Winter 2009 Issue

Online and On-site - The Best of Both Worlds

David Scott ArnoldDavid Scott Arnold - Instructor of Philosophy

David Scott Arnold lives his heart’s desire: teaching.  

Every year finds him offering annual on-site courses on “Quests for Meaning,” “The Idea of God,” and “Worldviews and Values in the Bible” in the Department of Philosophy at Oregon State University.  He presents graduate seminars on “The Existential Mood in the History of Ideas,” “Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory,” and “Mysteries of Identity: Dostoevsky” in the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program at Marylhurst University and, each summer, “The Literature of Ken Kesey” through the English Department at the University of Oregon.  

Author of "Liminal Readings: Forms of Otherness in Melville, Joyce and Murdoch," he regularly participates in colloquia on religion and literature, and has presented papers on Ingmar Bergman, T. S. Eliot, the Bible, Dostoevsky, Iris Murdoch at international forums in Durham, York, Oxford and Glasgow.  He recently presented a paper, “Kesey’s Notion of the Sacred” at an interdisciplinary conference on “Sacred Space” in Sterling, Scotland. He hikes several times a week and backpacks each late summer into the Diamond Peak Wilderness of the Oregon Cascades and the Eagle Cap Wilderness of the Wallowas.  

But every day finds him engaged in his PHL 160 "Quests for Meaning: World Religions" and PHL 170 “The Idea of God” courses offered through OSU Ecampus.

He has taught PHL 160 online for many terms, starting back in 2005, and since he also teaches the on-site version of the same class, perhaps some comparisons are worth noting.

The class delivery methods are not the same.  His Ecampus course continues to be enriched, added to, enhanced, nuanced "for the better" each term.  

With students being more film/image literate, one of the  large plus points of the online class is the quality and amount of images one can pass before a student's mind's eye.  The discussion board quality of dialogue in light of films is simply worth remarking.  

When he went back to Harvard in 1989 for the NEH summer institute on teaching scripture and pilgrimage in comparative religions for the humanities at the university level, most of what was discussed (Diana Eck, the renowned Hindu scholar had a lot to do with this, The Pluralism Project was just lifting off the ground) had to do with assembling an "image bank," a kind of ever-expanding store-house of images from the world's religions.  The online class fulfills this goal in ways the on-site course cannot.  

Maps and streaming video resources are another big plus.  These online classes simply sponsor a measure of image-literacy through films and pictures Dr. Arnold hadn't known or valued before.

Online courses offer more possibility for a student's "voice" to be heard compared to large classrooms, and of course this means “voice” as an articulate literate form of communication.  Textual literacy is a boon for such courses.  If one is willing to engage with discussion board reckonings at least every other day, quite a few voices can be brought on board and engaged.  Skeptical of this dimension when he wrote up the proposal for the course, David now believes it to be a large plus, and has been able to relate this experience to what he learned studying Bakhtin’s philosophy at Yale.  He also has more written assignments as built-in requirements for online classes versus on-site classes, so that quality control feedback for thoughtful expression is right there, on the syllabus, on the calendar, from week to week.  A student cannot simply slide by unnoticed.  Over the terms, he has thought of more ways for regular weekly involvement at this level, more ways a student can choose to be "on the bus" or off it.  Some, of course, don't participate, and they are the worse for it.

The event of online education cannot happen of its own accord.  Putting on one’s collaborative hat and going over and talking with Ecampus on the fourth floor of The Valley Library regularly helps us all realize that the “specs” for these courses are up to snuff.

David will be making such visits again this term with Dianna Fisher as they sit down and work out a plan for building PHL 220 "Worldviews and Values in the Bible,” a course that will be first offered through Ecampus next term, spring 2009.

At the level of the exams, or at the level of the worship reports (a requirement for this comparative religions class), one can note the two kinds of courses, online and on-site, are on a par, with the only, but interesting, difference is that when one has students in Switzerland or Alaska or Rome bringing such richnesses from their worship possibilities, we really are outside the Corvallis box.  It can be pretty neat for all students to hear what is out there beyond the Northwest.

Each term, Dr. Arnold’s lectures have expanded, have found clearer articulation, have become more nuanced, and it has been fun to watch such steady-as-it-goes progress with his batch of lectures as he tries to translate for the readerly student what he actively performs in a physical classroom setting.  When he stopped regretting "no performance" for the online class, other dimensions emerged.

Lastly, Dr. Arnold would close such a teacherly profile by allowing, “I imagine I have taught as many kinds of courses as anyone, and in light of such various teachings, the online classes are both similar and technologically different in ways students welcome.  Just so, I am engaging Blackboard in light of my Ecampus skills for my on-site classes in recent terms, providing announcements for due dates and text articulation of assignments that I wouldn't have thought relevant without the online backdrop I carry with me now.  OSU students are increasingly literate in both environments and such teacherly skills, I can now say, are helping me secure firmer foundations for both kinds of classes with, in the words of Virginia Woolf, 'bolts of iron.'  I wouldn't trade one for the other now, and I certainly would not have said this four years ago.  Both forms of teaching have academic integrity and hold academic interest, and I would hazard the notion that the many various departments at Oregon State would be diminished were shoes not firmly planted in both forums these days.  All the above translates into other worlds:  since 2002 I have divided my teaching time between OSU and Marylhurst University in the Portland area, and my experience with OSU Ecampus has allowed me to offer at Marylhurst my first online graduate course last term on 'The Existential Mood in the History of Ideas.'  Had the OSU Ecampus experience not been at hand, I would not have had the time or interest to offer such a course.” 

It only gets better!

For more information on developing an online course through OSU Ecampus, visit the Faculty Services' Getting Started page.

Back to the winter 2009 issue of eFaculty News.