have been endowed with the ability to personalize and customize their world to a degree never before possible. And finally, many are creative, innovative beings with the capability to filter, timeslice, commoditize their attention, and synthesize information.

In the face of these changes, much of what we have done for years is being repackaged and deployed in mainstream, brick-and-mortar classrooms. Discussions center on computerized instructivism, virtual social constructivism, and connectivism. Updated learning theories are being used toDigital Shoreline image undergird new pedagogies, suited to bring social computing to brick-and-mortar students. Traditional classrooms are being infused with tools found in virtual learning environments  and heralded as blended learning. Articles about the new age of learning are appearing at all corners. Teaching awards are being given to those who embrace the idea of new technologies in their classrooms and excite the students with cutting edge technology.

But, how much of this is new to us?

Rather than look to online learning as an ongoing learning laboratory with a multitude of ‘lessons learned’ and digital experiences, we are seeing a backlash against online learning in many major higher education media outlets. It baffles me that publications will print an article that lavishes praise for the use of technology in a traditional classroom and in the next column harshly criticize online learning practices. Many higher education authorities have failed to recognize that convergence is occurring.

According to Wikipedia, technological convergence is the tendency for different systems to add features and move toward performing similar tasks. One only has to look at the mobile smart device market to see how phones, cameras, video players, tape recorders, and calendaring systems have all converged toward a common digital platform. Convergence can be expanded into the world of higher education where we see convergence in classroom delivery methods taking place. Both features unique to online classrooms and features unique to traditional classrooms have started to converge into a common platform.

Many tech-savvy millennials will fail to differentiate between ‘online learning’ and ‘learning’ as this trend continues. It then becomes tragic in these budgetary-challenged times that some institutions fail to recognize the enormous value of their internal expertise regarding online learning and how it translates to the future of their teaching mission in relevant and crucial ways.

Teachers working in the world of online learning have been examining and implementing ideas promoting student learning using social computing and social media for years. We need to be sure our efforts are not overlooked by both the public and major higher education media.

That’s where our organizations like WCET come into play. WCET’s active CIG’s, listservs, and Annual Conference provide an excellent venue for us to get out our messages and improve learning for all students. We need to ensure our knowledge base, hard fought and developed over more than two decades of practice, is not overlooked. We need to let our colleagues know that we have been on the new digital shoreline for some time and have sound advice for those attempting to chart its contours and nuances.

I’d like to ask all of WCET’s members and everyone reading this blog to respond with your thoughts. Through comments to this blog, let us know if you think online learning practitioners have a great deal of knowledge to offer those interested in teaching on ‘The New Digital Shoreline.’

Roger McHaney Photo

Roger McHaney
University Distinguished Teaching Scholar
Kansas State University

8 replies on “Online Ed on the New Digital Shoreline”

Thank you. good stuff. As an online instructor of over 10 years I have seen the transition that you write about. And, at two campuses that I have taught, Troy University and Park Univesity, it is always a surprise of the die-hard face-to-face against the VooDoo online learning. The future is here. 70 percent of both of these universities’ enrollments or online. Time to stop biting the hand that does the feeding, get on the band wagon, and fully work together.

Thanks Mike. ‘VooDoo’ online learning is a good description. We are certainly rethinking course delivery and helping it become more suited to online interaction. I hope the fear some people exhibit will disappear. I find that Voicethread ( is one new tool that is helping make some traditional teachers see that online delivery can be more than video recordings posted online! I know several WCET members are using this tool extensively!

Great points Roger, I would even go so far as to say that the convergence is done. I have watched students for years move from a lecture hall to the library and log into their online class and see no real difference between them. It seems that we in academia are hung up on the “mode” of delivery while to the students, a class is a class. It is my opinion that an instructor should be affective using any of the tools available regardless of their mode of delivery. More and more students expect some social or web component to be somehow integrated into their course, whether it is on the ground or on the web. I applaud your efforts.

Thanks Russ. The possibilities are endless—only limited by our imagination. I think our students welcome our efforts in these areas and because they identify with the technologies and are already comfortable with them, they are able to focus more on learning. The idea of platform independent learning is a way of allowing our students to choose the best delivery method to maximize the learning experience based on their preferences. We need to let this generation of “customization-enabled” students select the “mode” when possible. Convergencec is a big part of this! Great comment! Thanks for your insight.

maybe the shift that is made possible via technology will finally cause academics to focus on learning outcomes, not inputs…as has been their modus operandi for generations. Just imagine what a breath of fresh air it would be to hear faculty discuss the results of learning experiences and learner competencies, not the efforts they put into designing courses….many with dubious outcomes!

That would be a positive outcome! Often, methods and pedagogy are confused with actual learning and outcomes! The new digital tools are opening new learning options for students that can be assessed in better ways. I would be interested in hearing more about your ideas in this area, Ellie. Best, Roger.

Roger: Years ago, in the 1970’s, we created a Competency -Based Teacher Education program for adults returning to school. One of our tasks was to create an evaluation and documentation process. We evaluated the outcomes and competencies by a committee made up of the people who played a role in the learning experience; and created a bulky competency -based transcript which described the when, what, where, who, and outcomes of each learning experience. The student was reponsible for coordinating the committeee evaluation and for the documentation, with the faculty advisor signing off on every step. At that time, we did this on paper. Today, we would have a computer. Much easier to create and store. We also applied this process to non-teacher ed learning. It can be done by entire classes IF a group of faculty agree on the intended outcomes of a course/learning experience and the various ways of assessing them. Those intended outcomes then must be made known to the learners/students, of course. then, everyone is on the same page and has the same goals.

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