Conn believes online benefits outweigh issues

By Michael Linnell
University Communications Director

MINOT, N.D. – Minot State University Associate Professor of Teacher Education Dan Conn believes a blanket statement that online learning is positive is “complicated.”

He does, however, believe the benefits are worth using it as another tool in helping educate the next generation.

“It’s a little complicated, I’m not sure it is a good thing for the younger grades, but at the college level it definitely is,” he said. “Before teaching at Minot State, I taught in Colorado in a rural area and online in that setting really brought other parts of the state together. I saw it as a way to connect those rural areas with different kinds of teachers. Here at Minot State, we can use it to really be a state institution.”

Conn’s opinion bears plenty of weight. As the Master of Education director, Conn oversees K-12 teachers as they progress through the master’s program. He also works with undergraduate students pursuing an education degree, including student teaching.

“We have an interesting perspective in teacher education as we have practicum students, we call them blocks, all who were supposed to go out to classrooms after the break,” he said. “They are all now displaced. We have worked with them to come up with new ways to think about teaching and we are having them help design ways to work outside of the classroom. We are making a website that can be used locally and throughout the world. Just little lessons that kids can do, supported by content standards, that is well designed. We are hoping teachers can use these lessons. Teachers need support, so here is a tool.”

Through conversations with students who have recently finished their master’s degree and are in the classroom, Conn believes his department’s blended version of online and in-person classes have helped ready those future teachers for the situation the COVID-19 pandemic has abruptly placed educators in across the country.

“Some of our grad students have said they felt like they could teach online because they had gone through it here,” he said. “It’s encouraging that we at least modeled some of it for them here, simple things like how to work with video. Our grad school has both models, online, face-to-face, or a combination of both. Normally, our online classes are about double of what we have face-to-face.”

The concept of online learning is new, however, for many professors at Minot State and at universities across the country. For Conn, while this has been a trying time, it also provides an opportunity for Minot State to get better at delivering education.

“It certainly has been a challenge, how do we all learn to do this online delivery and how do we transition to it when we are right in the middle of it,” Conn said. “I’ve met with students and some colleagues because I knew after teaching online classes, people will definitely have anxiety because you can’t find things. I would show my screen and show everyone where those things are located on the program. Sometimes it would just be me, sometimes (fellow professor) Chelsie Hultz would do these, sometimes all five from the department. It really helped, especially for those who aren’t immersed in online.”

Conn’s philosophy around teaching and learning lends itself to an online, out-of-the-box environment. While the pandemic has forced many to move its entire environment online, he feels having the flexibility to mentor students in a variety of ways is important. To Conn, any items that help students learn and grow should be explored.

“I have a lot of opinions on education in the United States,” Conn said. “It’s beyond just this moment in time where we are now, but I think a lot of people are hung up on traditional constructs for school. Many of those traditions, like tests and quizzes and things like that, are, in my humble opinion, not the best for online. We have an opportunity to rethink education outside of the classroom. I know we have to have some common assignments, but how we orchestrate those experiences can be more flexible and interesting in an online classroom.”

Knowledge transfer, according to Conn, has more to do with dialogue and relationship than lecture and tests.

“I think learning is a relational thing. We learn the most when we are in a relationship with people, learning with and alongside them. The relationship is core to all this,” he said. “The content is learned best through dialogue and conversations. I don’t think everyone realizes how much democracy is at play in the classroom. We want students to ask questions, we want them to push back and not always to agree with us, we want them to debate even. If we are just saying listen to my lecture and take a quiz at the end, we are missing out on those democratic components.”

Conn also wants to make sure the emotional needs of students, teachers, and parents are paramount during this unprecedented time.

“It’s a crazy moment in time, an upside-down world where normal learning conditions just aren’t an option,” he said. “We have to think of the whole person as a learner. That’s kindergarten to graduate students. It’s a very emotional, traumatic time right now. We need to be flexible and graceful in how we think about education.”

About Minot State University
Minot State University is a public university dedicated to excellence in education, scholarship, and community engagement achieved through rigorous academic experiences, active learning environments, commitment to public service, and a vibrant campus life.

Published: 04/17/20   

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